Marching for a Climate Change Turning Point

2014-09-21t181449z_242980738_gm1ea9m064l01_rtrmadp_3_usa-climatechange-march.jpg_1718483346New Orleans    The march in New York demanding action on climate change was hard to get a handle on from a distance.  The Associated Press called the number 100,000.  The New York Times studiously avoided ever giving a number in the aftermath of the march, simply saying there were tens of thousands.  Finally, a week later the Times’ editorial page tagged the number at 300,000.  Between police, press, promoters, and regular people, it’s very difficult to get a handle on facts when it comes to organizing, and when we are looking for the heartbeat of a movement, it’s actually not just a question of engineering, but a way to measure passion, so it is actually very important.  So many mainstream institutions and media are so punctilious about not seeming to support protest that it is virtually impossible to benchmark the truth as opposed to the promotion.

            Talking to Dean Hubbard, national director of the Labor Project for the Sierra Club, on Wade’s World on KABF recently, opened up a different perspective.  Dean said they were astounded by the numbers.   They had expected 100,000 in New York City, but instead they thought the numbers had topped 400,000.  We’ll never know.  He argued, perhaps more interestingly, that the wider footprint of the march could be found in the hundreds of cities throughout the USA that did something on that date and the thousands of cities, large and small, that stepped up to the mark globally.

            President Obama seemed to have used some of this energy to argue more aggressively for action, not only in the USA, which as the worst of the worst, has to be a leader here, but also to challenge China to join the fight as the largest bulk polluter even though we are the greatest per capita polluter.  India, the next in line, seems still unwilling to join the fray.

            It’s Dean’s job to argue that the fight between jobs and the environment is finally reaching détente, and he made the case as best he could, and there’s merit to his argument.  His weakest point might have been the fact that there were 10,000 marchers under union banners in New York City, led by some predictable unions like the Service Employees, but also importantly the giant Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, a critical chink in the armor of the construction trades which have been stubbornly resistant to many environmental arguments with a “jobs are everything” and the devil take the hindmost attitude.  Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that he supported retrofitting all of the buildings in New York City before he personally joined the march, was a key piece of leadership moving the NYC trades.

            Where Dean and the Sierra Club’s case improved was as he recited the increasing amount of alternative energy development that is replacing standard generation methods, and the number of jobs that are, and will be, produced by such construction, energy creation, and distribution.  It seems impossible to argue whether on the threat of climate change or the ticking time bomb of contemporary resource depletion that no matter the math now or the facts on the ground, that the tide of history is now flowing in the direction of Dean’s argument with the opponents cries simply being the gurgles of dinosaurs on their way to extinction, hopefully not bringing the rest of us with them.



Worrying and Wisconsin and Walker

New Orleans   Local 100 has an election today for about 50 school custodial workers with a private contractor from out of state.  After many elections you can almost smell victory or defeat.  Looking at the vital statistics of this organizing drive, this one smells like a winner.

Wisconsin and today’s vote on the recall of Governor Scott Walker is critically important to labor everywhere in the USA, but it doesn’t smell good to me and what I’m feeling when talking to people has the scent of death about it.  The odds are astronomically against us in many ways.

Start with the money.  A chart in today’s Times states the difference between the Walker and his opponent is a factor of ten with Walker having raised $29 million and the Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett only at $3 million.  With an overall price tag for the race besting $60 million, the air war is totally stacked against the Democratic challenger.  That’s not good.

Where’s the love?  For Walker and Barrett this is a re-run of the race two years ago which Walker narrowly won.  Labor, which has moved the resources and field, supported a challenger this time that lost to Barrett, so this is their default candidate running now and not the one that they wanted.  Second-best makes it harder to stir the passion that might make the difference in this race.

Our strength is on the ground game, and the reports of last minute visits and doors hit is impressive and numbers in the hundreds of thousands.   This kind of saturation coupled with the media mayhem explains why there is only about 3% undecided in the polls.

But the Republicans have argued that they know we live on the ground and are countering that, perhaps successfully.  Reports indicate that 94% of the Republicans in Wisconsin say they will vote and only 77% of the Democrats.  Both of those are high numbers, but with a projected 60-65% turnout, we need more working stiffs to limber up and get to the polls and at 77% that may not be enough to overtake the hardcore commitment business and the Republicans have made to this “last stand” to eliminate union protections in Wisconsin.

It’s always harder run the defense than the offense, and we are still digging in our heels in Wisconsin and trying to win.

I’m hoping for the best, but I sure don’t like the smell of this right now.  We better be prepared to lose, because it doesn’t look good.


Do NLRB Election Changes Matter If No One is Organizing

            New Orleans               The surviving members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a final rulemaking on some “modest” (quoting Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO) changes to election procedures this week.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has quickly announced that they will file suit to block the regulations as an assault on “free speech” before they are scheduled to take effect on April 30, 2012.  This surely is a political posturing exercise on their part in order to prevent more extensive and perhaps more meaningful proposals from emerging in the workplace, because these changes are at best technical and though important will not change the organizing climate significantly for workers.

The new rule modifications primarily affect elections that go to a hearing before the NLRB and involve appeals.  The NLRB in their release of the rule indicated that only about 10% of elections are currently going to hearing, since mostly the parties are agreeing to stipulated elections.  The number of elections in the last available year (2009) only totaled 1304, so we are talking about 130 elections involving perhaps 7000 workers.  Some of these hearings are quick and simple matters for unsophisticated employers and attorneys hoping for the best, so only a subset of these 130 elections actually involve appeals.   Previously I’ve argued that this is not insignificant because the larger the unit being organized, the more likely the hearing and the appeals, and if a union is stuck in that rut it is absolutely a world of pain with a recent Berkeley Labor Center report, based on a FOIA filing with the NLRB, indicating that the delays will of elections will run from more than 4 months to close to 6 months.  In these cases the new rule will be helpful in allowing the election to proceed and forcing the lawyers to argue later and limiting and consolidating the appeals, but….

Continue reading


Labor Daze and Labor Waves

happy-labor-dayNew Orleans On the eve of another ritual of picnicking and the last gasps of the summer that we celebrate as Labor Day, there will be the ritual mentioning of the value of labor and hard work, commentary on the recession, and even some mention about the value of unions in certain geographies where we are the ones flipping the burgers or pancakes in memoriam.  Feels like labor daze though to me.

In generations past the kind of gnawing, persistent unemployment and jobs stagnation we are now experience would have seen angry union leaders knocking at the White House door demanding an audience with Nixon, Regan, Bush, or Carter.  Fists would be banging on tables.  I’m not saying that labor leaders are happy with this situation, but I’m not hearing it.  Facebook postings, tweets, and press releases really are not the same.

Recently, some unions tried to turn the tables on some Congressional town hall meetings reversing the Tea-tactics of recent summers.  Certainly it was about time, but as assuredly this was no movement igniting prairie fire.  Worse, strategically, it all seemed partisan.  The Tea Party is in some ways post-partisan.  They are solid, salt-of-the-earth haters who can be as dangerous to some of the Republicans as they almost always are to the Democrats.  If labor wants action in Congress, we need to understand and learn that our friends need to feel the heat as much as our foes.  We don’t need to simply be the Seal 6 team in the Republican redoubts.  We need to let all of them now we have had enough and are ready to rip the House down.

And, why not?  Are we getting so much from the Obama Administration that we need to lower our voice to a whisper?  Not that I can see.

There’s a heartbeat at the NLRB, but most of this is slight and symbolic so far.  A notice that the law says workers can organize is nice as a reminder to all of us perhaps that we are forgetting to organize, but the notice won’t organize a single new worker.  A different way of looking at nursing home units is swell, but it won’t change the economics or opportunities for organizing in that health care sector.     A couple of items that give existing, certified bargaining units a little more breathing room is also smart, but won’t stem the tide.   We are where we are, and it’s not good or getting better.  The biggest election on the horizon is still the dénouement on the West Coast between the new SEIU and the old SEIU leadership of United Healthcare West.  The NLRB gave the old team another shot claiming that Kaiser illegally aided the new team, but the damage is done and the relief is weak, and as is true in all elections, time and resources always favor the incumbent.  Nothing will change the outcome here.  SEIU will so clearly win that that they are trying to get a quick election just to deliver the final coup de gras to their old leadership and its new independent union.

Green jobs would be nice, but it is not clear how we get to scale.  Recent news of critical bankruptcies for solar companies is discouraging.  Alternative fuels are not producing jobs or much traction in the market.  Administration incentives are insufficient.  As good as it might be, there’s no silver bullet there.

We are at a funny intersection where there is more action around banks and foreclosures than there is around jobs, unemployment, and income.

We need a new wave of action and organizing, but this recession and the weakness of the hand we are playing seems to hang like a dark cloud over even the most ambitious of efforts.  What used to be the new labor leadership is now the old labor leadership and the labor daze at Labor Day is down right depressing.


New NLRB Rules: Changing Post-Election Strategy

we-wonNew Orleans One result of the proposed new NLRB election rules, if and when adopted, may require a shift in post-election strategy.

A union will know the results of the election and whether or not the challenged ballots on any unit questions affect the outcome or are aggravations waiting for hearings.  Either way this would mean that the long delays for hearings, decisions, and the potential for appeal to the Board in DC could mean lengthy waits for certification triggering collective bargaining.

Unions may now need to develop strategy and tactics for mounting post-election campaigns to try to do two things.  First to firmly establish the union as a reality in the work, regardless of the NLRB, certification, or bargaining, by electing stewards, defining issues, and taking direct actions on the job around issues and interests, clearly demonstrating concerted, protected activity.  Secondly, the union will have to apply these tactics and others to convince the employer to abandon or negotiate out the unit issues that are slated for hearings in the interest of obviating hearings and accelerating the process to bargaining.  Some of this will be standard operating procedure in settling hearing issues at the 11th hour before the hearing starts, similar to the practice now before representation hearings which are frequently delayed for last minute bargains or caucuses between the parties.

The more the union establishes itself and engages the employer on these issues in “campaign mode,” the more likelihood of a quicker and better settlement.  Too often now post-election work means withdrawing the organizing staff, bringing in the union officers or reps to begin the preparation for collective bargaining and selecting the committee members.   In the new regime with a quick election the campaign strategy should involve a “follow through campaign” of putting the pedal to the metal and pushing the employer to recognize any victory and abandon hearing and unit questions to the union’s interest PDQ…pretty damn quick.


Republicans Overreach in Wisconsin to Their Peril

3967870716Washington The buzz in DC for a change was not about DC, but about Wisconsin.  And, if not Wisconsin, then it was the 45,000 person crowd yesterday in Indiana that got some tongues wagging, and if not Wisconsin or Indiana, then Ohio for sure.  The great Midwestern flyover zone was front and center in every conversation about labor, politics, and the hopes and fears for the future.

Not that anyone is sure what it means and what might be possible, but people are voting with their feet and there is a strong heartbeat and both of those change the game and demand to be taken seriously.  The other thing that seems inarguable is that newly minted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has pulled a tactical “Gingrich” and tried to play his hand so far past his base that it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings back and pops him hard.  The 18-1 Republicans only evisceration of collective bargaining rights for public employees was too transparent, too roughshod, and just way too far over the top for the good people of Wisconsin.  This was a kind of hardball politics played in a New York or a Louisiana or some other uncultured backwater, but not in the world of the nice Midwest for god’s sake!  These are people that have worn cheese on their heads for cry eye!

Organizers are amazed at the polling results being seen from their own numbers as well as more public reports like those in the New York Times for collective bargaining (though not especially for unions unfortunately).  The numbers are moving overwhelmingly in support of collective bargaining from the public, which is also shocking since with 1 of 8 covered by agreements in the United States so few people anymore have the faintest clue what the heck collective bargaining might be.  Hearing about it for the first time in many cases thanks to the good people of Wisconsin, their gut response seems to be, “Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad?”  Which is only a short distance away from “You betcha, let me have some of that,” and that should really worry the Republicans and the right.

This was the Gingrich fallacy when he and the Republicans got outmaneuvered by President Clinton in the budget standoff from which they never recovered.  In a fuzzy world folks were all for the messaging that the “guvament” was wasting their money, but then when the spigot gets shutoff and the lights are turned off and folks are forced to reckon with the fact that parks are closed, social security offices don’t open, VA hospitals can’t accept them now, and the hundreds of other ways they interact with government, it’s a different story and payback is hell.

Wisconsin and Governor Walker are teaching the same lessons about collective bargaining and reminding people that their neighbor who is a teacher, city worker, or whatever is in a slap down not about money, but basic rights, like talking to the boss about your job, which is one way to define “collective bargaining,” and then it’s gone too damn far.

Walker is not alone either.  In a rarity the New York Times sent a truth seeking missile at Governor Christie where it looked at what he says public workers, unions, and teachers versus the facts along with an accompanying chart that pretty much ticked off point by point of the old “liar, liar, you’re pants are on fire!”

Add to that the crash and burn of another Republican presidential candidate wannabe, Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, being pulled down hard by an ethics scandal when he is preaching one sermon and living life another way by fronting for corporate contributions flooding into his wife’s foundation ostensibly for educational tools while 70% of the corporations are being regulated and doing business with the state, and, oh my, is their mud on his shoes and egg all over his face.  Not that he has even recognized there’s a problem except with the fussbudgets at the New York Times who first broke the story, which is now being trumpeted loudly all over Louisiana.  For all of their Biblical references, they probably overlooked the story about removing the “beam” from their own eyes, before they worry about the “mote” or speck in their neighbor’s eyes.

As long as the Republicans are still so committed to self-destructing, maybe there’s hope for a progressive future in spite of our recent lackluster efforts and losses.