Archive for the ‘Unions’ Category

by Linda Bloom

Reposted from the UMConnections blog

umns13 198 1 Connections United Methodists take heart in labor agreement

(From left) the Revs. Marti Scott, Chuck Dauhm, Michael Shanahan and C.J. Hawking line up (risking arrest) in support of Hyatt workers in Chicago. A web-only photo by Luis Juarez

They prayed at the picket line, listened to workers’ stories, sent delegations to meet with management and supported a boycott.

So when UNITE HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the United States and Canada, recently reached a tentative labor agreement with the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, United Methodists were pleased.

The Rev. Israel Alvaran, who helped organize denominational support in northern California, said he was inspired by workers willing to take risks and make sacrifices so a global corporation would hear their concerns. “This was a David and Goliath fight,” he declared.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Arise, Chicago, agreed the workers, “really put up a valiant fight.” Two other hotel chains, Starwood and Hilton,already had signed agreements with workers that “provide safe working conditions and limit outsourcing,” she said.

The agreement reached July 1 will go into effect upon the settlement and ratification of union contracts by Hyatt associates in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to UNITE HERE. Key provisions include retroactive wage increases and a fair process mechanism for a union vote.

UNITE HERE will end its global boycott of Hyatt when the contracts are ratified. Hyatt agreed to a fair process for workers in some hotels immediately, but not in other hotels, said Ross Hyman, who was assigned by the AFL-CIO to work with religious supporters in Chicago. “In those hotels, the boycott will continue, even though the global boycott has ended,” he clarified.

Both the California-Nevada and Northern Illinois annual (regional) conferences of The United Methodist Church officially have supported the hotel workers. That’s in keeping with the denomination’s Social Principles and resolutions said John Hill, who oversees work on economic and environmental justice for the denomination’s Board of Church and Society.

Those principles are clear about rights of workers, including the need for a living wage and the right to bargain collectively, he pointed out. Whether they provide housekeeping services in hotels or harvest crops on farms, “we take our lead from the workers who are struggling to improve their own lives and conditions,” Hill said.

Chicago picket lines

In the Chicago area, about 7,000 Hyatt workers had been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2009. The economic boycott there targeted the Park Hyatt on the Magnificent Mile, Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive and the Hyatt O’Hare.

The Rev. Teran Loeppke, a deacon in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, wrote the legislation adopted in 2011 that created the conference’s Hyatt Boycott Monitoring and Organizing Committee and supported the worker-led boycott of 16 Hyatt properties in the United States.

“I think we were one of the pieces of the comprehensive effort that has led to this whole tentative agreement,” Loeppke said. “Anytime dedicated clergy and lay people get together to really focus in a concerted way…good things have the opportunity to happen.”

Because the Hyatt headquarters are in Chicago, having the conference representing United Methodists in the city honor the boycott made it “that much more significant,” Hyman noted.

“Methodists also played a role in trying to reach out to other organizations for them to honor the boycott,” he added. When religious scholars meeting in Chicago last fall moved the headquarters hotel further from the convention center, United Methodists helped organize a Sabbath walk to accompany Orthodox Jews “so that everyone would be walking together.”

Other actions included picketing and prayer, including a “flash prayer” event in the Hyatt Regency lobby. “We just really prayed and prayed, with complete earnestness, really valuing the collective prayer in the public square,” Hawking said. “Stating that God’s presence was there was very powerful for management to hear and the workers to hear as well.”

When religious delegations went to see Hyatt management, the workers often sent “thank you” messages as they waited, noted the Rev. Betty Jo (B.J.) Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, pastor of Incarnation United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“Seeing that actually the church would be a presence for justice for them and come into their struggle meant so much to the people that I talked with,” she said.

Hawking and Birkhahn-Rommelfanger were among those able to get passes “to go to back of house” at the Hyatt hotel to interview workers during their lunch hour. Jewish groups led the effort to publish a clergy report, “Open the Gates of Justice,” on working conditions at Hyatt hotels.

Hawking remembers talking with one of the employees, a pastry chef and single mom. “She literally stood for 8 to 10 hours every day over her work table,” she said. “It was very powerful to be in the back of the house like that and to see a glimpse of what their lives were like.”

Support and solidarity in California

As in Chicago, United Methodists in the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference have focused on support and solidarity for Hyatt workers, Alvaran explained. A member of the Philippines Central Conference, he has helped organize interfaith support for workers in northern California since 2007.

In San Francisco, the union allowed them to bring clergy to organizing meetings “to provide that ministry of presence and assurance that all will be well, you don’t have to fear,” he said.

Alvaran believes the new tentative contract is a “huge” accomplishment, particularly in terms of a neutrality agreement that provides a “hands off” approach as workers decide how they want to organize. But, it doesn’t apply to every hotel in the area, such as the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, which is no longer owned by the Hyatt corporation. The California-Nevada Conference approved a resolution in endorsing a worker-led boycott of the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf in 2009.

Before the 2013 annual conference meeting in June at the Sacramento Hyatt, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., discussed the denomination’s position on labor issues with both with union leaders and management.

“We took seriously our responsibility to respect our relationships with our neighbors,” Brown told United Methodist News Service. “We met with representatives of the labor movement that have concerns about working conditions for hotel workers and we met with the general manager and the human resources manager of the Hyatt property.”

Several factors influenced the conference’s decision to have its 2014 annual session at a unionized hotel, the Hyatt Burlingame. Brown — whose parents, now retired, were both union members — was particularly pleased the contract with that hotel includes protective language that allows cancellation without penalty in the event of a labor dispute and he urged other annual conferences to do the same.

Including what is known as a force majeure clause in their hotel contracts, allowing them to move to another hotel if a boycott or worker action occurs, is the best way for church groups to help hotel workers, Hyman said, “because of the enormous consumer power that they wield.”

Alvaran said that conferences could check the union’s website to see if hotels in a particular city are under a worker boycott.

*Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. Contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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After spontaneous strike to protest wage issues, textile workers’ partnership with community organization and union leads to victory

As national union rates hit all-time low, victory shows promise of community partnerships, immigrant organizing for reversing labor’s decline

The mostly Latino immigrant packers and machine operators of Artistic Stitches, Inc., an embroidery company with contracts with some of Chicago’s largest businesses like Chase Bank, declared victory Thursday after a job walkout in protest of wage issues and an innovative community organization/union partnership led to a successful union drive.

At a time when American union rates have reached their lowest in nearly a century, the campaign shows the potential for the labor movement’s revitalization with innovative new organizing strategies.

“Union membership is at an all-time low, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Jorge Mujica, organizer for Arise Chicago.

Jorge Mujica, Arise Chicago and Richard Monje, Workers United

Jorge Mujica, Arise Chicago and Richard Monje, Workers United

Concerns about job security and possible violations of Illinois minimum wage law led the workforce to walk off the job the day after Thanksgiving. Workers were laid off near the end of every year, then rehired as apprentices, at apprenticeship wages–despite the fact that many had worked at the factory for years. They did not receive any holiday pay despite working through major holidays like Thanksgiving, which proved to be the last straw for workers who walked off the job the day after Thanksgiving this year.

“We decided to walk off the job because management said they weren’t going to pay us holiday pay for working on Thanksgiving,” said Juana Cortez, a worker at the factory.

The mostly immigrant work force stood together to demand they be treated with dignity and respect on the job.

“Now, we can defend ourselves from the mistreatment, have paid vacations and holidays. Now, there can be equality,” said Juana Cortez.

Workers approached the interfaith workers’ rights organization Arise Chicago, who assisted in organizing co-workers to know their rights on the job. Selecting Workers United as their union with which to affiliate, the workers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election. Last week, the workers won by a decisive majority and now have union representation.

“The relationship between the workers center and our union has been perfect,” said Margarita Klein, staff director of Workers United.  “And this is only the beginning.”

Cortez had the following message for other workers in a situation like hers: “If something unjust is happening to you at work, there are organizations like Arise and Workers United that can help protect you.”

The campaign’s success shows the potential for labor’s revitalization at a time when it is in deep distress. Recently released figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that union membership is at its lowest percentage in nearly a century, leading many commentators to declare that labor is continuing to die a slow, agonizing death. The Stitches workers’ victory demonstrates this is not the case.

“If you are only thinking of traditional campaigns and old forms of worker organization, you may be disappointed. But when you adopt a broader view, like our point of view on the ground, you see signs of hope and progress. Workers organizing in nontraditional sectors, who are self-organizing, who are striking first–successful campaigns like these show that there are actually very promising signs of life to be found in the movement. Labor can turn the corner with nontraditional organizing strategies like the ones these workers used,” said Adam Kader, Arise Chicago Worker Center program director.

The rise of alternative organizing strategies nationally shows that many workers want to organize.

“It isn’t that workers don’t want representation,” said Kader. “Workers are clearly hungry for a voice on the job. Dozens of low-wage sector workers contact Arise Chicago’s Worker Center office daily, detailing incredible amounts of abuse. But many times, these workers don’t have access to unions.  Workers, like those at Stitches did, reach out to different organizations–often churches–for help, who are connected to Arise Chicago. When community groups like Arise work together with unions like Workers United, we can help bridge that gap so workers’ rights can be respected on the job.”

In addition, promising gains have been made for labor nationally in states like California, where, over the last year, union membership has actually increased by 110,000 members, largely because unions have taken the organizing of immigrant workers seriously.

For a full revitalization of the labor movement, new member organizing must be paired with political activity and advocacy for stronger public policies to protect workers.  The Stitches workers’ win comes on the heels of a major victory for workers in Chicago’s city council: the passage of anti-wage theft legislation that makes it possible for the city of Chicago to revoke business licenses of businesses found guilty of wage theft. Arise worked with Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th ward), the bill’s sponsor, to draft the bill.

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THURSDAY 9/13/12

TIFs are for Kids

Penny Pritzker sits on the Board of both Hyatt Hotels and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). As a Hyatt Board Member, she agreed to the construction of a Hyatt Hotel using $5.2 million dollars of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This money otherwise could have helped provide for students’ basic needs like libraries and text books.

As a CPS Board Member, she failed to prioritize students and has allowed hundreds of millions of CPS dollars to be siphoned off to be given to wealthy developers and corporate headquarters via the TIF system.

The 3:30 action will call on leaders like Ms. Pritzker and the CPS Board to put children first and to use TIF funds for schools, libraries and parks rather than tax breaks to the 1%.  The wider community will join striking teachers who are fighting to protect our children and provide the education they deserve.

Thursday, September 12

3:30pm – Picket at Hyatt Regency

4:45pm – Rally and Press Conference at Park at the corner of Congress Parkway & Michigan Ave

RSVP to the Facebook Event

FRIDAY 9/14/12Religious Support for Teachers

Religious leaders organized by Arise Chicago will join other community leaders at a press conference at City Hall outside the mayor’s office showing the steadfast support for the Chicago Teachers Union who is calling for:

-public education to remain public

-quality schools for all students

-more resources for neighborhood school

-a recall system that will support African American and Latinos  .  teachers in our schools

Religious leaders are invited to attend and to wear prayer shawls, stoles, collars, or other items of your tradition.

Friday September 14, 10:00am

City Hall, 5th floor


SATURDAY 9/15/12What Teacher Solidarity Looks Like

This Saturday, the Chicago Teachers Union is asking for all allies to join in a mass rally to keep public education public.

The 30,000 teachers, school social workers, clerks, vision and hearing testers, school nurses, teaching assistants, counselors, and other school professionals of the Chicago Teachers Union are standing strong to defend public education from test pushers, privatizers, and a national onset of big money interest groups trying to push education back to the days before teachers had unions. Around the country and even the world, this struggle is being recognized as the front line of resistance to the corporate education agenda.

Educators and supporters from across the country have pledged to travel to Chicago in solidarity to rally.

Will you join us?  Help us show the world what solidarity looks like! Wear red or your Arise Chicago t-shirt.Let the CTU know you will be there by registering here.

Saturday, September 15

12:00pm noon

Union Park at Ashland and Lake

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The Chicago Teachers Union has been attempting to negotiate a fair contract since last November.  Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.  Should there be a strike, it is not simply about compensation, although the Board of Education has proposed combining wage and health care proposals, resulting in a net loss in salary.  Although legally the union can only strike over compensation issues, this strike is very much a fight to defend a quality public education for every Chicago student.  It is, as CTU President Karen Lewis has declared, a struggle “for the soul of public education.”

In ten months of negotiation, the Board has refused to negotiate over core union issues that would create, as the union’s hallmark study declared “The Schools that Chicago’s Students Deserve.”   The Board refuses to negotiate over classroom size; over having a nurse and social worker in every school; over having a library in every school; and over funding neighborhood schools instead of its drive to privatize public education through creating scores of non-union charter schools where teachers and parents have no voice. This is a strike that teachers and advocates of workers’ rights and supporters of public education across the nation are closely watching.

On the first day of the strike, thousands of teachers picketed outside their schools in the morning. 

In the afternoon, over 10,000 teachers and allies marched in downtown Chicago, rallying at CPS, and then surrounding City Hall.

Arise Chicago staff and members have been supporting the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign at strike headquarters, making banners, marching with teachers, and more.  See how to get involved below.

What You Can Do to Support Teachers:

  • Each day of the strike, you can join teachers on the picket lines at every school from 6:30 to 10:30am.  Click here for list sorted by school or by zip code.
  • Volunteer at the Chicago Teachers Union Strike Solidarity Center at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to make signs and banners, organize donations, help with sign distribution, sign-up to leaflet materials, help with banner drops, etc. Call Luke for details: 616-745-5134 or just show up.
  • Join teachers and supporters to rally and march every day. Check out CTU’s Strike Central for daily action updates.
  • Offer public prayers for and blessings of teachers in your house of worship and invite a teacher to speak.
  • Pick up your CTU support signs at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to put in your window or yard and distribute signs to coffee shops, work places, etc.  For those driving by, pick-up on Van Buren, just west of Ashland, is possible without getting out of your car.
  • Call Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052, a locally owned and teacher-friendly restaurant to make a donation by credit card so teachers and supporters at the Solidarity Center can have pizza, pasta, and salads delivered to them.  Consider pooling donations with others and making just one phone call.  Please try not call during peak hours of 11:45 to 1:15.  Donations have already been called in from around the country!
  • Call Mayor Emanuel at 312-744-330 or CPS CEO Brizard at 773-553-1500 to tell them that CPS students deserve smaller class sizes, more libraries and computers, and that the teachers deserve a fair contract.
  • Wear red every day, even if you are not able to join the marches.
  • Sign up to get the latest news:
  • Facebook:  www.facebook.com/ChicagoTeachersSolidarity
  • Twitter: @CTSCampaign or @AriseChicago
  • Website: ctscampaign.weebly.com
  • CTU Strike Central
  • Questions?  Email:  ChicagoTeachersSolidarity@gmail. com
  • Text message updates: text @ctsc2012 to 23559 to receive strike and picket updates

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By Aziza Nassar

May 31- A week after the teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA) received a letter notifying them that the school be closed or restructured, they held a press conference with parents, students, and supporters before the school’s Board meeting to urge the Board to reject this decision.

Just two days before receiving the letter, the staff at the alternative high school in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood informed their employer of their decision to form a union. Teachers and staff made this decision in order to have a voice in their school. YCLA is a charter school, and one of the twenty-two campuses that Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) manages.  As a charter, the teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and previous to their vote, had no union representation.

A complaint was filed on May 25th by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers (or Chicago ACTS), who strongly turned out other charter school teachers with signs and messages of support Thursday night despite the rain and chilly weather.  Arise Chicago’s Board member, John Thomas, spoke at the press conference, expressing Arise Chicago’s solidarity and the moral support of the religious community.

Inside the board meeting, teachers, students, and family members showed their concern about closing down the school.  Fifteen year old Jameel Marshall, a student at YCLA said,  “By shutting down our school, they’re taking away our education—leaving no where for us to go but out in the street and forcing us to do bad things.”

For many students, YCLA is their home away from home.  The students and their education are the main priority for the dedicated YLCA teachers. Nicole Durham, a YLCA graduate and current teacher said, “We felt the need to unionize because we want to have a stable body of qualified teachers.”

A grandmother of a current YLCA student addressed the board pleading with them not to close the school.  She said the school and its staff had been extremely supportive of her grandchild, and recognized that his success was due to dedicated teachers., “I’ve seen these teachers here until 7:30, 8:30 at night! They care about these kids.”

At the end of the meeting the Board elected not to take action to close the school or take any other action at the time.  Chicago ACTS ,the union whom the YCLA staff elected to join, found this as a positive action, in conjunction with the positive statements from the Board expressing no desire to close the school.  According to a press advisory from the union:

”YCCS was correct in stepping away from a hasty decision to close or restructure the campus, an action that YCLA staff believe would have harmed YCLA students and staff and would have been motivated by the staff’s recent decision to unionize.”

Therefore, Chicago ACTS decided to ask the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board “to hold in abeyance the unfair labor practice charge which ACTS had filed on May 25.”  That charge had been made after YCCS told YLCA teachers and staff (via overnight mail) that they were recommending closing or restructuring the school.

While some left the Board meeting feeling uncertain about the school’s future, by the next day, YLCA teachers, staff and Chicago ACTS felt confident they could move forward to keep the school open and work toward achieving stability and respect in the school for all students and staff.

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-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago

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Workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago walked off the job on Monday for a day, and were joined by religious leaders, labor organizers, and the rank-and-file faithful Interfaith Worker Justice‘s biannual conference on the picket line.
Attendees paid visits to two other Hyatt hotels in Chicago, staging “pray-ins” in the lobby areas of the Hyatt McCormick and the Park Hyatt.
The workers’ union, Unite Here, says there are two big sticking points in their contract negotiations: subcontracting and working conditions.
It’s understandable why workers want something in writing regarding subcontracting. Hyatt made national headlines in 2009 after the company told 98 of its nonunion housekeepers they had to train substitutes to fill in for them when the housekeepers went on vacation. Later in the day, the workers were abruptly informed that those subs were permanent: all 98 were summarily fired and would be replaced by temp workers who made minimum wage.
The episode drew nearly unanimous scorn from community groups, labor, and even business groups–the Harvard Business Review, hardly known as a friend to workers, titled one blog post “Lessons from Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand.” (Apparently HBR was less concerned about a company laying workers off than a company laying workers off in a way that didn’t play well in the press.)
It is understandable, then, that Hyatt workers in Chicago would want some language in their contract that would set out some guidelines about subcontracting.
Regarding workplace injuries, a 2010 study found that Hyatt housekeepers have the highest rates of injury out of any hotel company in the country.
- Micah is a Midwest Academy Organizing Intern at Arise Chicago

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Originally posted at Working In These Times.


by Adam Kader

The decline of unions does not mean the end of the labor movement. Indeed, the last few years have seen a proliferation of new kinds of worker organizations and workers’ rights campaigns. Some of the most exciting of late have been conducted by community-based groups (rather than workplace-based unions), such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and those part of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

In Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks, a recent pamphlet published by PM Press, Daniel Gross and Staughton Lynd highlight an increasingly important feature of today’s labor movement—nonunion workers using direct action strategies protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—while examining the Industrial Workers of the World’s (IWW)’s ongoing efforts to organize Starbucks.

During the last decade, Chicago-based IWW has seen a resurgence of organizing activity and visibility. That’s in part because the 106-year-old international union, which once had 100,000 members but is now only a fraction of that size, formed the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) in 2004 in New York City. It was the coffee chain’s first union, and it has since expanded.

The Starbucks campaign is remarkable because it draws from both IWW’s history and the best practices of worker centers, which are the principal heir of the union’s rich organizing legacy. Ironically, today’s IWW activists, or Wobblies, can learn from worker centers. In fact, one sign of the IWW’s revival is the emergence of the IWW-affiliated Lucy Parsons Workers’ Center in Chicago. Gross and Lynd’s pamphlet is particularly instructive to Wobblies who are challenged by the task of reaching out to workers in need of organizing.

Gross and Lynd, both proponents of rank-and-file unionism, union democracy, and direct action, focus on the practice of solidarity unionism among IWW members working for Starbucks. The story is compelling, in part because of the symbolic importance of the coffee chain. The ubiquitous corporate giant is emblematic of the precarity of the service economy. The authors make the important point that new organizational forms of business require new forms of worker organization.

Starbucks, for instance, argues that a bargaining unit would necessarily include all of the stores in a given region. This, along with ideological reasons, is why the IWW is organizing Starbucks workers across coffee shop locations, rather than shop by shop.

Gross and Lynd share the stories of workers like Laura de Anda, who deal with overbearing managers, low-wages, unilateral scheduling and repetitive motion injuries. For readers without personal experience in service-sector jobs, some of these abuses may seem like mere annoyances; not nearly as exploitative or shocking as, those in say, the meat-packing industry.

But taken together, the at-times idealized barista can find herself in a state of psychological pressure and physical strain. I should know—I did time as a barista in a coffee shop in Chicago’s banking district. My fingertips became so raw from the constant handling of coins and hand washing my hands that I had to wear Band-Aids to prevent infection. I also had to corner my boss and make an appeal to his wife after he didn’t give me my promised raise at the end of my training period.

Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks is useful because it names and describes a collection of strategies nontraditional worker organizations like worker centers increasingly employ. This is particularly true for groups that do not limit their organizing by industry or geographic community. Instead of seeking geographic or industry monopoly power, worker centers like New Brunswick’s New Labor, Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, and the organization I work for, Arise Chicago, choose to build a base of workers organized around the principles and power of direct action and mutual aid.

This means workers joining together to change conditions and terms of work, regardless of what or where their work is. In a recent and typical Arise Chicago action, a retired factory worker, social worker and home healthcare worker joined a butcher to confront his boss about paying the minimum wage, signing a discrimination-free workplace statement, and covering the medical costs of a work-related injury. Worker centers are effective in mobilizing marginalized and low-wage workers because they are rooted in the communities they organize, address workers’ immediate needs and develop them into leaders.

Gross and Lynd describe how IWW-SWU members take bold actions to win concrete gains. We learn how workers disobeyed management to create a comfortable break area, and organized a work stoppage to demand affordable healthcare options and sick days. Besides being dramatic and attention-grabbing, some of these campaigns are notable for their tactical use of legal complaints.

Organizations like the SWU are successful in part because the workers they organize are covered by the NLRA. When people think of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—the agency charged with regulating union elections and protecting workers’ rights in the process—most often they think of union organizing campaigns. But if one studies the NLRA, the pamphlet authors point out, any workers have the right to engage in “collective concerted activity” and are protected from retaliation for doing so.

SWU workers in New York City won a complaint and were reinstated, changing a company policy against distributing union information in the process. In the example cited above, the threat of filing a legal charge for violation of protected concerted activity was sufficient to win demands related to a comfortable break area.

The IWW has a long and fascinating history of solidarity unionism, even before the passage of the NLRA in 1935. From its founding in 1905, the IWW was radical in its aim to organize workers as a single class, instead of as members of a particular trade or industry.

The IWW faces enormous challenges, however. Though it has a history to be proud of, the union would do well to update its image for the 21st-century worker. I have witnessed earnest IWW organizers dressed with newsboy-styled caps, singing “Solidarity Forever” by themselves at a rally. I suspect that some Wobblies are moved by the romanticism of the union’s heyday, but do not know how to speak the language of the 21st century service worker.

I’ve observed IWW activists feverishly discuss the power of the general strike, but strain to develop a strategy for combating wage theft in the workplace. The IWW has begun to revive the “Chicago Idea” (a combination of anarchism and unionism), but thus far has not managed to create a Chicago presence.

Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks provides a glimpse into campaigns that have successfully spoken to disgruntled workers in need of organization. None of the campaigns described in its pages attribute their success to appealing to co-workers’ innate yet hidden thirst for revolutionary activity. On the contrary, SWU appears to be successful because of its appeal to workers’ immediate and basic needs: a fan; a breakroom; sick days.

Gross and Lynd’s good storytelling and legal tutorial should serve as a basic introduction to solidarity unionism for rank-and-file worker activists. And with its attractive and portable zine design, political cartoons and accessible text, the pamphlet speaks to today’s workers in a way that should serve as a model to other IWW activists and worker center activists alike.

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By: Shelly Ruzicka

As workers and unionists across the Midwest and across the country continue their fight to maintain collective bargaining rights, unionists in Columbia are fighting for their lives.   Last year alone, 51  unionists were killed in Columbia.  That’s more than the rest of the world combined.

Our friends at the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN) and the 8th Day Center for Justice are calling all allies to call on President Obama to oppose the Columbia Free Trade Agreement with Colombia as long as attacks on unionists continue.

Witness for Peace has a factsheet on the Columbia FTA.   Some information unknown to many about the agreement include the following:

  • Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.
  • The FTA would push Colombia to lower minimum wage, and remove or reduce guarantees for overtime pay, collective bargaining and worker’s compensation.

The two Chicago groups, along with several other community and religious organizations across the country are calling on concerned groups and individuals to call President Obama asking him to keep his campaign promise to oppose the Colombia FTA.  More information on the negative impact of the FTA on people in Columbia can be read in this Baltimore Sun article.

Want to take action? 8th Day and CRLN are asking people to call the White House opposing the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.  You can call President Obama at the White House Comment line each day from Friday, June 10th until Friday June 17th with the following message:

Please tell President Obama to keep his campaign promise to say NO to the U.S.- Colombia Free Trade Agreement so long as union leaders are being killed with impunity.  Last year along, 51 trade unionists were killed–more than the rest of the world combined.  President Obama,  NO Colombia FTA.  Thank you.”

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414

-Shelly is the Director of Operations at Arise Chicago

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2011 Reenactment of the Haymarket Affair and the following trial and execution of the Haymarket Martyrs in Chicago

By:  Shelly Ruzicka

At first I could not understand why the workers…silently and without a sign of protest bore every insult the caprice of the foreman or boss would heap upon them. I was not aware of the fact that the opportunity to work was a privilege, a favor, and that it was in the power of those who were in the possession of the factories and instruments of labor to deny or grant this privilege. […] I did not know that there were thousands and thousands of idle human bodies in the market, ready to hire out upon most any conditions, actually begging for employment. […] I knew then why … they suffered the humiliating dictates and capricious whims of their employers.

These are not the words of a contemporary privileged middle class college student discovering the reality of today’s working class.  These are not the words of a recent immigrant to the United States, discovering that the “American Dream” of a good job to support one’s family is chock full of wage theft and exploitation. No.  These are the words of a German immigrant, writing his autobiography from prison 125 years ago.   These are the words of Haymarket Martyr August Spies

Many of the speeches of the Haymarket Martyrs have been reprinted and used as rallying cries.  Not quite as well-known are the autobiographies of all eight imprisoned men, commissioned by the Knights of Labor weekly labor journal in Chicago while in prison.  In reading these autobiographies for the first time, a few passages stood out to me, and when read out of context, appear as words from a contemporary writer.

Since attending May Day events in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Haymarket, I’ve been reflecting on the differences and similarities between the struggles of the 1880s and today.  First, to remember the past.

May Day 2011: One hundred twenty-five years since the strike for the eight-hour day.  One hundred twenty-five years after May Day was established following the killing of McCormick workers and the Haymarket rally in response to the police brutality brought upon those workers.  One hundred twenty-five years after the arrest and imprisonment of a group of workers & organizers, now referred to as the Haymarket Eight.  One hundred twenty-four years after the state’s wrongful execution of four of those men (Albert Parsons, August Spies, Andolph Fischer, and George Engle—as well as Louis Lingg who died in prison either by suicide or murder).

One hundred and twenty-five years.  Four generations of lives.  A century and a half.  So much has changed in that span of time—in our world, in our country, in our city.  A city that sparked a national and international movement for workers’ rights.  While the context has changed and shifted, our economy has changed and grown, industries have developed and moved around the globe, certain basic concepts and ideals have remained the same.  Employer practices have changed, becoming more sophisticated in the strategies utilized to maximize profits and exploit workers.  And workers in turn, developed new strategies to organize and fight back (one example—the Worker Center model).  But again, while the context is different—we’ve raised the floor, created minimum standards, and won victories for improving the standard of living via collective bargaining and workplace benefits—some things remain the same. The premise hasn’t changed.  Workers have to fight tooth and nail to win small improvements and to hold on to already-won benefits.  Many struggle to even meet the fairly low standards our state and federal government put in place decades ago.  Even though the general environment appears quite different on the surface, there with striking similarities to the past.

While workers today do not face the same level of physical violence as the workers of 125 years ago, they face rhetorical violence that have similar effects.  Perhaps one of the greatest examples is the crackdown by the state (via far right wing politicians) on organized public workers (i.e. governors in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan…).  Another example of rhetorical violence against organized workers is the direct verbal threat of con artist Andrew Breitbart who declared that his next targets (to destroy via lies and video editing) are teachers and unions.  Public figures like Scott Walker and Andrew Breitbart are using their positions of power or “fame” to put forward policies and messages that are in direct opposition to the interest of the majority of the public.

However, in today’s unstable economy, some are willing to listen to scapegoating preached by those such as Walker and Breitbart.  Did we not learn anything from the wrongful state murder of the Haymarket Martyrs?  Have we not learned to dig two inches below the surface and ask questions?  Why have so many allowed themselves to fall victim to the lies?  I won’t get into the discussion of the right-wing media machine.  That is for another day.  Instead I turn back to August Spies’ observation of workers’ fear in a time of mass joblessness.  Why, he asked, would workers put up with horrible conditions?  Why, we should ask ourselves do we lay beholden to attacks on workers by corporations and politicians?  Some things remain the same.  The fear of losing one’s job, especially knowing how many thousands are eagerly awaiting employment—no matter how low-paying or discriminator—is a powerful motivator.

But are all workers so fearful and beholden to their employers and those in power?  While it may seem so, I have to report stories that speak to the contrary.  A man who worked for his employer for over a decade put up with non-payment of overtime wages and derogatory treatment for years.  After learning the tools to confront his employer, the worker did so, demanding his back wages and the right to a safe and non-discriminatory environment, saying it was more important to take a stand than to save his job.  The power here is not just in winning wages or even in improving conditions.  The power here is in the transformation of all those involved.  The worker said  “I feel like I can finally breathe.  After years of feeling like I was drowning, I can finally breathe.”  The employer—for probably the first time in his life—had the tables changed and understood that he no longer had the upper hand in the relationship.  But that worker didn’t stop there.  That worker is now engaged in building an organization, building a movement of workers to change the tide.  Riding on the heels of Wisconsin, this worker is ready to make history.  This is one story.  It is seemly a small change.  But it encompasses the power and the meaning of May Day.  Let us all embrace this courage, this vision held by the Haymarket Eight and by countless workers across this country.   Onward to a better tomorrow.

Over 1000 workers and allies commemorated May Day at the cemetery where the Haymarket Martyrs are buried, and raised their fists in commitment to continue the struggle of 125 years ago

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Workers As One

Photo: Gary Stephen Hopmayer

By Mary Ann Kader

Report back from the “We Are One” rally in Daley Plaza, Chicago Illinois, on Saturday, April 9, 2011

Last month, workers gathered together around the country to show unity in the face of anti-union backlash in states like Wisconsin.  Chicago had its own rally on a beautiful day downtown.  I was interested in attending this rally for several reasons.  For one, I am a teacher and a member of the IFT.  I indeed wanted to stand in solidarity with teachers in Wisconsin and other states where collective bargaining rights are being threatened.  This rally was a coming together of workers from many unions standing together to express their gratitude and belief how their union supports them.  Of course the speeches were eloquent, but more inspiring were the stories of the workers who attended.  Some were recent immigrants and spoke only in their native language.  Others told of how their parents or grandparents had immigrated and the unions had been there to assist them and their families.  I proudly stood holding a placard for Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights organization.  It bore the words FAITH, FE, WIARA,  LABOR, PRACA, LABOR  and ACTION, AKCJA, ACCION in English, Polish and Spanish.  I stood with a Polish-speaking electrician and a Spanish-speaking laborer.  Although these people are skilled professionals, educated and literate in their native language, they have had issues of unfair workplace practices and wage theft, because their employers took advantage of their limited English skills.  There were several thousand people present at the rally.  There was a full spectrum of ages and ethnicities represented.  I felt the unity of spirit present in the workers.  I felt the acknowledgment of myself as a worker and a commitment to my vocation as a teacher.

-Mary Ann is a proud pre-school teacher and member of IFT Local 571.

-Photo courtesy of Gary Stephen Hopmayer, http://www.standingalonetogether.com/

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