Brits and Texans Agree – Attack Unions Where it Hurts – Dues Collection

union-yes-logoNew Orleans  Conservatives of all stripes and nationalities seem to have settled on a killer app for delivering a death blow to unions: block the dues collection mechanism!

Short memories will recall that earlier this year there were fierce legislative battles in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere whose sole objective was to eliminate the ability of public employees to have their dues paid to unions or employee associations through payroll deductions from their checks. The legislation state by state was almost identical with small adjustments place to place only in severity and breadth. Some states exempted no public employees from state to municipal to schools. Others were more selective, like Texas, and tried to favor certain employee groups like police and fire. Most of the legislation was cranked out on the Koch brothers’ ALEC template. The objective was transparent: cripple unions.

Unions and their allies were both good and lucky in the 2015 legislative sessions and managed to block passage of most of these Wisconsin-wannabe measures. It’s not clear how long the streak can continue. The Texas Tribune reports that Texas Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick has already started loading up the big guns on this bill for the 2017 session, partially by making it an election primary issue for the committee chair that in his view botched the process preventing the bill from emerging for a vote in the recent session. Patrick is assigning the bill to committees in advance of the session so that it is stripped of any problems. Even the favored few public employee groups that escaped elimination last year seem likely to be on the chopping block in the coming bill. It’s a heckuva a way to build solidarity in the house of labor, although that may not be enough to save us.

The problem is that the Republicans hold the whip hand in Texas and many other southern and border states coming perilously close to the kind of daunting, no holds barred, no prisoners taken one-party rule that can be found in parliamentary government elsewhere. The recent victory of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom giving them majorities rather than a coalition government, has led them to propose amendments to the Trade Union Act that would eliminate all payroll dues deductions for any public employee group, hoping to decimate the membership of the largely public workers’ union, Unison, and other unions with public members that have long been the backbone of the Labour Party. There will be little that can stand in their way, and state by state we are facing a similar challenge in the United States now.

In Texas they are clear. This has little to do with the workers and whether they need or want union representation on the job. Proponents like the Lieutenant-Governor and his allies are clear this is all about making sure that unions have a depleted treasury and will be limited in the amount that they can donate politically to their opponents. It’s all about running the well dry. Workers and their unions are collateral, ideological damage standing in the way of naked political self-interest.

The clock is ticking for unions and even with Herculean efforts the damage will be extensive.

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Hand Collecting Dues is Very Difficult, Payroll Deductions Matter

fraternity-collection-agency-320x179Frankfurt      The latest word from insiders and lobbyists in Austin is that for the minute the bill to block all payroll deductions for public employees is bottled up in committee.Of course it could change in an instant.   The latest word from Baton Rouge has two bills that might have been primarily directed at teachers but seem to include all public  employees steaming ahead towards potential passage.   The rightwing, Republican assault on unions is in full flower.   Where right-to-work bills are not flourishing, either statewide or county by county in Kentucky or almost city by city in Illinois, and blocking all payroll deductions are not in vogue with Republican controlled legislatures, eliminating prevailing wages is also on the docket in a handful of states as well.

These issues matter.   Sure some can pay by bank draft, and that’s how all of our Texas and Arkansas members in Local 100 United Labor Unions are now being enrolled along with their payroll deduction, but it’s still harder, which is the point of the legislation after all.

I’m in route to Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad on my annual visit to India to spend time on the ground with ACORN’s organizers.   We have a lot to celebrate in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.   Our union of hawkers and other street sellers now has enrolled 35,000 members, 29000 of those in the last year.   It takes the breath away and speaks to the immense talent and hard work of Suresh Kadashan,   ACORN’s organizer there.

The problem for this visit though is how to more successfully solve the problem of collecting dues from our members so that we can grow to the next level and deepen the organization.  We are organizing informal workers without employers, so there is no possibility of any payroll deduction, because there is no payroll.   Our members live by their labor on a daily basis.   Our dues rate is deliberately set low, less than a dollar per month, but the trick is how to collect it from members in scores of markets and hundreds of streets in a half dozen cities in several states.

The organizing was done by hard working committees at the each market fanning out and enrolling the members with the organizer bouncing from place to place, training, coordinating, advising, and always moving the organization forward.   Practically speaking though the organizer cannot be the dues collector; there’s not enough time or space for one person to be routed to 35,000 every month.  As fast as the organization has grown since my last visit a year ago, there’s also not enough trust, market-to-market, baked into individual leaders to convince the members to cough up their hard earned rupees for dues, nor in the main are there bank accounts that might be drafted on the daily exchanges of hawkers in their all-cash business.   Construction trades for a century or more used hiring halls to control the flow of labor and handle dues collection, monitor work sites, and create jobs, but informal work needs no hiring hall.    It’s a job that requires hustling and with hawkers it’s largely stationery.   In fact our biggest campaigns revolve around protecting market locations and viability.

If it’s not hard enough to organize unions in the first place and get to scale and density in the second place so the union has real power, now we have the problem of sustainability. We have our work cut out for us!

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My Liftin’ Days Are Done ( Boilermakers Lament ) by  Rusty Rivets

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