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UNITEs Current Campaign
When attempting to form or join unions, workers, especially workers of color, face almost insurmountable challenges. If they complain or speak-up, they are harassed, fired, bullied into quitting and, in many cases, blacklisted. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the federal body designated to protect workers rights and ensure impartiality between employer and employee, but it rarely lives up to its mandate. Many feel that the NLRB has actually functioned to defer, delay, and sometimes even block workers rights, in spite of its stated goals.
Under such bleak conditions, and after four years of the Bush administrations attacks on working families, can we project an alternative vision of building labor and community power that challenges the NLRB to live up to its mandate of protecting workers rights? Can AFL-CIO unions and their rank and file members embrace issues immediately apparent to union members and live up to their potential as a force for social change? Can organizations and coalitions draw attention to the NLRBs failure, agitate complicit NLRB bureaucrats and recalcitrant employers, and create victories for working people based on labor and community solidarity and power? Can changes be made to the existing NLRB, enabling it to better live up to its mandate of protecting workers rights?
The current national campaign by UNITE-HERE (North Americas laundry, apparel, and hospitality workers union) to organize Angelica Corporation, the largest health care laundry services company in the United States, provides a perfect example of how these questions can be answered.
The NLRB: A Failure
Founded in 1935 as part of the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRBs purpose is to encourage the process of collective bargaining. But, according to Fred Feinstein, General Council to the NLRB and its chief prosecutor during the Clinton administration, the NLRB is simply broken in fundamental ways.
In fact, the NLRB is so flawed unions avoid utilizing its processes when possible and are looking for new and different processes that are far more fair, said Feinstein. According to Feinstein, the current system of secret ballot elections supervised by the NLRB is framed as a contest between the union and the employer...placed in the context of a political election, where both sides have equal access. But the current process distorts the fact that they are not equal entities. Secret ballot elections dont work because employers have complete control of the process and the workplace, where the company exerts economic control over the work force.
The employer can campaign everywhere, wherever, whenever it wants. The employer can compel the employee to listen to anti-union propaganda. And it is perfectly legal for the employer to predict all forms of dire economic consequences if a union is voted in, said Feinstein.
On the other hand, Employees are restricted. The union cant get on the work site. The union can compel nothing. No one can consider this a fair process.
The WRB: An Alternative
On May 27, 1993, in an attempt to draw national attention to the NLRBs failure, JWJ organized a National Day of Action against the NLRB which included sit-ins and protests that shut down NLRB offices in 26 cities across the country. More than 10,000 people participated and 1,000 were arrested.
After the protests, JWJ and unions involved in the NLRB actions decided to establish an alternative structure to advocate for workers rights, especially the right to organize. They agreed that a formal body, to not only hear workers complaints, but also to act on those complaints, was needed as an alternative to the NLRB. As a result, they formed the Workers Rights Boards (WRB).
WRBs cant take cases directly to the NLRB or its local appendages, but it can directly influence employee grievances, wrongful terminations, and union organizing campaigns. By utilizing moral and political persuasion and threatening widespread public exposure against recalcitrant employers, which the NLRB isnt designed to do, WRBs create labor and community powered employer accountability, instead of bureaucratic dependence on antiquated laws. In other words, WRB members are able to use personal authority and community status to mobilize support for and intervene on behalf of workers.
members include alder- persons, state representatives, ministers,
priests, rabbis, other religious leaders, organizers, activists,
academics, intellectuals, and celebrities. WRB members emphasize
that workers rights are civil rights, not just a matter of
concern for labor unions, but for the community as a whole. According
to JWJ, workers, after all, arent just workers. They are neighbors,
members of the community, people of faith, students, taxpayers,
caregivers, and family members. Attacks on workers rights
are also attacks on the stability and well-being of neighborhoods,
religious communities, schools, universities, and families.
Angelica, OSHA, & NLRB
Miguel Flores, a Mexican American from Houston, Texas, sits across the table at the local UNITE-HERE office. He was flown into St. Louis, Missouri to speak at a rally outside of Angelicas corporate headquarters. Flores was fired from Angelica Corporation last spring for joining UNITE- HERE and actively participating in the organizing campaign. The campaign started on a Friday. The following Monday, Angelica suspended me. And by that Friday I was fired, Flores said. According to UNITE-HERE, Angelica has 3,000 laundry service employees nationally, about 2,000 of which are in the union.
When the campaign started, the company was in a frenzy, Flores continued. They began holding captive audience meetings and speaking out against the union. Then they began promising better benefits. They said, We can resolve our problems together. We dont need a union. Flores spoke up at a captive audience meeting. Later that day, management asked him to sign a letter stating that he had thrown a laundry basket down a ramp. Flores refused and was then suspended for three days. When he returned to work he was fired.
They focus on money and production. But they should be focused on the workers. Our insurance is too expensive. We work ten to twelve hours one day and then two to three hours the next, so they dont have to pay us overtime. Single mothers cant get time off to take care of their children. Angelica is extremely abusive to its workers, Flores added.
While wages and benefits are a major concern, safe working conditions are probably the most important. We handle extremely dirty linens, Flores said. We handle diaper cloths, linen with blood clots, and needles. Flores said he had to quickly sort through numerous 200 pound bags straight from the hospitals. Many bags still had blood, guts, body fluids, and different blood borne diseases. We could get hepatitis or HIV. This process is called soil sort. It used to take ten to twelve people to handle all the bags of linen. Now Angelica expects five to six people to do the job of twelve.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found Angelica guilty of numerous health and safety violations. On August 31, OSHA issued citations to Angelicas Batavia, New York plant for dozens of job safety and health standard violations and proposed penalties exceeding $140,000 against the company. Earlier in the year, OSHA proposed nearly $64,000 in fines at two Angelica plants in California. To date federal and state OSHA agencies have proposed fines of over $300,000 for Angelicas health and safety violations.
OSHA has also charged Angelica with willful violation, its most stringent citation. In some cases, work surfaces were visibly contaminated with blood and other potentially infectious materials. According to OSHA, soiled laundry was thrown and/or placed on the walking surface on the soil sort conveyer line. Employees routinely stepped in feces or other human waste as a result... OSHA also charges Angelica with not having a written cleaning schedule, leaving surfaces to be cleaned sporadically, if at all.
Nationally, UNITE-HERE has filed over 70 unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, charging Angelica with threatening plant closures, withholding information, spying on workers, and suspending or terminating pro-union workers. While unfair labor practice charges have had some impact, the NLRB doesnt actively campaign for workers rights and since the Bush administrations appointment of three members to the NLRBs five member board, this situation has become much worse.
A WRB Hearing
On September 22, in St. Louis, Jobs With Justice held its second national WRB hearing. The hearing was in support of the Angelica workers. UNITE-HERE members from six different Angelica work sites gave testimony on health and safety concerns, labor law violations, union busting, and the failure of the NLRB.
Yvonne Wolcott, from Batavia, New York, said, We have lots of health and safety issues within our plant.... In our soil department one of the biggest problems is power dumping when they unload dirty linen at such a speed that the soil workers cant keep up and the bins overflow and dirty linen, soaked with blood and other body fluids, starts to pile up on the floor....
Nery Jimenez, from Durham, North Carolina, said, When we started organizing a union, management responded with forced meetings, intimidation, and more pressure. We have filed 15 charges with the NLRB. We demand that Angelica respect our right to organize under a fair and neutral process.
Lourdez Perez, from Phoenix, Arizona, said, I hear Angelica is prepared to spend $1 million to break our union drive.... Why dont they use that money to give us a raise? Why dont they use it to assure a safer work place?
Vicki Calabrese, from Lorain, Ohio, said, Several years ago we had an NLRB election. Before the election, Angelica tried to win votes by telling the workers that if they vote against the union they would get a wage increase.... But the majority of us still voted for the union and we won the election.
When it was time to negotiate our union contract, Calbrese continued, Angelica used unfair tactics by delaying the negotiations process.... In an NLRB election the company has the upper hand. The company can delay the negotiations process even after workers win the election, and during the campaign the company has time to discourage and intimidate workers...
While the national JWJ-WRB hearing did not have an immediate impact on the UNITE-HERE campaign, in many other ways it was a success. The WRB hearing empowered workers and built labor and community solidarity with UNITE- HERE members, put pressure on Angelica to do the right thing, gained media attention for the ongoing campaign, and raised awareness of the NLRBs failure to protect workers rights.
According to Margarida Jorge, a JWJ activist, the WRB hearing also accomplished another very important victory. It clearly illustrated that we are not going to accept the failure of the system as our failure. Were not giving up.
In recent years the AFL-CIO has placed renewed energy, emphasis, and money on organizing the unorganized, recruiting new union members, building rank and file participation in the labor movement and solidifying labor and community based coalitions. In fact, many unions and community groups who have traditionally seen their roles as mutually independent and sometimes antagonistic, are beginning to work together, opening up and cooperating on local and national levels like never before. However, the AFL-CIOs vision seems limited to issues immediately apparent to union members, rather than as a catalyst for building long-term social change.
While JWJ-WRBs provide the vision and forward-thinking needed to project an alternative vision of labor and community power that challenges the NLRBs complicity, more is needed.
Card check neutrality and the Employee Free Choice Act should be a key part of any effort to fundamentally change NLRB processes. By challenging the NLRB to live up to its mandate and by projecting an alternative vision of labor and community solidarity and power, through WRBs, we can build strength based on democracy and workers rights, rather than dependence based on NLRB bureaucrats. Vision, potential, and knack for agitation focused on immediate worker demands and long-term social change enables WRBs to act as an alternative to the NLRB.
In many ways, WRBs are changing the rules of the game by changing the consequences for employers who violate the law.
Tony Pecinovsky lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri. He has organized with the Teamsters union and SEIU and is a member of the Newspaper Guild.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.