Solidarity Magazine » USA http://solidaritymagazine.org Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.8 SEIU’s Dial 1-800-Solution Runs into Trouble http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/seiu%e2%80%99s-dial-1-800-solution-runs-into-trouble/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/seiu%e2%80%99s-dial-1-800-solution-runs-into-trouble/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2011 17:23:16 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1562 Continue reading ]]> Steve Early, Labor Notes

| June 6, 2011

Call centers now serve 800,000 members, but the results are disappointing, according to the SEIU’s internal review.


With slick promotion reminiscent of Silicon Valley product rollouts, the Service Employees (SEIU) persuaded a majority of its convention delegates three years ago that call centers were essential to “high quality member representation.”

On the eve of SEIU’s 2008 convention, then-President Andy Stern criticized union grievance-handling that was out of touch with “the 21st century world” and based on “a 1930s teletype model.”

If union staffers handle all the phone calls they get from members and then spend much of their time in workplace meetings on contract issues, union resources are used inefficiently, Stern argued. What labor needs, he told the Wall Street Journal, is “a new model less focused on individual grievances, more focused on industry needs.”

In the “Member Resource Centers” operated by SEIU, the union equivalent of a phone company customer service rep handles calls from workers seeking information or reporting job problems. In 2008, SEIU leaders touted this new intake method because immigrant members could discuss problems in their own languages and because it would liberate members from “voicemail jail,” where grievance calls sit waiting for overloaded reps to respond.

SEIU leaders insisted call centers would “free up money spent on representation and administrative tasks that could be redirected” to increase worker participation in political action and organizing.

Three years later, the call centers are widely adopted, covering more than 800,000 SEIU members. But the results are disappointing, according to SEIU’s own internal review.

FEW USED IT

After spending more than $14 million on a new mega-center near Detroit, SEIU was forced to close the facility this winter because so few affiliates wanted to use it either for grievance handling or for other dues processing, accounting, and administrative services.

In a confidential report leaked last fall, SEIU secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina concluded that creating the Michigan center “has been all consuming at the expense of a well-developed and executed member engagement program.”

Medina’s committee reported that “none of the locals spoken to or surveyed” said creating a center in their local had freed up any resources.

Several locals with longer experience reported spending more—not less—on operating their center.

The now-closed Michigan call center received a $2 million tax credit from the state in 2009 because it was projected to create 200 jobs. (It had about 30 employees when it closed.) To be self-sustaining, the call center needed to enroll locals with a total membership of more than 400,000. But SEIU affiliates throughout the country were reluctant to commit to the venture, in part due to a mounting grassroots backlash against the performance of centers serving multiple locals.

They didn’t know how to interpret contracts, grievances weren’t getting filed on time, or they were filed when they shouldn’t have been,” said one representative of a local that tried to use the Michigan center. “The bottom line is members were getting bad advice.”

Another local union staffer, who also asked to remain anonymous, said Michigan call center employees gave members inaccurate information about their contract benefits and coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Problems like these discouraged many locals from joining the center, and led others, like Boston janitors Local 615, to abandon it. “We’ve made every effort to ensure a smooth transition for the locals that were participating in the center,” said SEIU spokesman Marcus Mrowka, adding that “we still consider it a bold experiment in an effort to better serve our members.”

CAN IT BE DONE BETTER?

SEIU’s shift to call centers was, in part, an understandable response to the challenge of communicating with a multilingual membership that includes hundreds of thousands of childcare providers and personal care attendants who do not share a common workplace.

In such nontraditional workplaces, and others where janitors or security guards work in relative isolation from each other, an 800 number to call is better than nothing.

During a 2009 tour of SEIU Local 1’s call center in Chicago, staffers said it had helped ease language barriers between staffers and members. (Calls can be handled in English, Spanish, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian.) Local 1’s 50,000 members span seven states, including Texas.

When members call, President Tom Balanoff said, center staff end up answering most questions themselves if members are just looking for basic information about benefits, their next wage increase, or other contract provisions.

Some Local 1 call center reps have experience doing administrative work for the local. To answer questions, they consult hard copies of Local 1 agreements or a database with contract information.

The reps also use their conversations to update the local’s membership data, encouraging members to make political-action donations or volunteer for union activities.

If callers complain about what appears to be a contract violation, their problem is referred to grievance processing reps who determine whether or not to file a grievance.

This standardized intake process enables grievance cases to be logged in, tracked, and closed out with less paperwork, Balanoff said. Data generated from the call center make it easier for the local to “quantify the work, measure how quick reps resolve grievances, how many are resolved.”

Before the call center, 60 percent of Local 1’s resources were consumed by contract administration, Balanoff estimated. Now, with a division of labor between staffers in the field and grievance reps at headquarters who handle referrals from the call center, the union is better at “moving program” and “mobilizing workers,” he argued.

Two University of Illinois professors who were given access to a database of 20,000 worker “dispute” records hail Local 1 as “the leading edge of a whole-scale program to vastly improve how it represented workers” as part of its “commitment to social unionism.”

BACKLASH

Elsewhere in the country, SEIU members have been far more critical of call-center results, especially in public sector locals locked into long-term contracts with the call center in Pasadena, California.

Dan Mariscal, Los Angeles city worker and SEIU shop steward, was part of a transition committee set up four years ago to help Local 721 shift workplace representation functions, previously handled by stewards and field staff, to Pasadena. “On its face, this sounded like a pretty good idea,” Mariscal said.

But then visits to the center revealed that many of its “member resource organizers” had never been SEIU members or staffers in any of the bargaining units from which they fielded calls. They received just three weeks of training before donning their head-sets, and they worked for the national union, limiting their accountability to members of the participating locals.

This has just not worked out well for the membership,” Mariscal said.

Initially overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls, the Pasadena call center quickly became unpopular in both southern and northern California.

In union officer elections held in the last two years, opposition candidates in Locals 221, 521, 721, 1021, 1877 (and Boston’s 888) all made an issue of call center servicing problems.

Incumbents in 1021 and 888 were defeated in part because of this issue. In 221 and 521, other full-time officials succeeded in distancing themselves from the Pasadena operation by promising a shift to a less expensive and more responsive local call center.

But when new officers of Local 1021 took over last year, they discovered that the local was obligated to pay $54,000 a month for Pasadena’s services for another year.

Critics like Dan Mariscal worry that call centers have further undermined the workplace role of SEIU stewards. The transfer of traditional field staff functions to call center staffers has not provided stewards with any additional support for contract enforcement.

As a result, Mariscal reported, members in Los Angeles “are losing confidence in the union at an alarming rate.” Many supervisors now “regard SEIU stewards as a mere nuisance.”

Even Local 721 President Bob Schoonover, who defeated a reform slate that included Mariscal, worried publicly last year that “it is hard to protect past gains” against the current onslaught in the public sector “if more people on our side are not involved” in the union.

One of the things I’ve heard some of our most active members say many times is that we don’t pay enough attention to members already in the union,” Schoonover observed in an email message. “We spend a lot of time on organizing campaigns, but the perception is that once someone becomes a member they don’t get much attention.”


Mark Brenner contributed to this article. For more on SEIU’s experiment with call center servicing, see Steve Early’s The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

 

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Reformers Win in California Grad Union Election http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/reformers-win-in-california-grad-union-election/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/reformers-win-in-california-grad-union-election/#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 18:06:48 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1520 Continue reading ]]> by Barry Eidlin | Tue, 05/10/2011 Labor Notes

Graduate workers across the University of California have voted to transform their union. The Academic Workers for a Democratic Union slate swept all 10 executive board positions and nearly 60 percent of Joint Council positions in United Auto Workers Local 2865. The local is the largest graduate worker union in the country and the largest UAW local in the West, representing 12,000 academic student workers at nine UC campuses.

AWDU ran a hard-fought campaign against the incumbent leadership, which dubbed itself United for Social and Economic Justice. The campaign itself was tough, but getting the votes counted was even tougher. When it looked like USEJ might lose, the elections committee abruptly suspended the vote count last week and abandoned the ballots. Only in the face of marches, petitions, a sit-in in the union office, political pressure, and national media exposure did the committee resume the count.

AWDU won 55 percent of the vote statewide and up to 90 percent on some campuses. Its presidential candidate, Cheryl Deutsch, a second-year grad student in anthropology at UC Irvine, garnered 56 percent of 3,241 votes cast, a record turnout in a union where members have largely been uninvolved.

AWDU formed in early 2010 out of frustration with that lack of involvement and with the union’s absence from the movement to defend public education, which has at times been heated on UC campuses. The reform movement picked up steam in late 2010, when members mobilized (unsuccessfully) for a “no” vote on what they saw as a substandard contract negotiated with little member input.

Last month, AWDU campaigned on a platform of fighting for public education through grassroots, bottom-up organizing. “We believe only a participatory, bottom-up union can get UC’s priorities back on track,” Deutsch said.

The new leadership is making plans to build a more member-driven, movement-oriented union. On top of fighting massive cuts to public education and developing new strategies for contract enforcement, the local is also gearing up for a major campaign to organize more than 10,000 UC graduate research assistants.

For more information, go to awdu.org.

 

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As Hospitals Go ‘Lean’ and Squeeze Workers, Unions See Potential for Organizing http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/as-hospitals-go-%e2%80%98lean%e2%80%99-and-squeeze-workers-unions-see-potential-for-organizing/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/as-hospitals-go-%e2%80%98lean%e2%80%99-and-squeeze-workers-unions-see-potential-for-organizing/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2011 17:17:45 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1422 Continue reading ]]> Kim Moody, Labor Notes

March 15, 2011

Health care is a growing, consolidated industry with billions flowing into its coffers and desperately in need of skilled labor. It’s the kind of organizing target U.S. unions have not seen for some time.  While unions have already achieved a density of 21 percent in hospitals over the last two decades, by some estimates—well above the national average—they will need more to tame the lean and mean regime brought on by a radical reorganization of hospital work.

Today’s hospitals are big business, run like factories and clustered in growing corporate systems, the result of 597 mergers from 2000 through 2009. Almost three-quarters of private hospitals belong to such systems, concentrated in urban areas. For-profit hospitals are on the rise, intensifying the competition for private and public insurance revenues.

And whatever “nonprofit” hospitals once were, today they are profit-seeking businesses, paying CEOs as much as $1.4 million a year. A survey of hospital executives found that their highest priority was “operating profit margin.”

LEAN WORK, LEAN CARE

Competition and cost-cutting pressures have led hospital managers to turn to lean production methods straight from the Toyota playbook: lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and supply chain strategies aimed at greater efficiencies.

As with all such management-by-stress systems, “efficiency” means greater output with fewer workers. In America’s hospitals this has brought staff reductions, more outsourcing and agency workers at all levels, increasing standardization of treatment, and reorganization of work.

Outsourcing has long impacted the ancillary workforce, as food service, telephone provision, and other services are farmed out. The use of agency workers has become common for nurses, too. As short-staffing has made patient care more difficult and stressful, protection of quality care and patients’ rights have become prime union goals.

Standardization and reorganization of work are enabled by investments in new technology. Real assets per worker have grown at 5 percent or more a year since 1990—about three times the pace during the 1980s. Some of this investment is in digital labor-controlling programs such as Clinical Decision Support Systems, a program that standardizes treatment, now used in nearly two-thirds of hospitals nationwide.

Even electronic medical records, a seemingly neutral advance, increase standardization of care and provide the means to reduce the workforce.

MORE AND SICKER

Although the resulting pressures affect nurses most directly, they impact the entire workforce as cost-cutting pressures grow. This shows up in wage trends. Median weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, have risen only slowly for the last 10 years—a mere three-tenths of 1 percent a year for support workers. Even nurses, whose pay is relatively decent, saw only a half percent increase per year in real terms.

Unionized health care workers, of course, have done considerably better, with major contracts often producing 3-4 percent annual raises.

For nurses in particular, hospital work has become intense. The recession made matters worse, as more than half a million hospital jobs disappeared between 2007 and 2008, before recovering in 2010.

In addition, the shift of less ill patients to outpatient care, to cut costs, has meant that the remaining inpatients are sicker and require more time-consuming care.

But because hospitals (except in California) aren’t required by state law to cap the number of patients each nurse cares for, nurses are pressured to take more patients than they can handle, giving each less bedside time. Nurses unions, especially those affiliated with the new National Nurses United, have made nurse/patient ratios a central bargaining, organizing, and political issue.

As with all lean systems, hospital management demands greater workforce “flexibility.” For nurses this means “floating,” transferring a nurse temporarily from one ward to another. Nursing, however, is not a one-size-fits-all occupation. Nurses specialize. Floating ignores this fact, so, it too has become a key bargaining issue.

Unions have fought to limit overtime because it is another central aspect of lean flexibility as well as a way to reduce staff. The battle is often legislative. While a campaign to win federal limits failed, nine states have passed laws limiting nurses’ overtime, due to union efforts. Most restrict work beyond 12 hours, but in New Jersey after eight hours.

STRIKES INCREASE

Challenging work intensification has, of course, met fierce resistance from profit-seeking hospital managements. As a result the use of strikes and strike threats by health care unions has increased, even while strikes by most unions have dropped sharply.

One-third of the 91 contracts negotiated with hospitals in 2009 and 2010 involved explicit strike threats. Eight actually led to a strike—five of which were led by a nurses union.

As President Obama’s health care law reduces Medicare payments to hospitals, it will increase pressures to restrain wages and intensify work (while pouring billions into the insurance industry).

As some 34 million people gain either public or private insurance, the hospital industry will grow. But the aggressive for-profit chains such as HCA and Tenet will skim the healthiest from the private insurance market and specialize in the most lucrative services, leaving the mass of Medicare and Medicaid patients for the “nonprofits.” These will see more cost pressures.

Given the complexity of the multi-payer system, much of the new money flowing to hospitals will go to administration. Administrative expenses already average 23 percent of costs, far higher than in national or single-payer health care systems in other developed nations.

Bookkeeping costs cut into care-giving. With millions of new forms to process and claims to argue over, administrative costs will be an increased drain on hospitals and thus a pressure on the workforce.

OPPORTUNITY FOR UNIONS

Hospital growth could mean union growth, and lean production pressures certainly give workers more incentives to organize.

But unions oriented to partnership with employers are unlikely to attract the workers who are feeling those pressures. Nor are they likely to win concessions from aggressive managements.

Instead, the dual patients’ advocate, workers’ advocate approach taken by a number of unions, especially the nurses, is far more likely to make the breakthrough this new situation offers.

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NUHW Nurses Strike in Los Angeles over Staffing Levels http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/nuhw-nurses-strike-in-los-angeles-over-staffing-levels/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/nuhw-nurses-strike-in-los-angeles-over-staffing-levels/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2011 18:01:12 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1376 Continue reading ]]> Mark Brenner, Labor Notes

March 3, 2011

More than 1,000 nurses at Kaiser-Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center walked off the job Wednesday over staffing levels they say threaten patient care.The nurses—members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW)—say Kaiser is stalling contract talks and refusing to improve nurse to patient ratios.

California became the first (and so far, only) state to mandate specific nurse to patient ratios, which took effect in 2004. Research has shown the ratios have kept more patients alive, lowered the frequency of preventable complications, and decreased the number of nurses who burn out and leave the job.

But nurse shortages are still common at Kaiser, said Douglas Aberg, a 17-year hospice nurse. NUHW is looking to write the standards into their contract, upping their leverage to enforce the ratios. The union is also pushing for guarantees that the hospital will add more staff when patients get sicker, and won’t compromise patient care by floating nurses into areas outside their expertise.

We’re trying to get Kaiser off the dime,” Aberg said. “We’ve been through 17 meetings but Kaiser is still dragging their feet. If we can’t get this point across at the bargaining table, we’re going to strike.”

Aberg says union meetings helped him realize that short staffing wasn’t just a problem in his unit—it’s everywhere. Negotiations have been underway for more than a year.

Nurses were on the picket lines for 24 hours, starting 6 a.m. on Wednesday and returning to work this morning. Managers from other Kaiser facilities staffed the hospital, along with some agency nurses. The patient population dropped to one-quarter of the usual 800 in anticipation of the strike.

NEW UNION TESTED

The strike comes little more than a year after nurses at Los Angeles Medical Center left the much larger Service Employees (SEIU) affiliate United Healthcare Workers-West to join NUHW.

The bitter contest between the two unions continues, as NUHW is currently seeking a fresh election in Kaiser’s largest bargaining unit of 45,000 service and technical workers. The new union argues that SEIU won last summer’s contest because of widespread intimidation and heavy support for SEIU by the employer.

Nurses like Aberg were drawn into the fray as well after Kaiser denied them previously agreed raises and professional development funds last spring after they left SEIU for NUHW. After NUHW took Kaiser to the labor board and won, those funds were restored last month.

Kaiser has always been an SEIU fan,” Aberg argued. “They don’t like our union because we’re not just going to go with the flow. It’s not what we’re about—we’re going to fight for our needs.”

Despite these clashes, Aberg reported strong support as the nurses maintained a boisterous picket line throughout the day. SEIU members even joined NUHW picket lines.

We’re feeling a lot of solidarity at the rank and file level,” he said.

Visit the NUHW Kaiser workers website at: http://kaiserunited.org/

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New Voice in Wisconsin Protests: No Concessions, No Cuts http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/1361/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/1361/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2011 12:50:52 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1361 Continue reading ]]> Colette Brown Labor Notes

March 2, 2011

A day after 100,000 people demonstrated in Madison—one of the largest protests in Wisconsin history—labor activists gathered to strategize with a new-found sense of power. Andy Heidt of AFSCME Local 1871, a union of county workers, repeated a recurring theme of the day: “One hundred thousand people do not need to beg.”

About 70 people gathered in Madison for an emergency meeting called by National Nurses United under the banner of “No Concessions.” Panelists and attendees were unhappy about public employee union leaders’ signals that they would concede on all pay and benefit take-backs demanded by Governor Scott Walker in exchange for preservation of collective bargaining rights. The givebacks would amount to 8 percent pay cuts for state workers.

Participants also viewed Walker’s proposed social service cuts as unacceptable. The state budget the governor introduced Tuesday contained $1.5 billion in cuts to education and local government. This included sweeping changes to the state’s Medicaid program providing health care coverage to low-income families. The income benchmark for enrolling in the program would drop from $1,800 per month to $1,100—and 70,000 people could lose coverage. Walker’s bill could also force forfeiture of more than $46.6 million in federal transit aid, more than half the state’s federal transit aid.

The consensus was that these attacks on Wisconsin’s poor and working class are designed to divert attention from the real culprits behind the state’s fiscal problems—tax cuts for corporations and the rich, whose profits and incomes have continued to soar during the recession.

Jan Rodolfo of National Nurses United reviewed panelists’ main points: Blame should be placed on Wall Street for the country’s economic woes, not on workers. The solution to budget challenges lies in taxing the rich and closing loopholes—not in Walker’s budget cuts. Gains for workers must be considered as much a priority as saving collective bargaining rights.

Rodolfo asked the group to consider what result would qualify as a victory in the rapidly evolving landscape of Wisconsin’s labor battles. The group offered several ideas.

We should involve the public in a participatory budgeting process and put forward an alternative budget that relies on increased taxes on the rich rather than cuts in social services for the poor and cuts in pay and benefits for public workers,” said Patrick Barrett, a University of Wisconsin staff member.

Participants spoke of the need to maintain momentum and keep up the unprecedented unity in the labor movement that has emerged over the last two weeks. Speakers advocated reaching out to non-union workers, emphasizing how Walker’s plans will affect them.

Others spoke of redirecting public resentment of union benefits and wages by showing how political leaders and their corporate supporters manufactured the budget crisis for their own benefit. While the image of shared sacrifice is often invoked by political and union leaders, corporations and rich people have not contributed their fair share to Wisconsin for years. Currently, Wisconsin allows the exclusion of 30 percent of capital gains income from taxation.

In 2010, this tax break amounted to $151 million, according to a report from the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The $82 million in tax cuts proposed in Walker’s budget would exclude even more capital gains from taxes.

Participants have scheduled a “No Concessions” event for Thursday at 5 p.m., which will include a New Orleans jazz funeral procession protesting Walker’s planned program cuts, with a rally after that at the Capitol.

Colette Brown is a Wisconsin state employee and member of the Wisconsin Professional Employees Council, AFT Local 4848.

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Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis: Pressure Mounts on Legislators http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/1357/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/1357/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2011 12:48:48 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1357 Continue reading ]]> Labor Notes Staff

March 1, 2011

by Jenny Brown, Mischa Gaus, Jane Slaughter

Though their numbers aren’t as large as those in Wisconsin, unionists in Ohio and Indiana are keeping up remarkable pressure on their legislatures with repeat crowds of 1,000, 10,000, and even 20,000 today in Ohio.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, after the largest rally yet seen on Saturday, unionists fought for their right to be inside the Capitol (see below).

Ohioans rallied from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Columbus today, trying to block SB5, a bill that would end collective bargaining rights for state employees and a host of other noxious legislation. Crowd size was estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 and “the crowd always gets a lot bigger as soon as school lets out,” said Nick Perry, a UPS Teamster who was enjoying both the crowd’s rendition of “Solidarity Forever” and the Street Dogs, a punk band. “In the next three hours it could get much bigger,” Perry said at 3 p.m. See video here.

Unions and allies will rally again Wednesday, as a vote nears on SB5.

Besides buses filled with union members—Perry said at least 400 Teamsters were in the crowd—the noisy crowd welcomed faith leaders, students from Ohio State, and veterans.

Department of Transportation worker Willa O’Neill, from the small town of Marietta in southeast Ohio, said, “Our managers are also against this bill but they’re afraid to come out and say anything for fear of reprisal.” She said two buses came from Marietta. When she took a vacation day for the rally, “my managers knew where I was going and totally approved of it.”

O’Neill has more than 30 years of service, having hired in just as her department was beginning its first union contract. “I heard stories from those who’d been here before, how merit pay at that time was for those that coughed up money for the controlling party,” she said. “I really don’t want that to happen again.”

A bill in Ohio’s House would allow employers to exchange overtime pay for comp time, opening the door to wage theft. Attacks on the prevailing wage and “project labor agreements” for construction workers are also on the table, as well as privatization of prisons, the Ohio Turnpike, and the job development agency. “Pensions are on the chopping block,” said AFL-CIO staffer Andy Richards. “The pension ‘reforms’ for teachers, police, and firefighters are egregious.”

Although the crowds haven’t occupied the Capitol as in Wisconsin, they are showing willingness to keep coming back, as long as it takes. Committee hearings are being broadcast outside to the crowds. Perry said that one legislator “reminded speakers to keep their testimony short so we won’t be here all night. A fireman said, ‘It’s normal for me to work 24 hours a day. I’m good for the whole night.’ That got a big cheer.”

Richards said the demonstrations in Columbus of the last two weeks are “laying the groundwork for a movement against budget cuts that will affect tons and tons of people.” Governor John Kasich’s budget is due March 15, and unions are bracing for “some pretty nasty stuff,” including repeal of the estate tax and more tax breaks for corporations.

A March 1 rally in Columbus drew 20,000. Photo: Jason Perlman/Ohio AFL-CIO

O’Neill said they’d heard there were 100 pages of amendments being offered to Kasich’s 476-page bill. “They can’t amend it to make it acceptable to us,” she said.

Meanwhile, said Perry, “everybody’s watching Wisconsin.”

Right to Work and More Draws Crowds in Indiana

While union press releases announced the death of a right-to-work bill in Indiana, activists at the Capitol are wary of declaring victory too soon. “The bill number may be dead, but the issues are still very alive,” said David Williams of the Laborers.

A thousand rallied inside the crowded statehouse in Indianapolis Monday while House Democrats continued their exile in Illinois, listing 11 anti-worker bills they want dropped before they are willing to return and provide a quorum.

“Indiana workers win one,” declared the AFL-CIO when Republicans withdrew the right-to-work bill, while the Laborers wrote: “Indiana workers stop right-to-work for now, but fight for good jobs continues.”

Brett Voorhies, a Steelworkers legislative director, said he’d seen this pattern already. Before the protests started, on February 15, labor was told the right-to-work bill was dead, but it was introduced anyway two days later, which “triggered everything”: massive protests.

Protests started Monday, February 21, and continued all week, drawing as many as 10,000 a day last Wednesday and Thursday. Demonstrators plan to keep up the pressure, and unions have scheduled buses to travel to Indianapolis all this week from northern Indiana, a union stronghold. Labor is planning a larger mobilization for March 10.

I’d like to see us follow in Wisconsin’s footsteps,” said Williams. But according to workers inside the Capitol, police are adding restrictions, dictating times music can be played, for example. Unlike in Wisconsin, police haven’t allowed anyone to stay overnight.

The AFL-CIO is also shortening the hours of protests, focusing on mid-day, in contrast to last week, when protesters spent long days in the Capitol, only leaving at 9 p.m. when the building closed. When voices have been raised to try civil disobedience, one source said, AFL-CIO leaders “frowned on that.” It’s not clear what a successful escalation would look like.

No more legislation has been able to move in the absence of House Democrats. But during the protests, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill to cut unemployment benefits by 25 percent. “It was kind of in your eye,” said Voorhies.

Indiana state workers currently have no collective bargaining. Democratic Governor Evan Bayh instituted bargaining in 1990, but in 2005 Daniels canceled the contracts, instituting a pay freeze, abolishing seniority protections, imposing a merit pay scheme, and privatizing hundreds of jobs. A current bill would prevent future governors from negotiating with public unions and would outlaw strikes.

Daniels, a Republican, has not pushed the right-to-work measure, saying it was brought up at the wrong time. He bemoaned the distraction from his other agenda items, such as curtailing collective bargaining for teachers, adding charter schools, and expanding school vouchers for private schools. The House Democrats are refusing to return as long as those bills are under consideration.

Voorhies said the Steelworkers were strong on defending the teachers: “One, it’s our kids. Two, we have so many members, someone in our family is a teacher or we’re married to a teacher. And then it’s a solidarity thing, an injury to one is injury to all.” Herb Anderson, a Steelworker who traveled to the protests Thursday, said the voucher bill is “just going to dilute the money that’s there for education.”

Even if we defeat right to work,” said Sal Aguilar, assistant director of Steelworkers District 7, “we’ve gotta defeat the bill they’ve got against the teachers, then there’s a bill to hurt the trades.” He said there’s also a bill to prevent localities from setting higher minimum wages. “This is getting out of hand.”

They woke a sleeping giant, it’s not just about right-to-work anymore,” said Voorhies. “We’ve started a fight and we’re going to continue fighting for as long as we have to.”

Wisconsin: Police Attempt to Clear Capitol

In Wisconsin, more than 100,000 massed in the capital for a weekend rally, as Capitol police declined to enforce an order Sunday to clear the building of protesters.

State police stepped in, and the Department of Administration, an executive branch division answerable to Governor Scott Walker, began restricting access to the building instead. Protesters were told they could leave to move their cars, but when they returned the doors were closed. They didn’t reopen Monday.

Police began sealing windows in the Capitol to prevent supplies from reaching protesters inside. Demonstrators’ numbers have dwindled to around 100.

AFSCME Council 24 and the state teachers union WEAC sued to overturn the restrictions on access to the Capitol, winning a temporary injunction. The matter went back before another judge Tuesday afternoon, with the unions seeking to permanently re-open the statehouse.

The Department of Administration argued it’s complying with the letter of the ruling by letting one demonstrator in for every one who leaves. Police demand identification at Capitol doors and prevent visitors from entering unless they have an appointment with their own legislator.

Observers say the courthouse where the hearing is taking place has a circus-like atmosphere, with the judge asking state lawyers if they possess an omniscience that gives them insight into the Capitol’s workings—followed by jeers from the hundred or so in the overflow room.

If the judge rules in the unions’ favor, it legitimizes the view that the governor is out of control,” said Andrew Sernatinger, a baker in Madison and active protester.

Union leaders predict the pressure on Walker will grow when he releases his budget proposal today, expected to include $1 billion in cuts to education and local government.

It will be vicious and draconian,” said Dave Poklinkoski of the IBEW. “There will be a reaction, and it will broaden the base of support.”

Wisconsin unionists don’t see the Capitol occupation as crucial to their strategy to roll back the governor’s attacks on workers, but recognize the powerful symbolism of rollicking dissent filling the grand rotunda.

Firefighters, meanwhile, broke through the police blockade Tuesday afternoon, as 20 marched into the Capitol in their full gear, led by bagpipers.

Thousands are still massing outside the statehouse, testifying on a microphone set up by the Bricklayers. The anger of participants grew as they remained shut out of the statehouse.

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Labour Upsurge in America’s Midwest http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/labour-upsurge-in-america%e2%80%99s-midwest/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/03/labour-upsurge-in-america%e2%80%99s-midwest/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2011 12:17:05 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1345 Continue reading ]]> Kim Moody, UCU, NUJ

In February 2011 mass mobilisations of public sector workers swept across much of America’s Midwest. In Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and, above all, in Wisconsin, public employees demonstrated, called in ‘sick’, and stormed their respective state legislatures in opposition to proposed laws that would undermine basic union rights. The laws were put forth by recently elected Republican governors in those and other states designed to destroy the power of public worker unions. The attack on public sector workers, often focused on teachers, is long standing, sponsored by big business and embraced by many Democrats as well as Republicans, from the Whitehouse to state legislatures and town halls across the country. The recent Great Recession provided a further opportunity for state governments facing growing deficits to propose the final coup de grace to public worker rights.

While unions in the private sector have lost hundreds of thousands of member in the last two years, public sector unions saw only small losses in 2010, with membership still well above the 2007 level. Although wage freezes and cuts have been widespread in the public sector, right wingers and their business supporters have tried to convince the public that they make more than their private sector counterparts as part of a strategy to divide these two groups of workers. In fact, a series of studies comparing wages and benefits in the two sectors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana show that public employees make about 4% less than their private sector counterparts, though benefits might be somewhat higher. But, as many commentators have argued, the recent wave of attacks on findamental union rights isn’t about money so much as power.

The first sign of worker resistance came on Monday 14 February when some 400 Minnesota union members filled the hearing rooms of the state legislature to oppose a bill that would undermine union security and cut wages by 15%. The bill was withdrawn. Later that week, on Friday 5,000 Ohio public workers stormed their state Capitol to stop similar legislation. Workers in Indiana and Michigan followed suit. The epicentre of this movement, however, was Wisconsin.

The explosion of worker mobilisation in Madison, Wisconsin began on 15 February when the state’s three largest public employee unions called on members to demonstrate at the state Capitol against legislation proposed by the state’s new Republican Governor, Scott Walker. Walker won election in 2010 with Tea Party backing and funds generously supplied by the billionaire Koch brothers, who are also major funders of the Tea Party movement. In addition to the severe cuts in public jobs and services that have become the standard fare of state politics across the country, Walker proposed to limit collective bargaining to wages, end payroll deduction of dues, force public sector unions to vote every year for recognition, and impose higher employee contributions for pensions and healthcare, which, if the bill passes, cannot be negotiated. It would also virtually eliminate grievance bargaining.

The anger among public workers that generated this mass turnout has been a long time smouldering. Municipal employees in Madison, for example, had not had a wage increase in three years. Perhaps most aggrieved were teachers. All across the country they have been the target of educational ‘reforms’ that not only introduce scripted teaching and standard testing as the measure of all things, but specifically scapegoat teachers as the cause of America’s slumping educational ratings. President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ educational programme endorses this blame-the-teacher approach.

From Tuesday the 15th when about 10,000 answered their unions’ call, the demonstrations escalated each day reaching 70,000 on Saturday the 19th. For two weeks, workers and students maintained a 24-hour occupation. Thousands remained encamped around the Capitol with hundreds inside through the night during the entire second week. 

Although police and fire fighters were exempted from the law and private sector workers unaffected, the demonstrations saw fire fighters, ‘cops for labor’, steelworkers, building workers, and others in the crowd day after day. Fire fighters, at the behest of their union’s leader, were among those occupying and sleeping in the Capitol. Also present in the streets were member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, one with a sign reading ‘I left Iraq and came to Egypt.’

Wisconsin workers were reinforced as members of various unions came from around the Midwest in buses and car pools to show support. More recently, supporters have come from all around the country. People from around the world called in to a local pizzeria to order pizzas by the hundreds for the demonstrators. The rally on Saturday 26 February drew as many as 100,000 protestors, far exceeding the turnout of the previous Saturday, according to Madison police. This despite freezing weather and snow. That same day, solidarity rallies, often numbering in the thousands, were held in all 50 states.

Although the movement was called and backed by the union officialdom, much of the mass mobilisation was, as one reporter put it, ‘spontaneous.’ Another noted that the daily demonstrations, meetings, and overnight stays in the Capitol were organised by volunteers. Union branches in the area took turns joining the occupation. Union members in branches around the state took it upon themselves to organise their fellow workers into car pools. One group of 120 teachers from nearby Janesville answered their union’s suggestion to call in sick and go to Madison. When the same union asked teachers to return to work, not all of them did. Indeed, while the word strike was seldom heard, ‘sick-in’ became part of the language of protest.

The movement was, by nature, political from the start. But it produced a rather unusual action by the Democrats in the state Senate. On Thursday, before the Republicans could bring the 500-page anti-union bill up for debate in the Senate, all 14 Democrats left the Capitol and then the state. Effort by Governor Walker to have the State Police hunt them down came to nothing as they escaped across the border to neighbouring Illinois. This deprived the Republicans of the quorum required to do business. It also made heroes of a group of politicians seldom engaged in risky actions. A week later Democrats in Indiana did the same thing. In Wisconsin, one of the first to leave the Senate was, in fact, encouraged by militant demonstrators who sat down outside his office. The Democrats vowed not to return until the Governor was at least willing to negotiate on the specifically anti-union sections of the legislation. Republicans in the lower house, the Assembly, caught the Democrats sleeping and rammed though the bill at 1:00 am on Friday the 25th —an act Democrats say is illegal. For the bill to become law it must still pass the Senate.

While many states face real budget problems those in Wisconsin were manufactured by Walker who cut business taxes, threw state funds at special interests, and turned a $121 million budget surplus into a $137 million deficit. Two-thirds of corporations in Wisconsin pay no taxes at all, according to the National Nurses United union. Ohio’s budget ‘crisis’ was similarly produced by that state’s new Republican governor. The right has attempted to intervene on the Governor’s side in this class struggle, but efforts to turn out Tea Party counter-demonstrators have been completely eclipsed by the mass worker mobilisations. Indeed, three polls taken in the state during these events showed that over 60% opposed Walker’s anti-union bill as too extreme, while the biggest and most recent saw 58% explicitly supporting the union side.

Up to this writing, the mobilisation has been officially supported by the state public employee unions and their top officials, but signs of wavering began to show even in the first week. As mentioned above, the leaders of the state’s major teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association called off the ‘sick-in’ they had initiated. The state-level officials of the three major unions also announced that they would accept the cuts in jobs and wages proposed in the legislation if the Governor would withdraw the sections that attacked collective bargaining per se. Clearly, the officialdom saw the legislation as an attack on the very institutional basis of the union, something they had a deep interest in defending. Another problem is that the strategy is heavily dependent on the resolution of the Democrats, both in the immediate willingness of the 14 state senators to stay out-of-state and in the longer term effort to recall at least three Republicans and replace them with Democrats. As Obama’s and the Congressional Democrats abandonment of organised labour’s number one legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act that would have made organising easier, shows, the Democrats are seldom a reliable ally. So far state union leaders have not tried to call off the mobilisation as they certainly realise this is their only real card even in influencing the Democrats, let alone Walker and the Republicans.

On 22 February, delegates, to the Madison-based South Central Federation of Labour, which represents 45,000 workers in 97 affiliated branch unions, passed a resolution calling on affiliated unions to prepare for and educate their members in the ‘organisation and purpose’ of a general strike if the law passes. There hasn’t been a general strike in the US since 1946 when about seven cities saw such strikes. Whether or not this strike happens and whether or not the law finally passes, the massive upsurge in Wisconsin has put new ideas about class politics and power on the trade union agenda.

A bigger question may be whether the spirit of this rebellion can spread to private sector unions sparking increased resistance and an accelerated push to organise the millions who remain outside the labour movement. The turnout of many private sector unionists in support of the Wisconsin workers is a hopeful sign, but much more will be needed to make this a reality. Some, however, are optimistic. Well-known union organiser and expert Tom Juravich speculates that ’20 years or so down the road we’ll be talking about the ‘before Wisconsin’ and ‘after Wisconsin’ movements.’

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Reports from the Wisconsin State Capitol http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/02/reports-from-the-wisconsin-state-capitol/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/02/reports-from-the-wisconsin-state-capitol/#comments Fri, 25 Feb 2011 20:46:03 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1342 Continue reading ]]> Here are a couple of reports from the US Solidarity website. See the Websine. They give a flavour of the Wisconsin movement from inside the Capitol.


Dispatches from the Class War in Wisconsin – Adam’s Story

February 25, 2011

What does organizing on the ground look like?

Adam: We have been having regular Solidarity meetings, which are the best meetings I have ever attended. We have been asking ourselves what we are trying to do and how we can radicalize the agenda and talking points. Obviously a lot of union leaders and people in general are ready to give concessions right away, but we are trying to say Scott Walker gave tax breaks to businesses and now they are trying to give the debt onto the people, and stressing the point that we shouldn’t be so willing to give in concessions.

People clustered with signs have made themselves at home. There are so many unaffiliated people, and they have committed themselves to the struggle. Coordinating between groups and unaffiliated people is crucial, and coordination between groups is starting to happen. Everyone was surprised at how well we have been holding down the capitol and now we are starting to really dig in. The energy could have waned, but we are seeing that this is more sustainable.

Theresa and I organized an open forum in the middle of the capitol with folks that were spending the night at the Capitol. We discussed such topics as why we were there, what are our demands are, and what are the interactions with the police. Medea Benjamin — one of the founders of Code Pink — just got back from Egypt, and she told us her story of the community that developed in the process during the struggle in Tahrir Square. This was perfect timing for Medea to say this because that kind of culture is developing in Madison. People are remarkable. I have been an activist in Wisconsin since I was 14 — that’s around 9-10 years — and I have never seen anything remotely like this.

During the anti-war rallies, you went home after a few hours; it wasn’t sustainable. Being at the capitol at night, having political discussions, and seeing people with kids, people playing instruments or break dancing is a completely different experience. It is becoming more cogent. People are expecting these things now. We have an information center, food donation areas (food is available all the time!), lost and found, massage services and other stress reducing spots. There is a real community that has been forged through these events.

Tessa and I have been attending meetings about civil disobedience: What would that look like? What would that entail? We don’t know when that will happen — or if that will happen — but we need to have infrastructure ready as well as getting different people on the same page. Because direct action can be powerful or useless, we found that is it important for different groups to be asking these questions and communicating with one another. There is legal aid everywhere. ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild have been giving out information about our rights.

Whenever the police have a chance to close down the Capitol, they will do it. We need to negotiate with the police because we don’t want a confrontation, but we don’t want to be pushed out either. People power is our leverage. We need to keep our numbers strong, and keep workers and families there. That is very important. Saturday was very thin, we were nervous. We thought we may get pushed out. Police have already taken over portions of the capitol. We discussed how we need to have a crowd that is both large and diverse. On Monday night, about a hundred Firefighters with families stayed the night at the Capitol; last night many community members stayed there. That is VERY important.

What are some of the changes you have seen this week?

The fear we all had was that energy would wane this week, but that has not happened. In fact, this week we have taken a crucial step towards a sustainable movement. Last week there was an upsurge of energy that peaked Saturday so this week we thought this would be a bad week but on Monday 15,000 to 20,000 people came out. Tom Morello (of Nightwatchman and Rage Against the Machine fame) played, and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) president was there.

It’s important to note that not only the public sector workers, but private sector workers are also showing up. We thought that because Monday was a furlough day, that is why we had the numbers but yesterday we had 10,000 people and more people stayed the night at the Capitol than last week. The energy is still alive. Staying at the Capitol, you just get taken away with the people. Time flies while you are talking, laughing and sharing food with each other. I had this great conversation with this woman about the time when they occupied the Capitol in the 1980s to protest apartheid in South Africa. I never knew that had happened in Madison. It is becoming an organizing space and a new generation of activists is being forged.

The rally in Ohio and Indiana‘s Democrats fleeing the state is heartening to Wisconsinites. Maybe a new workers’ movement is beginning. We could have something new on our hands. South Central Federation of Labor endorsed a general strike. They backed off the language after, but the fact that THOSE words came out is ridiculous in a good way. This is a new feeling.

We are getting creative in strategizing. We are not only focusing on the Capitol, but we are also targeting Scott Walker. We are protesting the M & I bank that gave him a lot of money. Today, I am going to protest the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), a business lobby and one of Walker’s biggest donors. Walker was planning on announcing the budget there – which is unprecedented – but the announcement is postponed. Obviously, this shows which side he is on. Tomorrow we are protesting the Koch Brothers lobbying office. We are keeping the energy alive by organizing a lot. Students are also riding on this high energy by planning protests against the privatization of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Battle for Wisconsin Part Six: War of Maneuver

February 24, 2011

The strategic and tactical assessments of the situation have shifted a few times since this started last week–our goals and objectives have had to change with the developments here, the idea of what is possible and what a win means. Its all changed and changed again. When we arrived at what seemed like a kind of stalemate over the weekend, both sides were digging in and preparing to deal huge blows: Walker and the Legislature were expected to press the police and push the bill; workers had the threat of a general strike, a huge presence at the capitol and a lot of unrest in the state. Monday night/Tuesday early morning, there was a sense of immediacy that broke the interlude–people on the ground were getting ready to defend against a push by briefing each other on direct actions, legal support and emergency support to unions.

For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and we have shifted out of the war of position, where we use the entrenched strength we’ve built for large advances, into a war of maneuver where smaller skirmishes are used to approach an advantage. Walker announced that if unions don’t back down and let the bill pass, he will issue layoffs to public employees by the thousands–notices have already been sent in advance. As mentioned before, the UW Hospital is also putting pressure on doctors who wrote medical notes for the teacher sick-outs to try and intimidate them into dissociating from the movement. Walker also revealed in a leaked conversation he thought he was having with David Koch that he is also looking to the courts to rule that once the Senate session has commenced the Senators don’t need to physically be there anymore, which would allow the Senate to vote on the bill. As they’re shifting their strategy, they’re also reigning in the rogue elements who threaten the plan–there’s a rumor that Chancellor Biddy Martin may be fired for her (now) overzealous advance on the New Badger Partnership for the UW.

On the workers’ side, they’ve embraced the war of maneuver by picking strategic targets as well. On Tuesday, workers picketed outside of M&I Bank, a major contributor to the Walker campaign; Wednesday a rally was called on the Monona Terrace to have a presence outside the meeting of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce where Walker was giving the keynote address–and Jimmy Hoffa Jr was also reported to have been in attendance! An action has been called today at the Koch Brothers’ lobbying office in Madison; students are organizing a solidarity response to the UW’s harassment of doctors and a rally has been called Friday at the meeting of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin as they discuss the proposal to split the UW from the system, thereby privatizing the university.

That said, the ground has also shifted inside the capitol where they’ve relaxed some of their tactics and a stable community has arisen, far less dependent on the TAA or other big players. A food table has been erected on the second floor, a departure from the TAA’s table, which had been the central food area previously. A medical/healthcare station has been set up with the generous aid of a local pharmacy cooperative and a hall has been designated for families and children. The information station has of course remained, but people staffing these tables have adopted name tags and are developing a more structured rotation to ensure staffing. Where Tuesday morning police had been encircling the space, tearing down posters and seemed to be making a play for control, as of yesterday it appeared to be much more like the atmosphere late last week–plastered with posters, chanting and sharing, TVs broadcasting the activity of the assembly inside and workers watching closely, responding with cheers or boos. The Assembly is moving slowly through at least a hundred amendments, with Democrats making motions for increased pay for public defenders and other social services as a projection of a different, oppositional spirit of what government should be doing. It is complicated to relate to as independent activists, but objectively necessary.

Backing up for a minute, why has the strategy changed? Quite clearly, the Republicans have no interest in compromising–Walker himself said in the “prank” call that he will not budge and that’s how you win, by breaking the other side. Its undercut the Democrats plan to shoot for a bill without the union-busting and let the rest pass. Its just not a possibility, and hearing Walker say that strengthens the resolve of workers to fight the WHOLE bill. Unfortunately, while the Democrats have been undermined, the labor bureaucracy hasn’t as such. Their signs and language still point to the demand of dropping the attack on collective bargaining, and the sense is that if they get that, they’ll leave. Its uneven to the point that they are willing to harness the power of a general strike to get the Legislature to drop the union-busting aspects of the bill–but if you’re preparing for that kind of power, why not go for the complete victory? Many rank’n filers are arriving at the demand for the whole bill to go, but the union bureaucracy’s printed placards and legitimate power makes it difficult for them to embrace the demand as a collective grouping.

As that’s happening, more layers of the working class have turned out to oppose the other attacks, specifically the attacks on public health, transportation, affirmative action, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, and democratic channels. My read is that if the entire bill is going to be defeated, the alliance between unionists and the layers of the working poor and the diverse public have to be strengthened so that the Republicans don’t offer a concession on collective bargaining and the unions leave the rest of these people high and dry. That in part rests in the common identification as workers, or at least as people who have a similar relationship to capital (though obviously not the same).

A final word: It has become clear that this is a war that is opening up new fronts and developments in other places will affect our chances of victory here. Having 10,000 protestors in Ohio is helping us win here. Having a politician’s rebellion in Indiana, leading to them dropping Right-to-Work (for less) legislation is helping us here. Having solidarity demonstrations across the country is helping us, and its helping us to have people come from around the country boosting our strength on the ground at what both sides are calling “ground zero”. But Walker knows this too and its equally significant that Oklahoma has voted to repeal collective bargaining. Its no coincidence that all these bills are being debated right now across the country, and their language is nearly identical so its obvious that there is a central place that has developed this project and they need to be pressured as well.

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Wisconsin: ‘As Long As It Takes’ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/02/wisconsin-%e2%80%98as-long-as-it-takes%e2%80%99/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/02/wisconsin-%e2%80%98as-long-as-it-takes%e2%80%99/#comments Thu, 24 Feb 2011 21:08:27 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1340 Continue reading ]]> Howard Ryan, Labor Notes

February 21, 2011

updated February 22

The spirit in Wisconsin is best captured by two teachers from Janesville sitting on the stairs inside the Capitol. They’re holding the sign that’s everywhere at these protests—“Care about Educators Like They Care for Your Child.”

The two answered their union’s call and headed to Madison. They arrived with 120 other educators from Janesville, where schools were closed Thursday and Friday due to the teachers’ sick-out. The protests that have jammed the state Capitol are the first political rallies they have joined—ever.

But the two teachers wouldn’t reveal their names. Janesville administrators had implied there “may be some consequence” for truant teachers.

Governor Scott Walker has proposed legislation that would crush teachers’ and other public workers’ unions. It would stop their ability to collect member dues through payroll deductions and end any requirement that employees pay union dues at all. It would require union bargaining units to hold an annual certification vote in order to maintain representation.

So the teachers had to come.

This is so serious,” one Janesville teacher said. “This is about a democratic principle that’s at stake.”

The teachers’ unions have announced a return to work on Tuesday, following the Presidents’ Day holiday. But all of Wisconsin labor plans to continue actions at the Capitol and around the state, said Jim Cavanaugh, president of the Madison-based South Central Federation of Labor. They will continue holding two rallies a day at the Capitol, at noon and 5 p.m.

The labor federation endorsed a call for a general strike Monday night, possibly to take place the day Walker signs his “budget repair” bill. While a federation cannot declare a strike, it can educate affiliated unions and members on the organization and function of a general strike. That work began immediately.

Thousands of union members, students, and community supporters are still circling the mile-long square surrounding the statehouse, while thousands more pack the floors and stairs inside the building’s grandiose rotunda, chanting “Kill the Bill” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

CONCESSIONS

While the rank and file have responded passionately to the call to defend their unions, not all are happy with the union stance on the governor’s economic proposals.

The state’s public sector labor leaders—including AFSCME Council 24 Director Marty Beil and Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)—have announced they will accept the governor’s economic takeaways if he backs off his anti-union measures. The pension and health care takeaways would mean an 8 percent pay cut.

We’re already deep in the hole,” said Harry Richardson, a 12-year mail clerk and AFSCME member at the University of Wisconsin. “I took a 3 percent pay cut from furlough days.”

What irks Richardson the most is that the members weren’t consulted when Beil made his concession decision. “We learned about it in the papers,” he said. “People might even vote for it. But we should be asked. That’s why people are in this union. It’s because they want a voice.”

Wisconsin’s 14 Democratic state senators left the state late last week in order to prevent the senate from achieving the quorum necessary to pass the bill, and have vowed not to return until the Republicans rewrite the bill to permit collective bargaining.

Labor leaders from outside the state urged Wisconsin unionists to stand tall against concessions—and start demanding that state leaders patch budget holes by reversing huge giveaways to corporations.

Two-thirds of corporations pay no taxes in Wisconsin, and the share of state revenue from corporate taxes has fallen by half since 1981, according to National Nurses United’s research arm.

Working people did not create the recession or the budgetary crisis facing Washington or state or local governments, and there can be no more concessions, period,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, NNU executive director.

THE SPARK

The tens of thousands that flooded the capital over the past week were led in no small part by the teachers’ bold sick-out.

It was recommended last Wednesday by statewide WEAC and inspired by the union’s Madison affiliate, Madison Teachers Inc.

MTI had agreed the prior night to hold a three-day walkout. This was by no means an easy decision, says Mike Lipp, MTI president and 37-year high school teacher. The local launched its phone tree and had 120 members turn out at the Rep Council February 15. The two-and-a-half-hour discussion was heart-wrenching and emotional.

Most of our teachers are elementary and middle school teachers,” Lipp said. “It’s very important that they are with the kids. There’s a very strong bond.”

The young teachers were particularly concerned. They’re on three-year probation. But the meeting calmed concerns and the final vote supporting the sick-out was about 95 to 2.

There’s a reason we have public sector unions,” said Lipp, and it’s about the right to redress a grievance without fear of retribution. “You’re gonna be on five committees,” Lipp said, describing a non-union teacher’s life. “You’ll have to stay here every night after school till six o’clock. And if you don’t do that, I’m gonna put you in that corner classroom that has no heat. I’m gonna give you 40 kids. I’m gonna fire you if you don’t toe the line.”

The teachers are fighting for the right to recourse, he said.

MAD IN THE PARKS DEPARTMENT

Kay Nelson, an AFSCME member who works for the city of Madison’s parks department, said municipal workers haven’t seen a raise in three years. She pointed out that public workers in Wisconsin already make 4.8 percent less than private workers with similar qualifications.

They’re going take away our rights now?” Nelson asks. “I mean, we’re already struggling as it is. And they’re gonna make it worse for us. Everyone’s pretty mad.”

For Nelson, the union means a lot more than just a fair paycheck and benefits. She had worked in a unit where the supervisor had a history of sexually harassing the women. Nelson was the only one willing to stand up. Her union rep helped her transfer to a different job, and the supervisor ended up stepping down. Nelson’s at the Capitol, in part, to return the support she received.

Even if the teachers union is calling members back to work, Cavanaugh says the pressure will continue. Each union has planned a sleepover inside the Capitol on a different night this week, where they will join University of Wisconsin students who have held a continuing 24-hour occupation. A local pizzeria is delivering pies to the Capitol protesters ordered by supporters from around the world—one such solidarity order was phoned in from Egypt.

Rallies and lobbying roll on across the state, with particular focus on pressuring Republican state senators. To deny Walker a majority, just three need to break from his proposal. One, Dale Schultz, offered a compromise position over the weekend that would strip collective bargaining now and restore it in 2013.

The cracks in the Republican caucus gave protesters hope—although many derided the compromise. Collective bargaining is not up for discussion, they say.

We’re gonna stay here until we’ve made a difference,” said one of the Janesville teachers. “As long as it takes.”

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NLRB Schedules Hearing on SEIU-Kaiser Collusion http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/01/nlrb-schedules-hearing-on-seiu-kaiser-collusion/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/01/nlrb-schedules-hearing-on-seiu-kaiser-collusion/#comments Mon, 24 Jan 2011 10:14:40 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1246 Continue reading ]]> Last week, the National Labor Relations Board issued a report that could result in the overturning of last fall’s election for 43,000 Kaiser workers due to misconduct by both Kaiser Permanente and SEIU.  NUHW filed objections to the election, alleging that both Kaiser and SEIU had engaged in electioneering misconduct and colluded to prevent workers from choosing to be represented by NUHW.

In its January 14, 2011 finding, the NLRB found sufficient merit in dozens of objections filed by NUHW to warrant holding a full-blown hearing, including that:

• SEIU unlawfully threatened Kaiser employees with loss of wages and benefits if NUHW won the election.
• Kaiser paid SEIU representatives to campaign for its preferred union, SEIU.
• Kaiser provided special access to SEIU staff and supporters that it denied to NUHW representatives.
• SEIU engaged in various acts of physical force and violence against supporters of NUHW.

The January 14th report also reiterates two recent rulings by an NLRB administrative law judge and a federal judge, both asserting that Kaiser broke the law when it withheld scheduled wage increases and other benefits to approximately 2,300 professionals and registered nurses in Southern California who voted overwhelmingly to be represented by NUHW in January 2010. The hearing will seek to determine whether Kaiser’s illegal activities unlawfully impacted the outcome of the disputed election.


The hearing before an NLRB hearing officer is scheduled for February 7, 2011.

Follow this link for more information about NUHW: http://www.NUHW.org.

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