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Building blocs: Labor, Occupy Wall Street team up (Read More…)

Unions and community groups collaborate with protesters to share tactics, bring flexibility and creativity to overlooked campaigns.

By Daniel Massey
October 23, 2011

On a soggy day last week, 15 Occupy Wall Street protesters huddled in a Citibank ATM vestibule on the Upper East Side. They rehearsed lines for a mock trial of Sotheby’s, the art auction house that has been locked in a dispute with 43 art handlers for nearly three months. Then they synched up their cellphone clocks, readied video cameras and departed in small groups into a steady rain, with plans to reunite on the seventh floor of the auction house at 10:32 a.m.

As an auctioneer opened the bidding on Lot 443 of the Lily & Edma J. Safra collection—writer John Morley’s Diderot and the Encyclopaedists—the “court of the 99%” was called to order. The stunt ended quickly, with security moving in, but not before protesters proclaimed Sotheby’s “guilty.” A spokeswoman for Sotheby’s said that attempts to interrupt sales have been unsuccessful and that workers have been “offered a fair and reasonable contract.”

The ongoing collaboration between Occupy Wall Street and the Sotheby’s workers is just one example of how the city’s labor and community groups are piggybacking on the movement to further campaigns that were already under way before the protests began. From a demonstration Friday that called for Verizon to reach a fair contract with its workers to an impromptu millionaire’s tax rally that targeted “Governor 1%” Andrew Cuomo, the pro-tests have given new energy to campaigns that had struggled for traction before the occupation began.

Unions and community groups, initially skeptical of the motley collection of agitators who make up Occupy Wall Street, have done a rapid about-face to embrace the movement, its audacity and even its quirky inner workings.

“We’re learning from each other; that’s the dynamic now,” said Austin Guest, a staffer at advocacy group Alliance for a Greater New York, who has joined in the protest since the start. “Organizations are learning how to take risks, how to improvise, how to march on the street without a permit and not be afraid. In turn, we’re sharing the organizing savvy, political connections and deep community ties that we’ve built up through decades.”

At first, unions and community groups kept the protesters at arm’s length, unsure of what to make of the upstarts. But they quickly realized Occupy Wall Street had become too big to ignore and organized an Oct. 5 solidarity march that attracted 15,000 people. A turning point came earlier this month when the Working Families Party played a key role in getting Brookfield Properties to postpone a cleanup of the park that protesters worried would serve as a de facto eviction.


Subsequently, ties between the unions and community groups and the occupiers grew tighter. Staffers from some of the city’s most powerful left-wing groups had been at Zuccotti Park in a personal capacity from the beginning of the protest and had established credibility among the protesters.

Relationships built by those staffers, including several directors of organizing for major unions, have proven crucial both to labor and the protesters. Labor has secured office and storage space for the protesters at union halls and helped them deal with community concerns about noise. When protesters felt they needed more black and Latino involvement in the movement, union organizers made introductions to outer-borough community leaders and even brought the Rev. Al Sharpton down to the park.

At the same time, the ties make it easier for unions to recruit protesters to attract attention to their campaigns. And they are drawing from the protesters’ playbook, learning to be more flexible and creative and adopting increasingly militant tactics.

“Smart progressive institutions are figuring out how to work with the protesters on their terms, how to actually build something that’s not co-opting the movement, how to work with it as it is,” said a senior Democratic political consultant.

An Occupy Wall Street labor committee meets twice a week. And heads of several of the city’s top left-wing organizations have sat down with protesters on several occasions to discuss specific campaigns, such as the millionaire’s tax, and to brainstorm more generally.
The protesters’ frame—“We are the 99%”—has given a burst of energy to labor and community campaigns, allowing organizers to think bigger than they have in decades, said Jon Kest, executive director of New York

Communities for Change.

“We still may lose, but it’s the frame that gives different life to these campaigns and makes people not want to be on the wrong side,” he added.
The local business community is taking note, particularly of efforts to revive the millionaire’s tax.

“We’re watching it closely,” said Mike Durant, New York state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “This is a death rattle from organizations that like the status quo. The governor and Legislature have sent a clear message that business as usual is changing. If they start to change their tune, I will get more concerned and get more engaged to heavily hold their feet to the fire to make sure they don’t soften their stance.”


The results of the collaboration are spinning off in multiple directions. Actions directed against Sotheby’s, Verizon and Walmart last week will be followed soon with an edgy campaign planned for southeast Queens, one of the neighborhoods in the city that has been hit hardest by foreclosures. On Oct. 30, Mr. Sharpton will lead a “clergy and civil rights” march, in an attempt to bolster minority participation. Several protests will call for the extension of the millionaire’s tax. And organizers hope to turn out more than 50,000 people on Nov. 17 for a massive demonstration to demand more new jobs.

“What you see is the beginning of a movement,” said Marvin Holland, political action director at the Transport Workers Union, who has been a fixture at Zuccotti. “I wouldn’t call it a movement yet, but there’s a tremendous amount of dialogue that you didn’t have a month ago about things that are wrong with the system and how we change it collectively.”

Posted by Admin on 10/24 at 08:47 AM

Lawmakers Clash Over Union Election Bill (Read More…)

By Kevin Bogardus - 10/12/11

Republicans and Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee clashed Wednesday over legislation that would undo recent regulations and rulings from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Introduced last week, the bill sponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the committee’s chairman, counteracts a proposed regulation from the labor board that would speed up union elections as well as void an NLRB ruling that would allow smaller bargaining units to form unions.

At a hearing Wednesday on the bill, Kline said policies being advanced by the labor board create uncertainty for employers struggling in a stalled economy.

“The policies advanced by the NLRB are dramatically increasing the pressure and uncertainty facing business owners, making it more difficult to create jobs and plan for the future,” Kline said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has identified the labor board’s proposed rule as one of the Obama administration’s 10 most harmful regulations. Kline’s bill is expected to move quickly and will likely receive a floor vote before Congress adjourns this winter.

The legislation, known as the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, would give employers at least 14 days to prepare their case for an NLRB election officer. It would also bar union elections from being held until at least 35 days after a petition is filed.

Kline said the NLRB’s proposed union election rule could have union elections being held in as few as 10 days.

Democrats on the committee criticized the legislation, saying it would undermine workers’ rights and was a distraction from working on bills that could create jobs.

“In summary, by favoring delay at every turn, this bill denies workers their rights to a free and fair election. It’s a cynical bill that takes time away from what we should be doing,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member.

Business groups have lobbied heavily against both the NLRB’s proposed rule on union elections and its ruling allowing smaller bargaining units to form unions this year.

At the hearing, lawmakers heard from a number of attorneys with experience in management-labor relations, including Phillip Russell, a lawyer with Ogletree Deakins who supports Kline’s bill.

Calling it “simply unworkable,” Russell said the NLRB’s proposed union election rule would not provide enough time for workers and employers to educate themselves about what forming a union would mean.

“It’s unfair to the employees. They will not get the information they need. Employers will not get the advice and support they need,” Russell said.

GOP lawmakers hammered the labor board for its actions this year that they argued favored unions. The NLRB’s complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union workers has attracted the most scrutiny.

Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) called the NLRB “overreaching and ideologically slanted.”

“The American people should take note again that the administration is using non-elected officials to change the law of the land, bypassing your elected representatives in the Congress of the United States,” Bucshon said.

Democrats took aim at Kline’s bill instead. They said the legislation would lead to frivolous lawsuits and keep employers and workers in court for months, if not years, during union organizing campaigns.

“I would like to ask you, how many jobs do you think the so-called Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act is going to create?” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Michael Hunter, a partner with Hunter, Carnahan, Shoub, Byard & Harshman who opposes Kline’s bill, responded that the legislation will increase the number of lawsuits, rather than reduce them.

“The only jobs it would create would be for people taking care of the warehouse full of paper for all the appeals that are going wind up being filed in order to prevent workers from having the opportunity to organize,” Hunter said.



Posted by Admin on 10/13 at 12:26 PM