Fast Food Organizing Tactics Clouding the Strategy

 PHOTO BY JESSICA SEAMAN Protestors block Broadway Street in downtown Little Rock on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, to ask for higher wages. Some chanted: "Make our wages super-sized."
PHOTO BY JESSICA SEAMAN
Protestors block Broadway Street in downtown Little Rock on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, to ask for higher wages. Some chanted: “Make our wages super-sized.”

Montreal    In two years,  the New York Times notes that there have now been seven actions involving fast food workers and demands for $15 per hour. The latest claimed to have held actions in 150 cities around the US with up to 500 arrested for civil disobedience, largely street blocking. The Times’ labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, now puts the tab covered by the Service Employees at $10 million for this campaign, though I’m sure that’s “above the line” costs, not counting deployment of much more involving existing staff, offices, and operations, which is one of the ways a flag gets planted in this number of cities.

Grant Williams, an old ACORN organizer in his youth for several years and a longtime SEIU organizer now, left best wishes for me the other day with Toney Orr, Local 100’s state director for Arkansas, when he was in Little Rock trying to expand the campaign from his home port of St. Louis. This is something that must feel like a walk in the park for Grant and right in his wheelhouse, and the number of times fast food workers from St. Louis pop up in these stories, indicates that he and his team are doing a great job. Someone from St. Louis was one of the 19 arrestees in New York City. Three of the eleven arrested in Little Rock were from St. Louis. Not sure how many of the dozen or so in Memphis.

In fact, Missouri must be the real ground zero from this campaign since on the list of 150 cities on the www.popularresistance.org website a full 20 of the cities were St. Louis and Kansas City suburbs with a few other scattered sites in Missouri. Pine Bluff, Jacksonville, and North Little Rock were on the list of cities as well, because folks from those cities were part of the actions in Little Rock. Local papers recorded no actions in the cities themselves. Add Southhaven, Mississippi to the Memphis action on the credit list for the St. Louis team as well. An action in New Orleans included people from St. Rose, Luling, Harvey, and Slidell, all part of the greater metro area, so they were part of the 150 list as well. Three were arrested in New Orleans, two of whom were workers, and though Baton Rouge is on the list of 150, there were no reports in the Baton Rouge Advocate of any Baton Rouge activity.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the protestors began in Little Rock at 8AM, and had been arrested and were back on the bus by 9AM, and headed to Memphis to continue their protest. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that a dozen were arrested blocking the entrance to a McDonalds on Popular Avenue in that city at noon, so they made good time, despite that construction past Forrest City. This roving picket line of sorts had managed to stay busy!

From these numbers it looks like New Orleans, Memphis, and Little Rock are right at the epicenter of the fast food organizing with almost 10% of the cities where there are actions. Throw in the Missouri-based work and their 20 hotspots, and going up and down the Mississippi River we have more than 20% of the hotspots. Who knew?

I was optimistic about the reports on homecare workers joining the campaign, and there was evidence that some spoke to the issues, as I predicted, in Illinois, but otherwise they were not part of the story, even if I still hope there may have been others that were part of the action.

Don’t misunderstand me, if a fast food worker was from a city, then nothing wrong with claiming the city, but as an organizer, I know that someone passing through or picking up the bus someplace is not the same as having the location organized. But, when you get involved in the “claims” game of how many cities and how many arrests, it’s just a matter of time before someone starts counting the names and numbers to see if this is manufacturing or a movement, and when that happens the smoke and mirrors can cloud the strategy and workers and supporters get confused between what they know and can see versus what they had hoped was there.

For fast food and other lower wage workers, the anger is real and the demands are just. We better make sure that we don’t get tripped up by the tactics on the way to putting together a winning strategy.

***

Please enjoy Come from the Heart by Hard Working Americans Featuring Rosanne Cash.

Thanks to Kabf.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

California Nurses Go it Alone Strategy Reaps What it Sows

New Orleans   In the alphabet soup of labor, the National Federation of Nurses with 34,000 members in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Ohio, announced that they were merging with the American Federation of Teachers, coupling the AFT’s 48,000 nurses to bring that union up to 82,000 nurses.  They said they wanted to go to a union that “grows by organizing” which is usually not the way anyone thinks of the AFT.  The Service Employees (SEIU) wisely was “no comment” about the merger with their 90,000 nurses, but the National Nurses’ Union (NNU) with 185,000 nurses, largely powered by the 100,000+ branch in California called the California Nurses’ Association (CNA), as has become its habit could not refrain from trashing out this new labor marriage.

As usual, Steven Greenhouse of the Times had no trouble helping NNU read their usual prescription of putting their foot firmly down throat before looking at the situation by gratuitously harkening back to the long settled “trades” versus “industrial” union perspective as applied to healthcare and their status as the elite group with hospitals.  And, as usual they took a shot at another union, this time the AFT, just to prove that their commitment to going solo still trumps any notion of solidarity ever.

Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United, did not hide her union’s disappointment. “We believe that nurses and patients are better served when nurses are in a union that understands nurses and just serves nurses,” Ms. Ross said. “The American Federation of Teachers, considering what has gone on with attacks on public sector unions, has a lot going on without adding the issues that we nurses face.”

So, why did the Nurses’ Federation, obviously a labor organization that was all about nurses as well not understand fully the NNU, nurses only and forever siren song?  Well, there is the matter of the growing and legendary reputation of the NNU to grow by raiding other unions, first and foremost, and even NNU had to admit that the little matter of having raided 35,000 members from the Federation in New York and effectively chopping that union in half might have stuck in the Nurses’ Federation’s craw somewhat deeply.

Ms. Ross acknowledged that there was “bad blood” between her union and the National Federation of Nurses over membership. And Ms. Crane, head of the federation of nurses, said her union preferred joining with a union that grew by organizing, rather than raiding, or trying to win away, nurses that had already joined other unions — a slap at National Nurses United.

If your modus operandi is going to be raiding nurses and spitting in the eye of other unions, then it seems odd that NNU would be surprised when they are not feeling the love from their sisters and some brothers in other unions.  Certainly they have never minded partnering with other unions to help raid while building in California, notably the Steelworkers of all folks, whose alliance with nurses seemed anything but natural.  More recently, they abandoned a “peace” agreement they had for three years with SEIU which had been triggered by blowing up a series of hospital organizing drives in Ohio initiated by SEIU, so that they could finance a partnership with an independent, break off group from SEIU to try and expand their weight within the Kaiser healthcare network in California facing a re-run decertification election on more than 40,000 workers later this year.  The price for that deal was giving the challenging union the benefit of the CAN contract access to Kaiser facilities to campaign, and without doubt in exchange they would be guaranteed all Kaiser nurses in the future.  The fact that their spat in Ohio and now in California with SEIU were both connected to the same leader should also not go unnoticed.

Meanwhile the majority of nurses are not members of unions.  The AFT has no particular strategy that would change that fact, regardless of its new partnership with the Nurses’ Federation, but neither does NNU.   Eventually NNU’s strategy of divisiveness will run its course and they will either have raided or alienated most of the nurses in other unions, and then they will face the same problem of organizing the unorganized which will then be inescapable regardless of the badmouthing and go-solo rapping, so what then?  It seems undeniable that until the NNU strategy changes, rather than being the leader in labor that they might be and should be, the union will continue to reap what it sows in bitterness, strife and division, helping employers in healthcare throughout the country and leaving the majority of nurses, despite the NNU rhetoric, without representation and power on the job.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail