Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Return of LIUNA: What This Really Means for the Building Trade Unions of the AFL-CIO

Solidarity. That was the message AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent in a statement welcoming the Laborers’ international Union of North America (LIUNA) back into the fold, after the organization announced on August 13, 2010, that it will rejoin the AFL-CIO, effective October 1, 2010. In his statement, Trumka said,

We are very happy that LIUNA is rejoining the AFL-CIO at a critical moment for working people…LIUNA brings a proud history and dedication to the union movement and we are delighted to welcome them back to the AFL-CIO.”

Aside from the expected kumbaya moment where labor leaders flaunt terms like Solidarity and Coalition Building, what does LIUNA’s return to the AFL-CIO mean in practice for the Labor Movement, the AFL-CIO, and more specifically, the other members of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Coalition Department? Will this move galvanize the building trades, or will it cause former tensions to resurface? Once the ink is dry on the press statements and the photo ops have ended, there will be some serious issues to be hammered out between LIUNA and the AFL-CIO.

First, there is the question of whether the AFL-CIO should levy any penalty or back per capita dues accrued during LIUNA’s time away from the Federation. James Williams, General President of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) said in an interview on August 27, 2010, that he couldn’t comment as to whether the AFL-CIO would assess any back per capita, as it would come up in the executive meetings in the near future. When asked his personal feeling on whether the back per capita should be an option, Williams stated, “In a perfect world I would say they should pay some back per capita, but realistically, it’s not likely to happen.” Williams later said that he didn’t feel that it was necessary to impose a per capita penalty on LIUNA at this time. Given the fact that the AFL-CIO did not levy a penalty against Unite Here! when they returned in 2009, it appears extremely unlikely that LIUNA will face any financial penalty for its split from the AFL-CIO in 2005.

This poses a very serious issue for the AFL-CIO: If in practice, there is no penalty for leaving the AFL-CIO, in part to escape paying per capita taxes, which was very much part of the decision back in 2005, what is to stop any affiliate union from bailing from the AFL-CIO for a few years if they get into financial problems? With the ticking time bomb many unions have with their pension programs, this precedent could turn out to be disastrous for the AFL-CIO in the coming years.

Second, there is the lingering issue of whether the AFL-CIO should require some form of a public mea culpa from LIUNA regarding the situation with the unaffiliated United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC). A long-time, high-ranking union official, who did not wish to be identified due to the subject matter, noted that this should make some of the other members of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Coalition a bit uneasy due to LIUNA’s past behavior. Several years ago, LIUNA conspired with the Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) to set up a tier system in which the UBC would organize the skilled laborers, and LIUNA would organize the unskilled laborers, therefore squeezing out the other building trade unions. This scheme fell apart, mainly because the employers weren’t cooperative enough. However, if the employers would have gone along with this plan, several of the AFL-CIO building trade unions may have ceased to exist. Given this past activity, it should worry some of the building trade unions that not only is the AFL-CIO accepting LIUNA back with open arms, but also without any type of apology or public denouncement regarding the aforementioned situation with the Carpenters. At the very least, the AFL-CIO should require a public statement from LIUNA affirming their dedication to Article 20 of the AFL-CIO Constitution, which prohibits this type of activity by its affiliate unions.

For their part, the member unions of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Coalition Department are publicly supportive of LIUNA’s return. IUPAT General President James Williams said he is “Glad to have Terry [O’Sullivan] back,” and hailed him as a “Strong, progressive leader.” One has to wonder, however, how this will play out behind closed doors at the upcoming AFL-CIO executive meetings, and whether this will turn out to be a major victory for President Trumka, or another division in the house of labor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Union Baby is Born!

Hello Everyone,

I apologize for the lack of updates. My wife and I welcomed our first child, Aodhan Jasper Riedel into the world on August 19th. I promise I will return shortly with a look into the history between LIUNA and the Carpenter's Union, and what LIUNA's return to the AFL-CIO may mean for trade union affilliates.

In Solidarity,

Joseph Riedel

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Futures

Where are we going?

As I sit in this hospital room where my wife will give birth to our first child in the morning, I have started to wonder where the labor movement will be in a couple decades when he enters the workforce. I'll be putting together a longer piece in the next few days, but I encourage everyone to take a realistic look at where they think the labor movement will be in twenty years based on where we are today, and if they are satisfied with that.

More to come.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bringing Organizing Into the 21st Century

I spoke to a friend of mine who works on the social media side of things last night, and we mulled over some ideas to update the traditional methods of organizing, be it labor organizing, community, or otherwise. While I am somewhat traditional on organizing, there were a few things that his line of work has to offer that I believe could seriously improve our efficiency and success rate.

1. Tie in the use of systems like Salsa to Blackberry and iPhone apps. Think about how much easier it would make it for the average organizer if they could eliminate the time and effort of filling out a paper form for every house visit. Instead, they could utilize software from Salsa to punch in the data on their Blackberry. This would also allow for real time data accessibility during a large scale organizing blitz. This would be as big as the introduction of electronic voting machines vs. the paper ballot system.

2. Use Salsa as a sort of one-stop shop for Locals to consolidate all of the tedious bookkeeping and management functions in one place. I know from my experience using Salsa with a Young Democrats Chapter that it made life much easier when you could log in one place and check on everything. It saved a lot of time and headaches.

3. Use the technology to help with member run organizing campaigns. In many cases, labor organizations hesitate to invest resources on organizing campaigns until the members themselves have done a lot of the footwork themselves. Salsa could be utilized to set up an area for the employees to keep the union abreast of the progress without the union having to invest time and money in the very early stages.

While I have just spent a fair amount of space extolling the virtues of Salsa, I stand firmly by the conviction that technology alone cannot save the labor movement. House visits, along with other face to face communications are still our most effective outlet. However, technology can definitely be used to eliminate the clutter between those moments.

Check out Salsa here:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Employee Free Choice Act: An Obituary

Although I'm sure someone else has probably said it already, let me make this important declaration:

The Employee Free Choice Act is dead.


Kicked the Bucket.

Bought the Farm.

And with it, the hope for reviving the mainstream labor movement.

And who do we have to blame for the death of the most treasured piece of pro-labor legislation in the last sixty years? The pro-corporation, anti-worker fat cats? The Republicans?


We have ourselves to blame. Allow me to explain:

For decades, the labor movement has continued to suck at the tit of a Democratic Party that has had a bosom full of poison since the party bosses managed to exchange Harry "the puppet" Truman for Henry "the real deal" Wallace in 1944.

For many years, we were able to survive by inoculating ourselves by investing dues money from the expanding membership. But with the declining membership and burdensome pensions that most unions have no real plan to pay for, the poison will finally begin to kill us, unless we begin to ween ourselves off of it immediately.

When we keep returning to the Democratic Party every election cycle like a prostitute to an abusive pimp(I apologize for the imagery, but it is a good description of the relationship between labor and the Democratic Party), we are extending the cycle that has brought us nothing in the manner of actual progress for the American working class. Every other November, the party puts(pimps) us out on the corner to attract voters(johns), and despite all our whining and complaining, what do we do? We put on our stilettos and fake mink coat and take to the streets.

The only way the labor movement will ever make a comeback in the hearts and minds of the workers is if we publicly cut the cord with the Democratic Party and begin to use our numbers to affect individual races that benefit us. No more dumping millions of dollars into the DNC, just so they can use it to promote the likes of Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson.

Let's go find us a few more candidates like Bernie Sanders, and let these anti-worker Democrats fend for themselves. After all that's exactly what they've done for us, isn't it?