Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Labor Observations

I spent the last week in Tennessee visiting family, as I often do this time of year.  I had a few observations I'd like to share.  Have you noticed in the recent years how more and more businesses, especially in the retail sector are open on Thanksgiving Day?  I remember that when I was growing up, nothing was open except the 7-eleven, and that was just the owner and his wife.  Now, you can find every possible kind of business forcing their employees to spend time making the company money rather than spending this time with their families.

The next day, I decided to see which of these stores that were opened the previous day had union contracts in place.  Of the stores I stopped at, only two were unionized.  The employees told me they volunteered, and earned double-time, or holiday pay as it is commonly referred to, for working Thanksgiving Day.  The non-union employees told me they were forced into working, and only received time-and-a-half pay rates.

This let me know that we have a long way to go as far as organizing the retail sector, which I know I have harped on many times.  It's just important some times to pull back the curtain and put a human face on the holiday workforce as we're out and about this time of year.

In Solidarity,


Thursday, November 18, 2010

We Don't Need No Education?

No, I'm not referring to the Pink Floyd Classic:

I'm talking about the lack of education when it comes to the rank and file membership in the labor movement. How many times have you explained something to a member of your bargaining unit, and they responded, "I didn't know that was in our contract!"  If you're like me, the number is way higher than you care to admit.

This is a bigger problem than I think is widely realized within the labor movement.  If our members don't know their own contract, how are they supposed to know when it is being violated?  We have to to a much better job of educating people.

This can be done through lunch and learns, or by simple flyers with bullet points at regular functions like picnics, etc.  I also like to send out a small insert if you have a regular newsletter.  However you do it, the important thing is to do something. Anything that plants the seed in a member's mind is a positive move for the local, the international, and the movement as a whole.

A hundred years ago, members carried their union contract on their person as frequently as a wallet.(I hear some UMWA folks still do!)  They did so because they had worked hard to earn it, many times with their own blood.  Granted, we haven't had the violent battles like they did back then, but perhaps we should at least print a small version of the contract that people can fit in their pocket in case they need to refer to it on the job.

In Solidarity,


Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Tea Party and The Labor Movement

Just a quick thought I had while brainstorming on my article involving remaining bias against leftist members of the labor movement:

If the AFL-CIO onstitution bans anyone associated with any group that advocates Totalitarian ideals, why isn't big labor rushing to purge anyone connected with the Tea Party from its ranks?

Just some quick food for thought. More on this later.

In Solidarity,


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keith Olbermann: Why Union Contracts Matter

As those of you who are plugged into the world of politics may know, popular MSNBC host Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay for donating $2,400 to three Democratic candidates.

So what does this have to do with union contracts?

In one word:     Everything.

You see, this rule, which I believe violates the 1st amendment, was not always in place.  In fact, other high profile MSNBC employees such as Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough also made donations in the past.  The difference is that MSNBC management changed the rule a few years ago.

The reason this is relevant to the importance of having a union contract is that because MSNBC employees do not have a union contract, management was able to change this workplace rule without any negotiation or notice.  Had their been a union contract in place, management would have had to notify the union and bargain the details of it's implementation and effect on employees.  We know how it worked out for Olbermann.  While Olbermann will probably be back on the air due to his loyal following, the majority of MSNBC employees working without a contract do not enjoy the same safety net.  If I were an MSNBC employee, I would already be calling an organizer from IATSE, AFTRA, CWA, OPEIU, or any other relevant union to organize.

Let's hope Olbermann uses this situation to help his co-workers get the protections they need and deserve.

In Solidarity,


Thursday, November 4, 2010

2010 Elections: Was Labor's Effort Worth It?

Well, if you were looking for suspense and unpredictability this election cycle, you probably woke up Wednesday morning as disappointed as the DNC leadership team.  This mid-term went just as we all knew it would, despite Big Labor's strong effort to mobilize its membership. Perhaps without Labor's contribution, the Democrats might have lost a few more seats in the House, and Harry Reid owes SEIU his soul for sparing him eternal Tom Daschle icon status, but aside from these situations, what did we get for the millions of dollars in membership dues spent on this election?

As is often the case, we will probably never know exactly how much money was spent by Big Labor during the 2010 election cycle.  However, we do know that it was a LOT.  AFSCME, along with SEIU, likely spent upwards of $100 million each.  UFCW, CWA, and the other larger unions probably spent around $50 million as well.  These rough estimates do not even count the amount of money donated in the form of paid union staff sent to battleground states working as de facto volunteers for the DNC.

I can't help but think that this massive amount of money could be better spent on some wild idea like, say, addressing the direct needs of our membership.  Think of what we could do if we invested the several million dollars into organizing and member education and mobilization.  Hell, we could start a program to give high school graduates full scholarships to the National Labor College.  Any of the aforementioned possibilities sounds better to me than the flushing noise that is still ringing in our ears from Tuesday.

The Democrats received this shellacking, as Obama properly phrased it, not because the Democratic base wasn't mobilized enough, or because rank-and-file union members didn't do enough labor walks in October.  The Democrats lost because they lost their memory of the last decade and decided it would be nice to try bipartisanship.  They lost because they sucked at governing over the last two years.  The lack of a unified strategy exacerbated their situation.

I hope I live long enough for the labor movement to come out of this comatose state in which we hand over large amounts of cash every two years to an entity that hasn't reciprocated since FDR was still alive.  Now's as good a time as any.

In Solidarity,