Local 100 Leaders Share Skills and Plot the Future

Congressman Al Green (D-Houston)

Houston   When local leaders get together in the annual leadership conferences for Local 100 the room is always buzzing with conversation when a speaker isn’t on the floor or a workshop isn’t scheduled. They are sharing stories about grievances, problems with bosses, membership concerns, and a million other issues, including the always vexing problems around fair wages and benefits. Another theme that has been recurred with added urgency at the 37th annual conference were the every accelerating threats to the very survival of labor unions.

the popular leader and steward panel with Stephanie Newtown (warren) and Robert Stahn (Arlington)

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was a brilliant workshop on leadership development, unit maintenance, and grievance handle moderated by Robert Stahn, chief steward of one of our newest units in Texas of bus drivers and attendants with the Arlington Independent School District, and Stephanie Newton, one of the team of stewards and activists at the Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren, Arkansas. There was a lot of back and forth and other key stewards weighted in on everything from how they recognized “union material” in new workers to the importance of handling grievances on the job site in the Dallas County ISD. Sister Newton, with very little warning that she was moderating the session, demonstrated why she is such a revered steward by the members in Warren and so feared by management by reeling off a list of almost a dozen “must-do” tips for handling grievances beginning with the importance of understanding the rules, procedures, and contract when members have one. Brother Stahn inspired members with the story of how Arlington drivers had won a 5% putting starting wages over $15.00 hour in the district and pulling up attendants as a priority as well.

Given that Local 100’s members are lower waged workers, there were both reports and discussions on how to move forward on “living” wage campaigns. The members voted to make a $10 per hour wage the absolute bottom line on our contracts and facilities, while hearing a report on the New Orleans fight to get cleaners the benefits of a $10.55 minimum which has thrown the union into court against the city. Plans were made for healthcare and community home workers to insert themselves into the legislative budget process in Louisiana to impact reimbursement rates and force some sharing to bring wages and benefits up. Arkansas state worker members are involved in a similar process and shared their efforts. Another workshop showcased our success since the last conference in getting lead tested in Houston and to some degree in Dallas and the need for constant followup.

workshops on lead raised a lot of questions

Congressman Al Green from Houston had opened up the session with a report on the struggles in Washington over consumer protection, healthcare and sundry other matters. Green is seeking to trigger impeachment proceeds for President Trump as well. State Representative Ron Reynolds detailed the fight to prevent a loss of payroll deductions for public employees in Texas which is part of the call for a special session there.

Texas State Representative Ron Reynolds from Houston

The union recommitted to fighting to keep affordable healthcare and protect Medicaid which is so critical in our workplaces and communities, while also discussing new initiatives and organizing models for the union that recognized the changing circumstances of workers and the service economy.

Everyone learns things at these conferences. I got instructions on how a “bus arm camera” works to photograph cars that go around school buses and ticket them for $300 in Texas, as well as device called a “zonar” that drivers are required to use in Arlington on bus maintenance, inspections, and attendance. I also asked how many members had checked the union’s website and Facebook pages in the last 30 days, and received a wake up call about our need to communicate more directly not only on worksites but also through robodialers and going old school on phonebanks between leaders, organizers, and members.

Merging the big picture and the constant details makes any leadership gathering of union leaders and stewards essential.

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Texas Passes Discriminatory Adoption Ban and California Implements Travel Ban

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN VIA AP
Cantor Yitzhak Ben-Moshe, Pastor Brad Fuerst and supporter Kim Jones along with dozens of clergy and faith leaders rallied outside the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin in opposition of bills they consider anti-LGBT.

Houston  Before going to the annual Local 100 Leadership Conference, I took a look at the Houston Chronicle to see if there was any local news. There was a weird front page headline, “State Fires Back at California Ban,” prompting me to ask my hosts, what the frick was this about? The answer was an OMG moment!

The Texas legislature in its peculiar wisdom had passed a bill which they called the “Freedom to Serve Children Act,” which – and I was so incredulous about this I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t imagining this – gives publicly funded adoption agencies the right of a “religious refusal” on adoptions. This isn’t just just standard garden variety gay-bashing so common among the cowboys up there. This was a hater bill discriminating broadly on just about anybody. Not only could such agencies refuse to place children in LGBT households, but they also could fence off unmarried couples, single mothers or fathers, and non-Christian prospective parents from their services, while still continuing to feed from the public trough supported by all Texas taxpayers. According to news reports, such agencies provide 25% of the adoption services in Texas at this point. All of this is unbelievable, but equally surprising, at least to me, given how blatantly discriminatory such legislation is, Texas wasn’t even the first state to pass such a bill. South Dakota seems to have done so last spring.

So, you might wonder, as I did, how California got themselves in the middle of this mess? Well, California banned all state-funded travel to Texas because of this blatant discrimination, especially against the LGBT community. Somehow I had missed this as well, but Texas is the 8thstate on the California travel ban. Of course South Dakota is on the list, but so is Kentucky and Alabama. They are joined Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee in the gang of eight. Texas legislators were quoted hoping that Governor Abbot would let them extract revenge on California in the coming days of the special legislative session, so stay tuned for more word bullets flying.

For now it’s just a spit fight. Abbot claimed that who cared, arguing that businesses are fleeing high-tax Cali for wild west Texas. Spokespeople for California put their nose in the air and noted that, oh, really, then why is California the 6th largest economy in the world, recently surpassing France in that position. No one every misses a shot at France it seems.

Don’t get distracted by the bizarre craziness of all of this. The bottom line is that this act and others like it are just plain wrong and are state-funded and supported discrimination. Doing so while hiding behind the cloak of religion seems even more shameful.

Once you stop laughing, start fighting.

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Supreme Court Moving Left? Not Yet!

US_Supreme_Court_3_CNA_4_17_15Madison   The Supreme Court ended its term at the end of June, so we can stop holding our breath, but we can hardly celebrate. The Martin-Quinn scores are named after a professors at the University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley and attempt to use the Justices voting patterns to determine ideology. They claim that the recent term showed an ongoing pattern of the Roberts Court towards the left. Perhaps we’ve become so desperate for good news that we’re now willing to grasp at any straws?

This so-called drift does not include the decisions in the widely heralded Texas abortion case where the court by a 5-3 decision threw out the specious decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Texas legislatures transparent attempt to roll boulders in the way of women attempting to gain an abortion in that state using the veneer of adding additional health safety requirements. The court saw through that attempt, now widely copied by many other states. In a simple fact-based decision, they noted that there was no proof that the additional health standards were about protecting women and noted that many other procedures that were much more dangerous did not have to meet these burdensome hospital privilege and surgical operating room standards. There was no poetry in the decision, just the facts, ma’am. Roberts and Alito dissented on procedural grounds without contesting the facts, further locking the door on these conservative efforts to control women. Was this a liberal-left decision or simply the majority crying “gotcha” at such obvious overreaching?

The Court also drew a finer line around what accounts for corruption from political figures versus a wink-and-nod, all part of the game exchange at the favor bank of political commerce by vacating a conviction of the former governor of Virginia. He and his wife had taken a boatload of gifts from a contractor, but at the time there was no law in Virginia forbidding it, no matter how unseemly. The Court in an opinion written by the Chief Justice said, essentially, let the good times roll, if someone has money and power, that’s the point of politics and they can ask and receive favors and assistance without it being a bribe as long as the politician didn’t directly interfere with the governmental process in offering such help. Is this a liberal-left decision or just a free pass for the one-percenters to get-and-grab at politics along the Trump transactional model while someone down the line can get life in prison for five-fingering a bag of candy?

Meanwhile we have the split decisions without a full Court like the one that left union-shop dues provisions alive on one hand and re-criminalized more than four million immigrants on the other. Those were cases of dodging a bullet and taking one on pretty fierce ideological lines. No movement there. Four-on-four hard-court, no fouls game on the biggest court we have. And, how about the erosion of Fourth Amendment rights on search and seizure by police which ignores everything we are learning in modern society about an institution well-armed and out of control. Yikes!

Speculation about the current nominee-in-waiting, Judge Merrick Garland, puts him as slightly left of Justice Stephen Breyer and right of Justice Elena Kagan. Hardly a move to open the envelope wider or go out of the box. None of this seems like a move towards real justice, but just more middle-of-the-road, keep the peace and let the establishment rest easy. It seems clear we have less the rule of law and equal justice and just more pure politics covered in a black robe.

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Leaders Assess Progress and Map Out Plans

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reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

Baton Rouge   Thirty Local 100 United Labor Union leaders gathered together for the 36th annual leadership conference for the union, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Leaders were there from Little Rock and Warren, Arkansas, Dallas and Houston, Lafayette and New Orleans, and points near and far in the three-state areas. We met in Local 100’s big 5000 plus foot union hall in Baton Rouge, so that the members could see first had what had been done to improve the space, and what still needed to be done. It was a hot, mid-90’s June day, but the 10-foot ceilings and thick cinderblock walls made the large meeting room pleasant with five fans running. That is not to say the leadership won’t take a harder look at the thousands needed to repair the air conditioner, but it was a lot better than people had any reason to expect. They were surprised, and I felt lucky, or as I reminded many of them, “tell me you can’t remember visiting your grandmother in the country and hearing the ceiling and attic fans humming?”

A lot of time in the morning was spent reviewing our progress on living wage campaigns or more accurately moving the minimum wages up. In Houston, we had success in both our Head Start unit as well as moving the ages up past $10 per hour for our cafeteria workers. The lesson we had learned, according to Houston office director, Orell Fitzsimmons, was to not try to grab all 30,000 workers in the district at once, but to concentrate on one segment after another. Having raised the hourly wage in the cafeteria, the union is now hunkering down to try to extend the hours from seven to eight to move people up more solidly. In Arkansas, the union with our allies are trying to push a statewide petition of workers and supporters to set the floor above $10 per hour. Winning an election could be difficult, but having our members who are state workers living in poverty is even harder. In Dallas and New Orleans there have been efforts that have met with some success at establishing levels past $10 per hour for subcontracted workers, but in those cities, especially New Orleans, the issue is enforcement. One cleaning contract we organized recently is now six-months overdue on paying the new city standard of $10.55 per hour. I can remember years ago a hotel union in San Jose-Monterrey saying they didn’t want to support our living wage fight because then why would workers need a union? It turns out part of the answer is: they would still need a union to actually get it!

On other fronts, the union is preparing campaigns to advocate to get lead tested and removed from schools and workplaces to protect our workers, children and clients. We are also going after nonprofit hospitals to hold them accountable for providing charity care, especially in Texas where there is no expanded Medicaid and elsewhere in our private sector contracts where the deductibles are pricing our members out of the company-sponsored plans and into the penalties for not having Obamacare.

Will we come up with the money to fix the air conditioner? I don’t know, but we’ll win some big campaigns because of leadership meetings just like this!

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

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The Painful Tragedy of the Digital Divide

computers_0Little Rock    For more almost 25 years, Local 100 United Labor Unions has represented school support workers mostly in Texas and Louisiana from Head Start to high school from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria workers and janitors. Most of our work is concentrated in the cities now, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Little Rock, because the members’ dues can afford the infrastructure there, but every month we still get regular dues checks from our members at the outposts of local.

About this time of year when winter lingers and spring is pushing forward in this part of the country, I used to join Orell Fitzsimmons, 100’s Texas State Director, for what we called our “fence mending” tour. I would meet him in Houston and then we would drive to Corpus Christi, meet with Willie Fleming there, and then stay in some cheap motel along South Padre Island before we went through our school districts along the Rio Grande Valley before heading back north toward San Antonio and back around to Houston. Sometimes we would stop and take a picture of Texas state highway 100 on the way to Donna to visit our members in the school district there before doubling back to McAllen, Pharr, McAllen, and Brownsville. Everything in south Texas is a long ride.

The FCC is voting soon on a Band-Aid, but essential program to expand “lifeline” funds collected from the big telecoms to offer increased access to broadband internet to lower income families. If we were really serious about attacking inequality we would do a whole lot more, including forcing these public utilities to make all internet affordable to all families in their homes as a basic necessity, but at least we’re doing a little something-something.

Forty percent of the families in South Texas where we used to fence mend do not have access at home to the internet. Looking at a picture in the New York Times of children standing outside a schoolhouse in McAllen, one of our old Texas school districts, so that they could download homework assignments from a school’s wireless hotspot, is just about enough to bring tears to my eyes from the rage boiling my brain. Reading about a young girl in the Donna Independent School District, that we know like the back of our hands, who rides a bus 3-hours a day so that she can use the Wi-Fi on the bus to keep her grades up is tragic. Reading about another 17-year old girl who finishes her after-school job in Pharr and then has to go to a friend’s house to use the internet in order to get assignments in before the midnight deadline that are required to be submitted on-line just about sends me to the street to scream.

Why are we not doing better for these children? Why are these school districts not paying a janitor a couple of extra dollars to keep the cafeteria open for these young scholars to do their homework until 9PM or even later? Why are teachers so brutally insensitive to the children they see eye-to-eye across their desks? What kind of casual cruelty is becoming part of the DNA of our society? And, that’s downstream, when so much of the problem is upstream in corporate suites and politicians offices.

The Rio Grande Valley is not an exception either. More than 30% lack internet access in New Orleans, Detroit, and other broke-ass cities, that are also not surprisingly majority-minority cities. 25% of library users now in cities according to surveys find their patrons coming to use the computers and internet, yet how many are open the hours that students need?

Half-steps are probably better than standing still, but we need a full-on march to deal with the digital divide and the inequality it advances so clearly for so many struggling so hard.

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Keeping it Holstered in Texas

2-gun-holsters-apHouston   New Year’s Day in Texas was duck-and-cover for 2016. Almost one-million Texans have a permit to carry guns and until New Year’s they had to keep handguns concealed. Now it’s all out in the open, and so are the arguments about it.

Businesses can opt out of open-carry and some have. For months, a number of hospitals have been posting signs telling people to cover it up before they came into the emergency rooms or along the hospital corridors. Given the number of gunshot wounds that are already being processed through big city emergency rooms in Houston, Dallas, and elsewhere, that makes sense, because the last place you would like to see the gunfights from the hood continue without missing a beat would be in hospitals. Some grocery stores have said, no, and no way. Times-Warner Cable has opted out as well, and that’s another place where people are known to lose their tempers, so thank goodness.

In August, Texas universities and colleges are still puzzling through the issue, because the Texas state legislature in its wisdom has set that date to allow students and professors to carry concealed weaponry on campus. The University of Texas at Austin is supposedly debating whether or not that would work for them or not. Memories of someone pot shooting from the UT tower have obviously dimmed. It takes some real imagination to come up with the side of the argument that says, hey, students with concealed guns, yeah, let’s do that, and while we’re doing it, let’s make sure they’re drinking, too.

Some of the gunners are talking about boycotting stores and businesses that won’t allow them to walk in with their guns strapped to their legs. H-E-B and Sprouts Grocery are saying they will not allow open carry. Walmart, which sells a pile of guns, says open carry is fine with them, which is disappointing, but not surprising especially.

Some of the Texas rough riders say the new law won’t make much difference, but, frankly, having read Frank Strier’s recently published, Guns and Kids, it’s pretty clear that just like possession is supposedly nine tenths of the law, access to handguns right at the hip pretty much guarantees that way too many folks will find their trigger fingers getting itchy when their tempers get hot, and the results will be tragic and predictable.

Of course open carry has always been the way of the world in Texas when it comes to long guns hanging from the gun rack in the pickup. That kind of open-carry includes military style assault rifles.

It’s always good advice in Texas to be ready to duck-and-cover, and now with guns close at hand, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled because, sadly, some cowboys will find it too easy to keep them blazing.

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