In a recent conversation with an otherwise well-informed young labor activist, I made a passing reference to Change to Win, a national labor federation formed in 2005 by defectors from the AFL-CIO. “Change to what?” she asked. “Never heard of it.” Her response was not surprising, given the short shelf life of the organizational brand in question. Launched with much media fanfare, Change to Win initially represented 5.5 million workers, about one-fifth of the AFL’s total membership. Its founders—the Service Employees, Teamsters, Carpenters, Laborers, United Farm Workers, Food and Commercial Workers, and UNITE-HERE—saw themselves as the second coming of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)
Vehicles plowing through picket lines is nothing new for the labor movement, but usually the aggressors are replacement workers (“scabs”) or corporate managers. Rarely is it the case that such vehicular transgressions occur when the union is behind the wheel. Tragically, that’s what happened on Nov. 1, the first day of an open-ended unfair labor practice strike by 130 staff of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2015 in Sacramento and Los Angeles, California. An HR manager of the union’s second-largest local in California, which represents over 400,000 long-term care workers, drove a pickup truck through the union staff’s Los Angeles picket. The manager struck Alex Sanchez, a striker and organizer with the local, who suffered minor injuries.
We want to fight. Workers throughout the country have been involved in the movements on the streets for weeks. In our unions, we have marched as contingents from coast to coast and in pretty much every city. There’s been heroism with transit workers refusing to transport political prisoners and even some strikes. And now, there’s a growing movement to drop the cops from our unions, from whole labor federations like in the King County Labor Council, to the Writers Guild, to even the efforts in the SEIU. We rank and filers have not been sitting on the sidelines. But, for the most part, our union leaderships have. They have published statements of solidarity, when we wanted to mobilize.
SEIU headquarters in Washington dispatched hundreds of national union staffers from around the country to seize control of Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers (UHW). Among them was current SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, Stern’s devoted follower and later successor in Washington, DC. With muscle provided by hired security guards and local cops, Stern’s occupying army ousted UHW’s popular president Sal Rosselli, other top officers and rank-and-file executive board members. Hundreds of shop stewards representing 150,000 members in SEIU’s largest California affiliate quit in protest or disgust.
“Put your faith in the rank and file” was the advice that famed longshore union organizer Harry Bridges used to give. But instead of turning to union members for the bold ideas we need, some labor leaders are taking cues from the corporate world. Take the Service Employees (SEIU), which recently posted a job for an “Innovation Specialist.” What would such a specialist do? It’s impossible to tell from the posting, a garble of buzzwords that reads like a Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s TED talk. For instance: “The Innovation Specialist will train and guide teams in the use of innovation methods, tools, and practices to enable staff in SEIU’s locals and in its International Union to innovate systematically with method and rigor.”
Unfortunately, SEIU is not alone. Last year, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) also dissolved its health and safety department when long-time director Darryl Alexander retired. A recent study by Harvard University professor Michael Zoorob showed that unionization saves lives. That’s the good news. But it doesn’t happen automatically when you sign the union card. The beneficial effect of unions on worker safety is the result of action by educated union members supported by union staff. Unfortunately, the Service Employees International Union, the nation’s largest labor union, doesn’t seem to have learned that lesson. As of July 1, the two-million member union will no longer have a health and safety program as it lays off its last health and safety staffer, Mark Catlin, who has been SEIU’s lone health and safety staffer for many months.
In Chicago this coming weekend, 2,500 rank-and-file activists, from the U.S. and abroad, will be meeting under the banner of Labor Notes to celebrate the revival of union militancy, including recent strike victories like the West Virginia teachers’ walk-out. This conference—nineteenth of its sort since 1981—will be the largest gathering ever hosted by the now Brooklyn-based labor education project. Labor Notes staff train shop stewards and local officers, promote cross-union networks, and publish books and newsletters about union democracy and reform. As Labor Notes co-founder, socialist Kim Moody explained to Jacobin readers several years ago, “the emphasis has always been on building power in the workplace” and “undermining the conservative consciousness produced by bureaucratic unionism”
Since the 1970s organized labor in the United States has seen a steep decline in its membership and political influence due to capital flight, “right to work” laws in southern states, automation and technological innovation. But recently, millions of US workers have rallied behind organized labor campaigns demanding fairer working conditions and higher wages — often based in union membership — for employees. Radical Labor profiles a local chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 105 to understand how the labor movement can collaborate with allied community activists, build a multi-racial coalition of working people for social justice, and realize more equitable workplaces and communities. SEIU Local 105’s organizing is grounded in what President Ron Ruggiero called “whole person unionism,” which is a fundamental understanding that workers “don’t just exist at work.”
By Warren Heyman & Andrew Tillett-Saks for Jacobin. Democrats have historically been the grudging partners of the labor movement, the more willing of the two major political parties to make concessions when pressured. Labor has thus often taken a more thoughtful and calculating approach to neoliberal Democrats, recognizing their distinct interests but maneuvering strategically at arm’s length to partner when possible. The AFL-CIO’s decision to wait to endorse Clinton until she defeated Bernie Sanders is an example of this more clear-eyed calculation. By contrast, the breakaway caucus unions represent a new way of dealing with these types of politicians, shifting from strategic alliances to sycophantic servitude. In pledging allegiance to Clinton so immediately and so fervently, the four breakaway unions appear to have lost the ability to identify labor’s own interests and enemies.
By David Moberg for In These Times - The start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned. As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own. On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.
The early janitor organizers in Los Angeles recognized the importance of first rebuilding and re-energizing their base. One of the first campaigns undertaken was the contract campaign for downtown janitors. Cecile Richards(3) skillfully directed a winning contract fight for the approximately 1,000 janitors in the core market of LA. The contract struggle gave the union a new core group of supporters; many of whom became the front line soldiers in the campaign to organize the vast non-union market outside of downtown. A key to the membership mobilization was “market triggers” that Local 399 inserted into its collectively bargained agreements. The triggers provided for automatic increases in wages and benefits if the janitors union succeeded in organizing 50 percent or more of the commercial buildings in mutually agreed upon geographic areas.
The people who may have handled your baggage or helped you or a family member who uses a wheelchair navigate through the airport, or perhaps on or off a plane, continued their call for higher wages, more affordable benefits and union representation on April 23 in New York City. Striking baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants, joined by dozens of union members from 32BJ SEIU and a city politician, rallied outside LaGuardia Airport's Terminal D, calling for a union contract. For two years, Local 32BJ, part of the Service Employees International Union, which is funding the nationwide Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and unionize fast-food workers, has been organizing airport workers at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport, among the 12,000 subcontracted workers employed in New York and New Jersey.
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) used marshals and police to assault participants in the Mayday March. Marshals obstructed groups of marchers, blocking them from being able to walk or to pass on either side of the street, and directed police to kettle specific groups of people whose messaging was not convenient. Eventually, marshals signaled out Ze (Jose Garcia), an undocumented organizer and outspoken critic of ICIRR. ICIRR and SEIU marshals physically restrained him and signaled the police to arrest him and Anne Wooton. Ze is also currently fighting his deportation proceedings. This is a politically motivated attack intended to suppress dissent and to control people’s autonomous participation in a public event.