Wednesday, July 15, 2015

AFT Issues Premature Endorsement and Feels The Bern

On July 11, the American Federation of Teachers(AFT) became the first major labor organization to make an endorsement in the 2016 presidential election cycle. It did not go over well with members, who took to their union's facebook page to express their disapproval.  My favorite comment was from a teacher who posted:

"Of course Hillary's got a long record of linking teacher pay to performance via standardized testing and of course charter schools. One scheme is designed to kill the teacher's union and the other is aimed at killing public schools. So of COURSE the public school's teacher's union backs....Hillary.
This is why we can't have nice things."

The endorsement should not come as a suprise to anyone who is aware that Randi Weingarten sits on the board of a pro-Hillary SuperPAC, and that she has been close to Hillary for several years going back to when Clinton was still in the Senate.

What deserves a closer look from members who are asking themselves how and why this happened so early is the process by which unions often decide their political endorsements.

While there is no specific procedure spelled out in the AFT Constitution or Bylaws, Article IV, Sec. 17 gives broad authority to the Executive Council, which would technically cover this sort of endorsement. Here is a brief description of how endorsements are usually determined by unions in a way that lets them claim they "polled the members" without actually polling the members:

1. Executive council decides who they want to endorse.  This is usually based on past political favors, and/or personal relationships between applicable candidates and members of the executive council.

2. The influential Locals have their internal union representatives call the leaders of the biggest chapters/shops.  They are "polled" by the union representatives after they are told who the Executive Council wants to endorse.  In my personal experience, nearly 100% of the member leaders I polled went along with the executive committee, as they were hesitant to go against their leadership.

This is very commonplace in today's labor movement.  The reason we are hearing about this in such a big way is that unlike most labor endorsements, which are issued when a candidate has clinched a primary, this endorsement comes before a single debate, primary, or caucus has been held.  This endorsement has the appearance of a brazen, unethical political favor to a candidate from a union leader who has a massive conflict of interest as a sitting member of said candidates SuperPAC.  I guess we'll all know for certain if Clinton wins and taps a certain someone for a cabinet post.

In Solidarity,

 Joseph Riedel

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thomas Paine and July 4th

I can always count on UE to put historical events into the context of the worker.

This July 4th, we focus on Thomas Paine, founding father and champion of the working class who was once fired for organizing workers.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Marijuana and Your Union Contract

Voters in Colorado, Washington, and the District of Columbia all recently voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, and it appears that several other states may soon follow suit.  This brings up the interesting question of whether recreational marijuana use will result in termination, and most workers will not want to be the first person to ask their HR office if it is alright to smoke a joint over the weekend.

This issue presents an interesting predicament for many unions.  For instance, the CBA between the State of Washington and Teamster Local 117 has language that treats an employee with a CDL differently than an employee without a CDL due to language in the contract that has the national DOT standard that considers marijuana a controlled substance, where other employees have the following language that only bans illegal drugs:

"14.2   Possession of Alcohol and Illegal Drugs Employees may not use or possess alcohol in state vehicles, on agency premises or other governmental or private work sites where employees are assigned to conduct official state business except when the premises are considered residences. The unlawful use, possession, delivery, dispensation, distribution, manufacture or sale of drugs in state vehicles, on agency premises, or on official business is prohibited."

The interesting thing about marijuana is that urine testing is completely useless in states where marijuana is now legal, as a positive result from a urine sample in no way proves that the subject is under the influence.  If you are a worker represented by a union in one of the aforementioned states, you and your fellow workers should push your union to negotiate terms that require a blood test to determine if someone is under the influence, as marijuana only remains in the bloodstream for a few hours.

Going even further in that, workers in states where marijuana is legal should demand that their union negotiate language that is clear that only drugs that are illegal in that respective state are grounds for disciplinary action.  Leaving ambiguous language leaves an opening for employers to claim that since marijuana is still officially illegal under federal law, they can terminate an employee if they test positive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TPP And The Labor Wars To Come

As Varys said in the blockbuster series, Game of Thrones, "Men of talent have a part to play in the wars to come," I believe all men and women will have a part to play in the labor wars to come.

President Obama fired a shot across the bow at progressives this past weekend when he was attempting to sell the secretive NAFTA 2.0 Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP).  Obama claimed, "I agree with Elizabeth(Warren) on a host of issues, but she's wrong about this."  If you're trying to prove someone else is wrong and you are right, it doesn't help if you are purposely keeping the details confidential.  This is why the labor community almost unanimously opposes TPP.

After being hoodwinked on how NAFTA would be great for American workers by the last Democratic president, unions are rightfully wary of being so trusting this time around.  This is probably the most likely single issue to cause a split between the Democratic Party and labor unions, but there are a few other under-the-surface issues as well.

The biggest of these issues is the continued focus of labor unions on political lobbying over direct action.  While unions were able to stick their thumb in the dam for a while to stop the hemorrhage of union density, the Citizens United ruling has made it impossible for unions to compete long-term, which we are already seeing with the anti-union legislation that has passed in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.  It should be no surprise that the Koch Brothers recently proclaimed Scott Walker as their preferred candidate.

With lobbying no longer a viable long-term solution, the obvious(and possibly only) solution is a return to non-partisan, direct action that was so effective in the early part of the 20th century.  The times are ripe for the return of general strikes, and other forms of mass demonstrations.  Inequality is at an all-time peak.  If the labor movement cannot galvanize now, then perhaps it may be too late, and it will have to die and be reborn.

In Solidarity,

Joseph Riedel

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Despite wearing all that orange, Speaker Boehner is not, I repeat NOT a dues paying member of LIUNA.


From strengthening unions to the anti-worker Trans-Pacific Partnership.


"We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice."


"If you think you can raise a family on $15k a year, try it."


Affordable childcare is a huge issue, and frequently one that is overlooked in contract bargaining.


As Obama mentions income inequality, the question I have is: "Who is the least wealthy member of Congress?"


Obama starts off by trumpeting the economy and number of insured people.
Live tweeting the State of the Union:
Pres. Obama entering chamber.