Monday, June 22, 2009

Bargaining in a Recession

Some tips for bargaining during the recession . . . note the emphasis on organizing and building power, not hiring better-skilled negotiators. Click here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Public Sector Case Study

Paraprofessionals - the hard working, in-classroom educational employees who support, assist, and enhance teaching - are among the most mistreated employees in public employment. They have as much direct contact with students and the educational process as teachers do, yet are usually paid less than custodians, bus drivers, and food service workers.

This is a story of how a union of paraprofessionals in Connecticut developed a contract campaign using the organizing, power-based model - and built a whole new union in the process.

You can read the whole story here.

Disclaimer: the union in this story is the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). I started my union career as a field organizer for UE. Maybe that's where I got all my crazy ideas about union democracy, leadership development, and worker power.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Example from New Jersey

New Jersey state workers are taking action against Gov. John Corzine by putting up on-the-spot picket lines at every event he is involved in. A great idea - follow the decisionmaker and apply pressure wherever he pops up.

Click here for the whole story from a great resource, the magazine Labor Notes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Time Has Come

There seems to be a growing consensus among employers that contracts are irrelevant, that workers have no voice, and that the rules are whatever management wants them to be at any particular time.

Granted, these types of employers have always existed; some of you may be saying, “what you’re saying is old news to me.” But what I’ve observed is that the number of employers with such attitudes is growing.

I consider it betrayal. It is a betrayal of the contracts they sign with us, a betrayal of the good faith we bring to the bargaining table, a betrayal of the spirit of cooperation we have tried to bring to the workplace, a betrayal of the basic respect all workers deserve, and a betrayal of a society that believes in fair play.

One employer reneges on a contract, finding every excuse possible to avoid compliance. Another loses an arbitration and announces it will not comply with the ruling - despite contract language stating that the decision is binding. Another openly and brazenly retaliates against employees who speak up, and essentially taunts them, saying, “so what - do something about it.”

So we will.

It is time for us to take back our workplaces. In a sense, this means “back to basics.” The fundamental reason workers formed unions to begin with was to win power and a voice in their workplaces, not to pool enough money to hire a lawyer. We must build a union of a thousand unions: in every workplace, a union of employees who know that they have the power in their own hands to counterbalance that of management.

Lessons from the past are relevant. Speaking about how drastically different American unions were a century ago, author Suzan Erem wrote: “they won with hundreds or thousands of workers walking out or sitting down, not with a quasi-lawyer in one chair and a worker expecting a service for his dues in the other, waiting in a posh conference room for management to decide to play by the rules” (Labor Pains, 2001).

Don’t panic, I’m not calling for a strike or a sit-down. I’m making a comparison between empowered workers and workers who lose power by playing the game according to legalisms and rules created by management.

Employer refuses to settle a contract? We can’t rely simply on filing a labor board charge; the employer must know that a workplace full of employees won’t stand for it. Management ignores an arbitrator’s decision? We can’t rely just on filing another grievance; they have to know that a workplace full of employees will speak up in outrage. Management threatens or intimidates an outspoken employee? They have to face more than a legal charge that gets resolved six months later. They must immediately face empowered workers who understand that by standing up for that one person, they stand up for themselves.

Building workplace power and developing a new generation of workplace leaders must be priority projects. Many employers’ approaches are changing - becoming more aggressive, dismissive, and disrespectful. We must also change if we are to successfully meet that challenge. As Erem says in her book, our mission is to “teach a generation of union members who had only known the union as an insurance company to defend themselves and to build a stronger voice inside the workplace.”

Ambitious? Perhaps.

Possible? Absolutely.