Workers’ Committees

SomosUnPuebloUnido-RallyLittle Rock     Sometimes it helps to get a gentle reminder of what we know, but don’t always practice. At our union we live and breathe “majority unionism” by which we mean trying to organize as many workers as we can, in as many ways as we can, with or without demanding direct recognition or collective bargaining, but by trying to organize workers to be union members where they work to protect and advance themselves, act collectively, and build power on the job. Some people call this minority unionism because the union does not have exclusive representation rights on the job which are common in collective bargaining agreements in North America, though this strategy of direct membership recruitment is common in many countries around the world from France to India and beyond.

A piece by Steven Greenhouse, the former labor reporter and now freelancer for the New York Times, recently detailed the success that Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a 20-year old immigrant rights group was having in Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico by assisting in organizing workers’ committees and winning important victories for workers in low wage and service industry jobs that are largely non-union, but desperately need protection and organization. The committee structure allows the workers to trigger the protections for collective action provided by the National Labor Relations Act for workers acting as a group that is not available to individually aggrieved workers. Few civilians realize that the NLRA offers virtually no protection for unions, but lots of protection for workers, especially when they are engaged in concerted activity.

Greenhouse quotes several experts on this score:

“A lot of people thought the National Labor Relations Act could be used only during unionization campaigns,” said Andrew Schrank, a labor relations specialist who recently became a professor at Brown University after teaching at the University of New Mexico. “They’re finding that the National Labor Relations Act is much more expansive than many people thought.” Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said a 1962 Supreme Court case — involving a spontaneous walkout because a factory was so cold — makes clear that the National Labor Relations Act protects nonunion workers, too. “It’s important that people understand that the law applies to all private sector workplaces and protects activity outside the context of union activity,” Mr. Griffin said.

Somos has put together a good track record using these tools thus far. They have filed charges with the Phoenix office of the NLRB in 12 cases, and 11 complaints of unfair labor practices were won for workers as diverse as carwash attendants, hotel housekeepers, and restaurant workers. Needless to say perhaps, Somos has won reinstatement for many of these workers along with backpay. Not only that but in many cases once the workers have organized they have also realized they were victims of wage theft and other labor violations leading to some six-figure settlements paid out to workers from employers for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well.

Supposedly other workers centers in other cities are taking a look at the Somos track record. For our part we’re glad to have fellow travelers after all of these years, and it helps us hew to this path of direct organizing to win power on the job now with or without the employer’s consent but using all the tools we have at our disposal from citizen wealth to direct unionization.

In my organizer’s Spanish I think Somos Un Pueblo Unidos means All the People United. It’s hard to imagine a better slogan for working men and women in any language.

Jindal “No Go!”

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

New Orleans    It’s not often that almost everyone agrees on something throughout the land and perhaps the globe, but Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, formerly a Republican presidential hopeful, has truly succeeded in bringing everyone together.  He did so with his crazy, controversial remarks to a conservative group in London named after former Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State.  While there he went on at some length about the fact that there were “no go” zones in cities in Britain, France, and elsewhere that non-Muslims and even the police didn’t go that were functionally ruled by sharia law.

When he left Louisiana, he claimed he was on his way to Europe to drum up business for the state.  Hopefully when he’s talking to corporations over there he will mention that he is on the downside of his last term in office and can’t run again, so it may be safe for them to come to the Bayou State without embarrassment.  Definitely, his sudden notoriety will make it clear that they should wait until he’s gone from the governor’s mansion and the coast is clear.

Fox News jumped on the bandwagon with some of its commentators also parroting the “no go” line.  They have quickly apologized four times on the air and retracted every last line of their remarks. The Mayor of Paris has announced that she is going to sue Fox News for slander, and why not.

In Louisiana, where few agree on anything, both newspapers in New Orleans the daily Advocate and the every once in a while Times-Picayune led with editorials making it clear that Jindal’s hate speech didn’t speak for Louisiana.  They were both embarrassed and horrified by his remarks. The last time they agreed so strenuously was in their assessment that Hurricane Katrina was in fact a bad thing!

It’s easy to understand Jindal’s predicament. He thinks he should be president. Fortunately no one else does. The last poll among Republicans had him in the 2 or 3% range in terms of support and recognition. Jindal’s strategy has been to pretty much leave Louisiana alone, it being Louisiana I can’t say “high and dry,” which is somewhat a good thing, and try to carve out some notice for himself on the far right. He’s willing to go speak to right wing groups and church gatherings that no other candidate will touch.  He’s organizing a prayer thing that seems like it’s a path to perdition itself from the way folks are running away from it. The budget in Louisiana is fabricated on oil and gas revenues so any claims Jindal might have had about finances in the state are long gone and all of his tricks with the numbers are going to haunt the rest of his term and whoever is elected along with the citizens of the state for years.

Jindal’s reaction to all of this? Well, he’s doubled down by releasing a 1700 word press statement in Baton Rouge restating the so-called “evidence” of his “no go” remarks.

I think the only place there is really a “no go” rule is that Jindal is no longer welcome in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France again.  It seems it won’t be long before Louisiana is also a “no go” spot for Jindal as well.

Preparing for the Implementation of Obama’s Immigration Order

Angelica Salas

Angelica Salas

Little Rock       When CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, got ready to implement the Affordable Care Act in route to signing up 10 million people for health insurance more than $100 million was allocated by the federal government for navigators and another amount as large for community clinics and a like amount in the states in order to assist in enrollment in this new program.  Now within months up to 5 million people will engage in a similar process of applying for work permits and pushing mountains of paper through the Department of Homeland Security to determine their eligibility under the still to be established terms and procedures to take President Obama’s executive order on immigration and translate it into on-the-ground reality.  And, if 5 million might be eligible, many millions more will be trying to figure out if there’s any chance they are eligible or might qualify in some way or another. 

            Here’s the big difference though.  The task of advising and assisting these millions will not be facilitated by hundreds of millions of dollars of grants from the federal government.  The burden will disproportionately fall on the nonprofit, social service sector.

            Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, estimated that “the new and expanded programs could draw more than 250,000 applications from New Yorkers in the first few months, posing what he described as a ‘massive human services challenge.’”   In New York, they are trying to put groups and money together to meet the surge of expected interest, but that’s not going to be the case in many of the red states where this order is being resisted aggressively, and some of those states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida are where interest will be extreme.

            Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) told reporters in Las Vegas where President Obama formally announced his order that he had stopped on the way out of the hall and told her, “Now sign them up.”   That’s a tall order with limited resources even though Angelica will no doubt get some help from the state of California, but even so with an estimated quarter of the eligible in California her office and many others will be overwhelmed.

            This is a golden opportunity but it’s not hard to see the bumpy road ahead in our “red” states where nonprofits will be besieged.   There are a couple of months to get ready, but volunteers, lawyers, churches, unions, and others in cities and towns throughout the country need to think about “citizen wealth centers” as we are that can be prepared to offer assistance.  This opportunity is only real and will only work, if as the President instructed, we can “sign them up.”  It’s something we know how to do, but are going to need a lot of help to make happen.

            People get ready!


Obama Immigration Action is a Band-Aid, Not a Cure


(Photo: Drew Angerer Getty Images)

New Orleans   Make no mistake, President Obama’s immigration news is good news for everyone but rightwing ideologues. They are winning the air war perhaps for a hot minute by framing the action in a lie, and once again the administration is not doing well at explaining itself, but once the first wave of reaction settles, the wisdom of this action will be clearer.

Here are some important things to understand.

This is not amnesty. Far from it! This is a maximum three year Band-Aid being applied on a gaping national wound with no cure still in sight. All some immigrants are getting from this executive order is a chance to apply, after paying any owed taxes and new fees and proving they do not have criminal records, for a three-year work permit and a social security number. These workers are not even going to be allowed to qualify for benefits like those offered with subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Frankly, some may not chance this opportunity because it is temporary, but hopefully many will.

Remember as well that the only immigrants being given this opportunity are those that are the parents of American citizens or permanent residents born here. This program unites families. How bad could that possibly be? The order also added another 250,000 DREAMers to the list of those who can walk in public without fear by extending the protection from 2007 in his earlier order to 2010 in this new action.

President Obama is also right. If Republicans and the far right don’t like this, they can finally join in the process of taking the heat from folks they are stirring up now, and pass a bill making something permanent. Or, they can win the Presidency by a democratic vote of the people, and make a different judgment.

And, the talk about filing suit either at the state or national level to stop this is not going to work in court either. Using the concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” the President is prioritizing going after criminals rather than families, and that’s the right thing to do. There will be injustice in that push still. There will be deportations of immigrants arrested for minor slip-ups but still seen as criminals, but this is still better than the ridiculous situation currently. Thankfully, there will be fewer of these kinds of minor abuses because very importantly, the President is also terminating the Secure Communities program that has made junior immigration agents out of local police departments giving rise to the abuses of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio and many others who have accurately been accused of creating a new apartheid and arresting people for the crime of “being brown,” and criminalizing the fact that they are in the country illegally.

Once the temperature cools on some of the political mischief, it is also clear who is really worried about some of Obama’s action, and that’s low wage employers practicing wage theft on undocumented immigrants and farmers depending on such labor for the same reason. The Wall Street Journal was crystal clear in their report that a big part of the burn is all about the money:

By giving work papers to millions of illegal workers, Mr. Obama’s plan could affect businesses in unexpected ways, enabling workers to seek new jobs and higher wages to the benefit of some business sectors more than others. Some in agriculture, for example, worried that affected workers would leave for other sectors.

Finally, in this executive order no one is really happy. The techsters didn’t get unlimited visas for big brains they wanted. Reformers didn’t get the real solutions advocated during this administration and the last. Heck, on the progressive left we even bear the burden of having gone for comprehensive reform over the last six years when we always knew we had the best chance of winning a piecemeal package that united families right from Obama’s inauguration day, if we had been willing to settle for it. Six year later we have only won a temporary solution on something that might have been a slam dunk in the first 100-days.

There will be time for cold facts evaluation, but right now it’s all about looking forward and Obama’s action, and his inspiring framing of his order, presents a new challenge and opportunity for us to make the best of this moment.


Please enjoy Earthquake Driver by Counting Crows, Thanks to KABF.

Criminalizing Immigration in Modern Society

americasvoiceonline-dc-protest600x350pxNew Orleans      Meeting with Suyapa Amador and Erlyn Perez, ACORN International’s key organizers in Honduras in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa recently in Nicaragua, it became clear that we were making progress in winning more security for our neighborhoods, including several important commitment from the First Lady focusing on jobs as well as protection, but we were still putting our fingers in the dike. In Managua they could not stop talking about how much safer it felt everywhere compared to Honduras. For better or worse, the government felt like it worked in Nicaragua, rather than being either ineffective or oppositional in Honduras. We heard amazing stories of what it took for families to raise the $4000 to $6000 to try to allow family members, including children, to escape the violence and, quite frankly, to find jobs.

Bobby Jindal, the ultra-conservative Republican governor of Louisiana and wannabe presidential contender, on this side of the fence wants to know more than he should about the more than 1000 children from Honduras and other Central American countries being held with family in Louisiana. The Jefferson Parish public schools wants to know where they can come up with $4 million to provide the additional support services for these children coming into their system. Another Republican wannabe, Texas governor Rick Perry, has tried to broad-brush these children and others as potential terrorists. Headlines everywhere ask for support for refugees fleeing violence, bombing, and religious persecution in the Middle East, where millions are running for their lives. Departing Attorney General Eric Holder announced support for legal representation for the Central American’s coming over the border. How is it that Republicans and many Americans can pretend to understand refugees in the Middle East, but are confused about our Central American neighbors being human rights and economic refugees in almost precisely the same way?

I listened to a brief presentation and interview recently organized by the New Orleans on-line news service, the Lens with lawyers, organizers, and beleaguered immigrants connected to the Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice.    An unfortunately slim audience listened to a back and forth about whether or not the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program in New Orleans was a pilot or not, and whether or not it was joining with the New Orleans Police Department to target, profile, and raid minority, immigrant communities in the city. New Orleans is part of the Secure Communities program which has been dropped by many other major urban areas. They reported meetings with Mayor Mitch Landrieu that had failed to win commitments to break away from their agreement though won some concessions around study, follow-up, and resources. The voices of the immigrants were powerful, though their stories probably confused many of the listeners, because despite being on message, the main takeaway was less about the police than about the precariousness of their situations, dropping them into the abyss of our broken immigration system.

There were two inescapable points made, one for New Orleans, and the other for everywhere. The Justice Department consent decree for the NOPD forbids it from targeting immigrant communities, but the city’s agreement with ICE on Secure Communities, makes them a handmaiden of the ICE officers in their work. But, the precariousness of circumstance that the two immigrants related settles on the ICE and Obama Administration claim to be rounding up “criminal” aliens, and continuing to allow the criminality to be defined and confused in the public’s mind. For most of these roundups the “criminal” behavior is having broken the law by coming over the border illegally. In the main this is not about robbers, rapists, murders, and drug traffic or terror, but about refugees guilty of seeking America for a better life.

The criminal behavior we heard early in the morning was a trip to the store for a baby and a domestic spat with a husband, both of which have now snared people in deportation proceedings, split their families, and exacerbated the criminality of their immigration. Looking north from Central America, all ACORN can see is a human rights crisis in countless communities, but here we are opening our jails faster than either our hearts or minds.

Tea Party Hijacking Immigration Fight and Setting Up Showdown


Steve King Credited to M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Little Rock       There’s something about the dog days of summer that seem to bring the crazy out.  Unfortunately we’re seeing this once again in the Congressional cloakroom resurgence of the Tea Party representatives, even as the Tea Party’s electoral and public support plummets, and once again the bone their gnawing is the crippled immigration system.

You know it’s out of hand when someone like Carlos Gutierrez, a former Commerce Department secretary under former President George W. Bush says,


“When you put Raúl Labrador, Steve King and Michele Bachmann together writing an immigration bill, there’s damage done, no question,”


He was referring to the fact that far right, conservative Congressman Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, and the newly elected #3 in the Republican caucus opened the door and let his fellow whacks have a shot at modifying the bills being crafted to deal with the humanitarian crisis of Central American children fleeing to the US border for safety from conditions in their home countries.  As reported in the Times,


The changes opponents sought were subtle: clearer language showing that the bill was raising the bar on granting asylum hearings to unaccompanied children at the border, and a more explicit bill phasing out Mr. Obama’s executive order granting legal status to some immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, an order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.


Regardless, Mr. Gutierrez said, political damage was done. Complexities of immigration law that slip by most of the American news media remain front and center on Spanish television, where news figures such as Jorge Ramos advocate immigration overhaul positions, he said. And little-known lawmakers like Mr. King and Mr. Brooks are not so obscure among Latinos.

Just days after helping write the House’s only immigration policy bill of the year, Mr. Brooks made waves again when he spoke of a “war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party” to the conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham. Mr. King was caught on tape grabbing the arm of a young immigrant who grew up in Arizona and was granted legal status by the president’s order. “You’re very good at English, you know what I’m saying?” he told the immigrant, a graduate of Arizona State University.

Mr. Gutierrez said: “We have destroyed tens of thousands of young lives, people who don’t speak Spanish, who have lived their whole lives here, who want to be productive members of society, and now Steve King is rewriting DACA? I just think that is a real shame.”

On the other side of the aisle we now have Senator and Republican presidential aspirant, Mark Rubio, threatening that they may try to stand in the way of any movement by President Obama to address either the border crisis or the broken immigration system, by refusing to approve the budget this fall, if the President takes action, essentially promising another painful government shutdown.  The GAO estimates the financial costs of this last Republican charade as $17 billion dollars.  There is now a waiting list in immigration courts of over 375,000 cases.  There are millions of families caught betwixt and between.  Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and others in tight races for November are pleading for the President to do nothing until after the mid-term elections for their sakes, even though the President has promised action soon, and could lose the Senate then, even further damaging any opportunity for change.

Once again currying to the right wing radicals and lack of political leadership is creating legislative and political gridlock and putting a chokehold on widespread human rights issues effecting millions as well as the entire character and global position of the United States as a beacon of freedom and justice.  It’s hard to embrace good policy options when the choices are either the devil or the deep blue sea, but that’s what the Tea People and their allies are forcing, and this looks like a bluff that simply has to be called.


Please enjoy Herb Albert’s Sneaky, thanks to KABF.