Tag Archives: unions

Thinking Outside the Box for Worker Power

Pearl River     In organizing unions, captive audience meetings are the scourge of organizing drives.  The employers have the right to make the meetings mandatory in order to deliver their anti-union screeds, but union representatives are unable to attend.  Organizers spend hours preparing committee members and union activists how to takeover these meetings so that they build strength and hold onto support.  Often organizing drives are won and lost right at these meetings, because when the union is able to turn the tables, the bosses don’t schedule more meetings and leadership is developed.  Having implemented and used this strategy in scores of organizing drives, I’m a great believer, but it is class struggle, trial by fire, and as many drives are lost as won with these tactics.

Talking to Shaun Richman, a former organizer and author of a new book on labor strategies on Wade’s World called, Tell the Bosses We’re Coming:  A New Action Plan for Workers in the 21sth Century, he added some context for both the history of captive audiences and advocated a strategy for dealing with them using the NLRB.  Richman noted that in the early years under the National Labor Relations Act, unions had access to the workplace in order to make their case for unionization.  The NLRB issued two decisions on the same day.  One was the Excelsior Underwear case, famous to all organizers, because it required companies to prove a list of the name, addresses, and other information on all members of the potential bargaining unit who were eligible to vote in an upcoming election.  The other, often forgotten by our generation of organizers, was the decision they issued later on that day that withdrew the right of organizers to be able to have access to the workplace to make their case, which then ushered in the long parade of captive audience meetings.

Richman argues that we should file unfair labor practices with the NLRB every time an employer holds a mandatory captive audience meeting.  His argument is sort of a version of the old Cloward-Piven break the bank strategy, that if enough ULPs are filed for this activity, that a future NLRB board in a world after-Trump, might be pushed into making them illegal.  Richman, who led drives for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in charter schools, including my old high school, Benjamin Franklin in New Orleans, where in a great personal “turnabout is fair play” moment, I got to advocate for the teachers’ recognition as a former graduate and union ally, found that filing ULPs was commonplace in white collar drives.  Maybe so?  I wish filing them and enduring the endless NLRB bureaucratic process were not so burdensome on unions and workers as well!

This is just one of his arguments.  Others like the questionable value of collective bargaining, the ridiculous burden of exclusive representation, members only, and multiple union workplace representation are also cases that I have made for decades, so I felt like I had found a fellow traveler.  Even where some of his notions are unlikely to find their way to reality, he offers key historical insights from his research that are invaluable.  To build worker power, we desperately need new thinking that is out of the box, and that is rooted in our organizing history and the lessons from contemporary struggles.  Shaun Richman’s Tell the Bosses We’re Coming is worth the read!


Getting OSHA on the Job

Pearl River     If there were ever a time that workers needed to feel safe on the job, it’s got to be now in the middle of a pandemic.  Even with the lifting of restrictions in different states and various businesses reopening, many workers are still voting with their feet, and their feet are firmly planted at home because they are wary of work, church, and public spaces in many cases.  In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) is charged with protecting our health on the job, so “What me worry?”  Yes, indeed, we all should!

OSHA has been strangely silent and passive during this period when you would expect that they would be leading the calvary charge to assure that businesses opened correctly and safely so that workers were able to return to the job with confidence.  Instead, they seem like a footnote in this crisis.

When Local 100 United Labor Unions was confronting the giant service contractor, ResCare, about the lack of personal protection equipment in their community homes and their failure to isolate coronavirus positive consumers and inform workers fully of the situation, we filed an OSHA complaint.  They promised to move forward and take it seriously.  The company has now stepped up its game.

News broke recently that the warden in the federal prison system responsible for the huge facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, in the center of the state recently found himself reassigned to a desk job in the Atlanta regional office for the Bureau of Prisons and summarily replaced.  Reading carefully, his quick trip came when prison employees – and their union – confronted the warden directly about not providing PPE, not informing the workforce of positive cases, and not isolating the prisoners who had contracted Covid-19.  The union filed a formal OSHA complaint, and they got quick action from the bureaucrats and away the warden went.

I could add a third example:  Amazon’s warehouses in France.  Workers and their union objected to the lack of protection and health standards, filed suit, and the courts shut the companies warehouses down except for bare essentials.  They are now gradually coming back to work on a volunteer basis with a $2 per hour raise according to their union.

I think there’s a very clear lesson here from these examples.

OSHA is a sleeping dog, whether on orders from the Trump administration, weak appointees and vacancies, Congressional defunding, or just incompetence and indifference.  Like any sleeping dog though, if you give it a sharp tug, that dog can still move quickly and bark loudly.

Workers by themselves can’t get any action from OSHA.  It takes collective action, like the prison guards’ confrontation, the Local 100 workers’ petition and demands on local supervisors, or the CGT in France.

Oh, and don’t forget, it’s crystal clear that you have to have a union, if you are going to get action from OSHA or any assurance that your health and safety is as importance to your employer as the cha-ching on the cash register.