Union Leaders Thinking “Outside the Box”

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Workshops on subcontracting and nursing homes and community homes
Workshops on subcontracting and nursing homes and community homes

Texas Union Members speakingUnion Organizer Roger from Houston listeningShreveport Local 100’s stewards and leaders organized themselves into three different workshops. One focused on schools and head start units, another looked at health care with nursing and community homes, and the last bit hard into contractors and subcontractors for sanitation and janitorial workers. The results were inspiring and exciting. In the report backs one leader perhaps summed it up best by saying, “we have to think ‘outside the box.’”

The reason is simple enough to follow as well. Companies are “way out the box.” One problem stewards were unpacking focused on a unit where Local 100 had won an election in April 2009 for cleaners with a local, Dallas-based company at D/FW Airport Concourse D. After endless delays in bargaining including company delays around election objections, after six months of bargaining in which the company delayed and postponed one meeting after another, they walked away from the table in spring of 2010 with dueling NLRB charges. Another company won the bid in May 2010 and recognized the unions but within hours of coming to agreement with the union in August, they walked away from the contract. A third company is now bargaining with the union, and prospects are fair for a settlement, but the union has now had to also demand recognition with several additional companies that are subcontracting part of the work. The workers, those that have survived, are shell shocked. The giant public airport authority running one of the USA’s largest airports is involved in such a race to the bottom, that it is squeezing contractors and sweating workers without a moment’s hesitation. The Local 100 stewards understood that these problems require not just leadership, but virtually heroism!

The challenges in other areas where state reimbursement rates were critical in the new health care area or the impact of federal allocations for Head Start programs were also intense. One company where Local 100 has contracts in New Orleans and Lafayette and a new drive underway impacting 400 workers in Houston is in the middle of a takeover battle has units involving another 1000 or more workers in reach of the local, and is reducing all wages for its service workers to $7.25, the federal minimum, and eliminating benefits. Marshalling the resources and resolve to respond and meet both the existing and potential membership demand is huge.

One story led to another as conversation, laughter, and resolve seemed to echo across all parts of the Shreveport Central Trades and Labor building where we were meeting. No wonder, the call to “think outside box” was being taken up so enthusiastically. There seems to be no other way to move forward in these times.