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Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union (Read More…)

August 14, 2016
BY David Moberg

The start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

Roughly 75 SEIU organizers and other field staff outside of the union’s national headquarters belong to the UUR. But Fennell and UUR Vice President Nicholas Calderon say that SEIU has told the roughly 100 other Fight for $15 field organizers who might be eligible to join the staff union that it doesn’t employ them.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are strong believers in the Fight for $15 campaign organizers and workers planned yesterday’s action to try to minimize disruption while still having visibility,” Conor Hanlon, UUR president, wrote in a statement to In These Times on Saturday. “We have no interest in stopping the crucial work going on there but do think it important that workers and community allies are aware of how SEIU is treating the Fight for $15.”

At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.

According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

SEIU did not respond by deadline to In These Times’ request for comment.

“We are disappointed that SEIU chose to escalate and create divisions between workers and organizers rather than act on our shared principles and beliefs about the fair treatment workers deserve,” he continued. “Nonetheless, the Fight for $15 workers will not be silenced and UUR will continue to fight with them until they are recognized as SEIU employees and getting the treatment they deserve.”

Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers. Ultimately, some workers say, SEIU’s position may undermine public support and open up lines for employer attacks.

Hypocrisy scars an organization, says Fennell, and could weaken the union in its important fight.

“We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,” she told In These Times. “When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.”

The initial organizing of Fight for $15 focused on fast-food workers in New York but quickly spread to other occupations and across the country. It includes workers in child care and elder care, early childhood education, university research and teaching, manufacturing, fashion and other building services, many of whom may move frequently from low-wage job to low-wage job over their lives.The campaign, almost entirely funded by SEIU, can claim credit for raising standards for many of the roughly 64 million workers earning less than $15 an hour.

Its progress has come mainly from winning stronger state and local laws—not from any dramatic uptick in low-wage workers forming unions. That is true even in the low-wage industries that, unlike fast food, were already often organized to varying degrees by SEIU and others.

Although the strategy for establishing unions is unclear, Fight for $15 appears committed to expanding the range of workers that SEIU is able to mobilize for direct action. Tactics include strikes at fast food outlets and legislative campaigns for higher minimum wages, whether across the board or piecemeal.

For the past couple of years, the campaign’s emphasis on politics has increased, as illustrated by the choice of Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s meeting—billed as the organization’s first convention.

The decision to meet in the capital of the Confederacy also reflected an intensification of efforts to link the problems of America’s low-wage economy to continued structural racism with its roots in slavery. Fight for $15 must fight for both racial and economic injustice, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the opening session of the meeting.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.

Likewise, you can’t advocate effectively for unions, some Fight for 15 organizers say, without having the right to join one yourself.

It is true that over the labor movement’s long history, many unions have fought with their staff over whether staff could or should organize.

But a movement like the Fight for $15, which is founded on the right of every worker to join a union, is more likely to win broad support if it follows the old adage: Practice what you preach.

At a time when the labor movement is especially vulnerable, unions need to avoid any grounds that could cost them public support—especially in a campaign as promising and crucial as the Fight for $15.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More information about David Moberg

Posted by Admin on 08/15 at 08:56 AM

UAW Ramps Up Pressure to Organize Mississippi Plant (Read More…)

Joseph Szczesny
Wed, Aug. 10, 2016

Long frustrated in its dealings with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the UAW is going international in its drive to revive its stalled organizing campaign at Nissan’s assembly complex in Canton, MS.

So far, the UAW has made little headway as it takes on the Mississippi conservative political establishment, which has been hostile to trade unions for decades. “The UAW doesn’t have any support,” says one Nissan official, who asked not to be identified.

Nor has the union attempted to stage a vote at Canton as it did at the Volkswagen plant in neighboring Tennessee, which generally is hostile to unions as well.

However, the UAW and its allies in Europe and South America have succeeded in making life uncomfortable for Nissan and its CEO Carlos Ghosn, who has had to answer questions about Canton while testifying at a French National Assembly committee hearing. The UAW hasn’t forgotten Ghosn’s personal role in defeating a union organizing drive at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN.

French workers from Renault recently staged an eye-catching demonstration in central Paris in support of the pro-union workers in Canton and also have taken aim at Nissan’s sponsorship of the Summer Olympics in Brazil. As an official sponsor, Nissan is providing 4,200 vehicles for the Olympics and is using the event to launch its Kicks compact CUV as the official car.

The UAW says the automaker spurned its offer to meet with Christian Hutin, a member of the French National Assembly and deputy chairman of its Social Affairs Commission, who traveled to Mississippi last month on what the union called a “fact-finding mission” about the labor situation at the Canton plant.
Hutin is asking the French government to use its 20% stake in Renault – making it Nissan’s largest shareholder –“to help improve the situation in Canton,” the UAW says in a news release. After meeting with workers and civil-rights leaders, Hutin told the French news agency AFP the plant, located in one of the poorest U.S. states, was a “lawless place.

“The situation in (Canton) is dire and sadly not new, with the rights of workers seriously being compromised,” Hutin said in a statement. “Every possible step is taken to prevent the personnel from organizing a union inside the plant.

“Pressure, threats, harassment, routine propaganda…every possible step is taken to prejudice the rights of workers in what is known as a historic cradle of the civil-rights movement in the United States of America.”

Ghosn did not meet with Hutin but did meet with members of the Renault Works Council, which reiterated its solidarity with pro-union Nissan workers at Canton. Ghosn refused to discuss issues at Nissan since the meeting was about Renault, but insisted the Japanese automaker strictly conforms to national legislation.
Union Adding International Angle to Organizing Effort

IndustriALL, the successor to the International Metalworkers Federation and an ally of the UAW, is using the Olympics and Nissan’s sponsorship to target what it describes as the automaker’s “failure to its commitment to freedom of association with its aggressive anti-union campaign in Canton, Mississippi.”

Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL, general secretary, says the labor federation will “continue to support our affiliates’ legitimate rights to organize, whether it’s in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. An injury to one is an injury to all, that’s our mission of global solidarity. And we will continue it as long as it takes. We will not go away.”

The UAW in May filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Nissan was using coercive and illicit tactics to stymie union organizing, including surveillance of workers who have spoken out in favor of unionization.

Pro-UAW workers have used the organizing campaign to express concerns about hours, health and safety and allegedly unfair employment practices. Nissan insists the plant is well-run and the complaints are without merit.

Another of the pro-union employees’ complaints is that half of the workers at Canton are temporary workers supplied by an outside contractor.
So far the company hasn’t budged under the pressure.

Nissan opened the plant in 2003 and now employs more than 6,000 at the plant. A recent study by Mississippi State University indicated the Canton facility supports roughly 25,000 jobs around the state.

The plant builds the Nissan Murano, Titan XD, NV cargo and passenger vans, and the Frontier including its King Cab and Crew Cab variants.

Nissan spokeswoman Kristina Adamski says the automaker does not believe workers at the plant will gain from unionization.

“In every country where Nissan has operations, we follow both the spirit and the letter of the law,” she says. “Nissan not only respects labor laws, but we work to ensure that all employees are aware of these laws, understand their rights and enjoy the freedom to express their opinions and elect their representation as desired.”
Nissan could not accommodate Hutin’s request to visit the plant “due to the demands of the business,” citing the plant’s preparations to put new vehicles into production even as it continues to build multiple models.

Nissan is conducting “nuanced and complicated” opposition to block the UAW from Canton, says Arthur Wheaton, director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University.
“The money spent on avoiding union (organization) exceeds the money spent in the individual organizing drives.”

Posted by Admin on 08/10 at 08:17 AM