Duplicate Dues Enrollment Should be Standard Operating Procedure

open-shop

UAW Billboard 1930s Detroit

Little Rock   Reading about the second battle of Wisconsin between labor and Governor Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues, who four years ago stripped public workers’ unions in that state of the ability to collect agency fees or “fair share” payments in lieu of dues for representation, it seems they are making short work of getting rid of the same “union shop” provisions for private sector workers, adding Wisconsin to the list of “right to work” states.Unions are protesting loudly there, but seem resigned to the inevitability of defeat.   No doubt tipping Wisconsin will embolden other politicians waiting in line to
kick unions on their way down.

Labor is starting to piece together of chain of similar setbacks.  Last year home health care workers in Illinois, long members of our old sister local there, lost union shop provisions after an adverse US Supreme Court ruling.There has not been the immediate ripple effect that might have occasioned that reversal, but it is a sleeper bomb embedded in the memories of our opponents waiting for the opportunity to explode.

Over the last year visiting with union leaders and organizers in the United Kingdom, I sometimes found myself musing privately on the strategic and tactical thinking of labor in that country when they lost the union shop under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and then never made regaining that system a key item when the Labor Party held the chair for long years under Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.Victor Bussie, the former president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO for seemingly forever was the longest serving such officer at the state level in the labor movement and the only one dating back to the merger of the CIO and the AFL in the last 1950s.  In annual convention after convention when Bussie would stand for election, he would say he was committed to staying in office until he
was able to win back the union shop that was lost in 1976 when Louisiana became the last state to fall into that column.

It now seems to me that that maybe our brothers and sisters got it right in the UK.  Having weathered the storm, lost members, and survived, why jump back on that horse to see it race back and forth with each change of government when you are in a fight for the long haul.  Maybe even Brother Bussie also could have spent his time better?  Some union organizers in the UK even prefer the new system, including alternate non-employer based dues collection procedures in organizing a workforce no longer chained to the bench for life.

We may have simply lost the messaging battle on this campaign irrevocably.  As our membership percentage declines and unions are seen as a luxury benefit rather than a necessity for many on the job, then membership becomes more understandable as a voluntary choice than a mandatory obligation and the explanation for using management to help collect a union’s dues becomes a bridge too far for the public and even
for many workers.

Where we can get it, we should use it, but now that corporate and political forces are preparing as we see in Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere to take the fight past right-to-work to eliminate the ability to use payroll deductions completely, we need to embrace the position of people like the GMB’s organizing director who argued to me that they preferred direct dues payments from individual’s bank accounts to payroll deductions.

In our union we are going to stop enrolling members unless they are signing two places on the card, one for payroll deduction and one for direct bank drafts.It is a herculean task and investment to re-sign everyone from one system to another, but it is a much simpler matter to enroll members in a different way from the beginning.  Once joining, it is a trivial matter for a new recruit to sign twice, because they have made the key decision once that they want to be in the union.

The tide is going out and it may never come back to shore.  Unions need to be careful not to be stranded on the beach all alone like Robinson Crusoe on their own private and deserted island.

***

Woody Guthrie “Union Burying Ground”

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Huge Obstacles to Beating Scott Walker in Wisconsin Recall

We Are Wisconsin

Madison    The life-and-death struggle in Wisconsin to turn back the radical and sweeping rightwing program of Governor Scott Walker being waged by progressive forces is entering another set of critical challenges.  The primary to choose a Democratic opponent to Walker votes on May 8th only weeks away with the general election a month later on June 5th.

The Democratic primary is generating very little interest it seems and Walker has already spent millions with a huge bank account raised in readiness assiduously around the country as progressives and unions were mounting the recall petition campaign against him.   My casual observation about the invisibility of the campaign concretized as part of the mountain campaigners are trying to climb to arouse interest in the campaign.

I sat through an earnest and fascinating meeting at the Blatz Brewery building where Caroline Murray, organizing director for Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream and veteran community organizer and friend, was meeting with union representatives, the League of Young Voters, community-based organizations connected with the Gamaliel network, Wisconsin Citizen Action, and Voces de Frontera and various DJ’s, artists, and others connected to the Milwaukee community, to try and figure out an event between the primary and the general election that might motivate “millennial” young voters to actually connect with the importance of getting out to vote by combining art, culture, and politics.  There was lots of head shaking assent about the importance of motivating these newer voters and a willingness to try new things, but skepticism on the level of buy-in from the community and whether the impact would be equal to the effort.

Talking later to Bruce Coburn, former head of the Milwaukee AFL-CIO, long time AFL, SEIU staffer and friend, as I cadged a ride in the rain to the bus, he was still guardedly optimistic about the residual impact of the We Are Wisconsin movement that had grown up during the initial struggle and recall effort.  He was encouraged by what he had seen of the sustainability and robustness of the efforts in Milwaukee and several other cities, though recognized that energy was flagging in many Wisconsin communities overtime, as is often the case.  He believed the fight was all in, but it was clear that he was deeply worried about progressive prospects for victory in the gubernatorial election.  Nonetheless there was real optimism and hope when he talked about the real opportunity he saw for “independent” political action once the state and federal elections were over at the end of the year, which I could heartily support.

Hard work was being done everywhere and commitments were deep, but this looks like a fight to the wire where once again the odds are against us and every bit of support anyone can muster and offer is needed and necessary.

Scott Walker

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