Thursday, December 08, 2011

Still here, still fighting...

We all know about labor's struggle against its long, slow decline in membership. This fight, often against the relentless opposition of anti-labor business interests and also sometimes, sad to say, labor's own bureaucratic inertia, was compounded this year by the significant legislative assaults we have all grimly read about. But AUD is still being flooded with requests for help from people who know the importance of the labor movement, and want it to be there for themselves and others -- people working and risking to make sure this happens.

Each month, roughly 25,000 visitors browse AUD’s information-packed website, mine our storehouse of “how-tos” and links to relevant sources, and read stories from our Union Democracy Review and $100 Plus Club News. And if the web-surfer needs more, a call or an email to our office gets it -- last year we provided one-to-one help to a record number of unionists wanting to improve and strengthen their unions. And we are proud to know that our help has made a difference:

“Without your support, continued interest and writing of the struggles I sincerely doubt I could have kept the members interested through the long legal process....”
--Finn Pette, former financial-secretary, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 501

“I was forced to defend myself against the overwhelming power of a union that I depend on for my livelihood. With no one and nowhere to turn for help, I found AUD. They listened attentively and asked responsible questions. I was very impressed with their great intuitive insight into my problem when they offered sound legal direction. My appeal is now on good solid legal ground.”
-- electrician

“When we were embattled reformers aiming to make our nurses association a more effective union we faced repressive disciplinary retaliation from an abusive controlling officialdom, even possible expulsion. AUD steered us in the right direction in Federal court and publicized our cause in Union Democracy Review. With your help, we successfully defended our rights and won our battle. AUD continues to be an essential resource for our caucus in building a stronger democratic union for registered nurses in New York State.”
-- Pat Kane, Anne Bove, and members of the New York Nurses United caucus.

“I cannot remember who put me in touch with AUD, however, I’m grateful they did. AUD’s guidance, support and encouragement are what I needed to replenish my drive for justice. A complaint of mine has been proceeding through the slow hands of justice. This is why AUD is so important. Its distribution of information to union members gives us what we need to fight back when there are unfair practices in our unions. My struggle goes on. I’m certain that I will be victorious in my efforts. Nichiren Daishonin puts our struggle in context when he states, “Struggle purifies us and brings forth benefits in our lives. Justice or happiness without a battle is an illusion.” Thinking that happiness means a life free of hard work is fantasy. You need AUD and now, AUD needs you to become a member or give a little extra if you can.”
-- union member

AUD does need your help. We are facing a serious budgetary shortfall this year. Most of our support comes from rank and file unionists, who we understand are themselves more and more stressed. Nevertheless, we continue to count on you so that we can carry on the struggle to do what we do -- what we believe you know needs to be done. And we hope you can come through for us once again.

Please give today.

Your partners in union democracy,

Judith Schneider (President)
Herman Benson (Secretary-Treasurer)
Kurt Richwerger (Executive Director)
Matt Noyes (Internet Coordinator)
Rashida Atkins (Program Associate)
Joshua Gaston (Program Associate)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Insurgents win in New York Nurses election but union management refuses to give up

According to members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the insurgent "New York Nurses for Staffing, Security and Strength" ("S-3") won a big victory in last week's union election. NYSNA is one of the largest state nurses' unions in the United States. Winning all their races, the insurgent "S-3" slate would have the majority of positions on the union's board of directors. However, NYSNA's current management refuses to concede, citing election complaints, and has made it clear that they will not certify the election until the complaints are resolved. The insurgents are exploring their options, including legal action. AUD has followed the insurgent nurses' struggle to democratize their union in previous stories in Union Democracy Review. Stay tuned for more information as the situation develops. See AUD's website for background on the struggles of the NYSNA insurgents.

Benson Retirement

Herman Benson will no longer come into the office as of September 13, but will be able to blog and receive and send emails....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Does his birth certificate read “Ozymandias"?

Who is the real Andy Stern? He retired just as he was about to join with hedge fund managers and other cooperating managers of big capital in an inspiring campaign to rescue the labor movement. At the time, he said he was retiring to make room for a younger generation to carry on. But the colossal wreck of his legacy seems to be crumbling in the lone and level sands. That younger generation rejected his choice as successor to the SEIU presidency. Change to Win, the institution he created to rival the AFL-CIO, is crumbling. And now, the man he chose to stand right beside him in the crusade is has fallen, Bruce Raynor.

Raynor turned into an important power in the Stern entourage. He had been president of UNITE, the once powerful clothing union and became president of UNITE/HERE when it merged with the Hotel union. He transferred it out of the AFL-CIO into Stern's Change to Win. But when Raynor was defeated in a bitter factional battle and lost the UNITE/HERE presidency, Stern stood behind him and brought Raynor, along with 100,000 members, into the SEIU where he was immediately elevated into one of the highest SEIU posts: international executive vice president.

But now, with Stern gone, the SEIU leaders have pushed out Raynor, Stern’s close associate.

Raynor resigned to avoid trial on charges that are bound to mystify any normal observer. For one thing: he was accused of improperly spending a total of $2,300 on ten dinners which he says were actually concerned with legitimate union business. That's an average of $230 each. And so here's a man who was a bank president at the time, president of a 100,000-member unit of SEIU, and surely recipient of a generous salary as executive vice president. Did he really phony up a few $230 expenses? And with all those millions sloshing around in the SEIU in these perilous times, how did they happen to run across these alleged peccadillos?

In a related aspect of the same charges, he was accused of falsifying he records by eliminating the name of the female SEIU union officer who dined with him and substituting the name of a male colleague. So what? As a possible sex scandal, it is not so hot. His explanation seems as boring as it is simple. He says that she is embroiled in a dispute in Canada with UNITE/HERE, and Raynor feared retaliation against her in the SEIU if it became known that she was conferring with him.

That younger generation to whom Stern bequeathed his legacy? They look upon his works and reject another of his chosen continuators.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

In Pipefitters Local 342 Employers' "Right to Reject...for just cause"

Surfing Cornell's Library of Contracts on the internet, we were pleased to discover the following provision in the contract between Pipefitters Local 342 and its employing contractors in California: "The Individual Employer shall have the right to reject any applicant for employment referred by the Union for just cause..." What catches the eye are those three little words, FOR JUST CAUSE.

Unlike the Local 342 agreement, other construction contracts generally give employers the right to reject applicants for work, even those referred out of the union hall, for any reason whatsoever. No need to cite a "just cause" or any cause; the right to reject in those contracts is unilateral, arbitrary, not subject to appeal by the union or by the individual. (Of course, by law employer rights are limited. For example, they may not discriminate by reason of sex or race or even union membership. But only idiots would openly violate the law when they need state no reason at all for rejecting an applicant. Any contractor so stupid would not have what it takes to survive in the cutthroat world of construction.)

In construction, jobs are time-limited. When one project ends, workers must go back to the hall for referral or solicit work on their own. Armed with the unilateral, uncontestable right to reject, a right enshrined in their union contract, employers can easily blacklist union activists, the ones who insist that contractors comply with union standards for safety, wage rates, payment into benefit funds. And so, when union loyalists can easily be cut out by unscrupulous employers, the locals become weaker, the best unionists are intimidated.

"Right to reject" has been a hotly contested issue in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where local leaders have been trying in vain to pressure their international leaders to curb the employers' unilateral right. At two IBEW international conventions, over a period of more than ten years, convention delegates have passed resolutions directing their leaders to make that right subject to "just cause." But in vain. The international ignores the convention decisions. Local are still required to include that unqualified right to reject in their contracts.

That's why that qualifying clause “for just cause" in Pipefitters Local 342 contract could be so important. Electricians have no recourse if they are dispatched from the hall but are rejected by the employer. Local 342 Pipefitters, in contrast, have recourse to the contractual grievance procedure. If they feel they are unjustly rejected, they have the right to appeal to the Joint Referral Appeals Committee consisting of four employers and four union representatives. (In the event of a deadlock, the provision allows for arbitration.)

The Local 342 contractual provision limiting the "right to reject” by a requirement for "just cause" and subject to the grievance procedure, should be of interest in other construction unions. But how does it work out in practice and how is it actually enforced? The contract provides that this information "be posted on the bulletin board of the Union, in its office and...of the Individual Employers” and that actions taken in this connection "shall likewise be posted." It would be helpful if members and officers of Local 342 could inform other construction unionists of their experience with the relevant Article II of their contract.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are Carpenter local unions still "labor organizations?"

A discussion by Herman Benson

The question is startling but legitimate. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act defines a "labor organization" as one "in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment..." By that standard, Carpenter locals, totally disarmed under the current union structure, seem to have clearly lost the right to designation as "labor organizations."

In the Carpenters union, locals have been merged into district and regional councils where they are stripped of all participation in negotiating, signing, or enforcing collective bargaining agreements. Full authority over dealing with employers, from start to finish, is arrogated by an executive secretary treasurer, who is armed with extraordinary authoritarian power, not only over collective bargaining, but also over every other sphere of union life.

Council bylaws make clear how sweeping and authoritarian that power is: "The EST shall have the power and authority to appoint and remove representatives for and on behalf of its Local Unions to act as Trustees or all negotiated Employer/Union Trust Funds including, but not limited to, annuity, health and welfare plans... Accordingly, all trust agreements and/or plan documents shall be amended by the authorized representatives of the Local unions to reflect the foregoing appointment and removal process." And just to make it crystal clear: "The Council shall have the exclusive power and authority to negotiate and execute Collective Bargaining Agreements for and behalf of its affiliated local unions, except to the extent the International Union exercises its jurisdiction or authority." Carpenter councils may or may not decide to submit contracts for membership ratification, but that decision involves a relation between the council and the total membership. In such a decision and such a process, local unions are irrelevant.

All business agents, representatives, all personnel that have anything to do with contract negotiation or enforcement are selected by the all-powerful EST. And that power extends beyond the area of relations with employers into every aspect of union activity.

Locals, now walled off from collective bargaining, have been so weakened that they are incapable of doing anything effectively. Most dues money goes directly into the district council treasury. As required by Federal law, locals still elect local officers; but locals are expressly forbidden to pay them salaries or to hire any other staff personnel except clerical employees, no educational directors, attorneys, political action reps, no one. Not one person can hold any paid union position of any kind, except simple local clerical employees, unless selected by the regnant EST.

One carpenter in New York argues on the internet that all local unions in the Carpenters District Council should be abolished because the reorganization of the international union under International President Douglas McCarron has already squeezed all life out of them. As he says, with justification, local unions have been deprived of almost every autonomous right and have no effective constitutionally means of affecting what happens in the union, not even in their own assigned jurisdiction and certainly not in the district. And so he concludes, it is pointless and misleading to continue the fiction that locals still have any meaningful role. But while he describes the facts accurately, his conclusion would make matters worse. Precisely because the international has become so egregiously authoritarian, locals' unions, even in their eviscerated state, have become the only arena left where rank and filers can easily assemble to discuss union affairs, express dissatisfaction, and even just let off steam. Members have lost the right to act through their locals in collective bargaining; but so far, they retain at least the right to talk.

Where does all that leave local unions in the Carpenters structure? In their relationship to the union, they resemble the social committees, educational committees, women's caucuses, coalitions of black trade unionists, or any of the many other committees or subunits that unions create to carry on their activities. Like them, locals have no role in collective bargaining.

Where does it leave the district and regional councils? Since they bypass and preempt the now lifeless locals in collective bargaining, they should be required to fulfill all the obligations imposed on locals by Federal law, including the direct secret ballot vote by members in the election of council officers and in the levying of dues and assessments.