All posts by Jim DeCaro

Harry Bridges Prowls the Stacks at Powell’s

This article is found in Trouble Maker’s Handbook 2, published by Labor Notes, and is reproduced here with permission.

Imagine if the call was for Henry Miller…

by Michael Ames Connor

Harry Bridges works at Powell’s Books. He keeps an eye out for fellow workers. At least, that’s what they say.

The story, repeated by many members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5, goes something like this: Every once in a while, over the store intercom, comes a page for Harry Bridges. “Harry Bridges to manager Block’s office.” “Harry Bridges to the loading dock.” It’s a pretty good intercom system, so everyone can hear it.

These union folks who work at Powell’s — clearks, booksellers, loaders, techno-cats, and book buyers — they know, together, a little about everything: cooking, fly fishing, Japanese poetry, and labor history. They know about Harry Bridges. People know Bridges has been dead for years. But they know his reputation — fierce ILWU fighter who led the 1934 longshore strike that established the union. Part of joining ILWU means learning a little about their union and learning what Harry Bridges stands for: members know that if he’s going to check out the loading dock, they should too.

When they get there (and it’s usually 30 or 40 people who show up), they find one of their co-workers in a little difficulty with the boss. A disagreement, an argument, a confrontation. Before they show up, maybe that co-worker is in a little trouble. Maybe the boss is taking a hard line, getting ready to make an example, thinking about tossing a troublemaker out the door. That’s why Harry Bridges gets the call.

So 30 or 40 people show up, and the manager backs down. Happens every time. With one or two people there, the boss can do what he likes. But with 30 or 40 people, as Arlo Guthrie once pointed out, you got yourself a movement.

Nobody’s ever seen Harry Bridges at Powell’s. They just know he’s there, watching to make sure nobody gets picked on, or picked off.


Solidarity at IBEW LU 46

Looks like there is some solidarity developing at IBEW LU 46! Last week Rank & File members put forward a motion to declare Wednesdays as Union Pride Day. The motion specifically asked the Local’s leadership to send out a “robodial” to their membership asking the members to wear IBEW t-shirts each and every Wednesday starting this week.

This is an effort to show unity for a strong Sound & Comm contract as the unit goes back into negotiations in November. When the Inside Wire unit joins in this effort, not only does it support the Sound & Comm unit, it will also help get Inside Wire members geared up for their contract negotiations starting early next year. If you are with IBEW make sure you and your coworkers wear a union shirt, button, or hardhat sticker starting this Wednesday.

Don’t have a union shirt or sticker? You can show your commitment to solidarity by not wearing the company clothing on Wednesdays, or by wearing a button if you have a company uniform!

Local Solidarity

In this month’s copy of Labor Notes, there is a quiz and discussion in the “Steward’s Corner” about assessing the risk of the impact Right To Work (for less) could have on your Local Union. The survey and discussion revolve around the relationship between the leadership at the Hall, representatives, stewards, and the membership. The survey is only 10 questions, but the answer for every question in regards to Local 46 was one of the two worst possibilities. For example:

“What happens when a workplace problem arises that affects many people?”…

  • (a) Members are too afraid or unaware of their rights to file a grievance, much less take collective action.
  • (b) Members call for help, but the union representative doesn’t act.
  • (c) Members call for help, and the union representative files a grievance.
  • (d) Members call for help, and the union representative works with them to make an action plan.

My answer to this question is in bold. This is just one of the 10 questions, but they all have a similar tone and they all illustrate a lack of support from the Hall. Our Local is in serious trouble when it comes to building solidarity with the membership and while we get to experience the short term repercussions of this on a daily basis, we are setting ourselves up for long term issues that could break our union if RTW finally comes to be established in Washington State.

The number of people who are not participating in our Local should be taken as a sure sign of the number of members we are at risk of losing when RTW gives them the option to stop paying dues. Around 20% of the membership are participating in our Local’s elections, that leaves 80% of the members with their hands up saying what difference does it make.  If even half of these members take that thought a step further and instead say, “why should I pay for this?”, then we are going to be in serious trouble.

We cannot sit back and hope that the election will bring a change in our leadership which will lead to increased solidarity. We have to start demanding it from the representatives in our Hall, and from our fellow brothers and sisters in the field. Let us demand that the Hall take our concerns seriously and get them out to our jobs so we can show them the issues in person.

If we don’t build solidarity in this Local, we will not only continue to lose the short game, but we will lose the long one as well.


Winning 8 for 8

The following story is an example of members standing up for themselves to ensure that they are paid properly. The names of those involved have been shorted or changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

We want to share your story too! Please send your story to us @ By sharing our stories we are able to educate each other, and help show that standing up for our rights can and will win in our favor!

This is my own story.  Brother Kevin is the only other hand I remember from the job. He is now a 48 hand, I believe, and 100% traveller – like owns a big RV and lives in it. He’s 50ish. Janet Lewis also can verify this story, and she may well know some others on that job.

We took calls for a project at SeaTac airport for runway lighting work in August 2002. This was preparatory for the 3rd runway.  I was actually a “poacher” here, as the e-board had declined my membership transfer from local 134. Tony was the night foreman, and I actually don’t think there was a day crew.

Things started off badly with Tony saying something to Kevin that Kev took as threatening. Tony didn’t apologize, he tried to minimize it as “just street talk”, and gave Kevin a continual hard time.

We weren’t ever making it to our cars, parked in the same yard as the trailer and connexes, by end of shift, which was 3 or 4 a.m. I think.  Except for one real worm trying to get on steady, everyone was complaining, and a few spoke directly to Tony about it.  Tony again refused to apologize, but would take an attitude of we had no reason to complain.  In fact we weren’t even off the airfield/tarmac on time consistently.  We were only getting 40 hr checks.

One evening, a few weeks into the job, all but Tony and the worm were back at the trailer, just a few minutes before end of shift, and I piped up and told my co-workers that somebody needed to deal with the situation, and I’d be willing to deal with it, but didn’t intend to take over, especially since I was not yet a local member.  Everyone was happy to let me do it.  I’d been keeping accurate notes on my Palm Pilot, and called the hall and got Janet.  She was surprised and pleased that I had such meticulous notes. She told me to continue to do so, because they were vital for dealing with the situation.  I don’t know if she ever called the contractor or not. Things didn’t change, and on the rare occasion that we were all back to the trailer on time, nothing was said.  I reminded my co-workers that I was keeping accurate records and working with Janet.  In any case, we all got laid-off the same night in late November, at the end of the job, and I gave Janet final and complete records of times we arrived at, and left the trailer at the beginning and end of the shift every day.

About a week later we all got a call from Janet to either go to the contractor office or call them to mail a check for unpaid time.  Although it should have been paid as O.T., we were paid for about 40 hours of time, which is what Tony had attempted to beat us out of. I don’t know if Janet didn’t think of the O.T. element or  what.

Kevin thanked me, and so did Janet.  Believe it or not, I still hold Janet in higher esteem than any of the Rep’s!  She GETS SHIT DONE!!!

Strength of Solidarity

When faced with adversity the first instinct people tend to have is to stand up for themselves and then look for people in a leadership role to help them. Whether that is a parent, supervisor, an officer, or in our case typically a representative. Unfortunately, when the adversity is coming from that authority figure it can seem like an impossible challenge to overcome when taking it on alone.

Our leadership presented us with a 45000 hour requirement to be able to retire. It was the strength of individual members speaking out during meetings, and ultimately a growing show of solidarity by members going to the Hall in force to show that we were not going to take this weakening of our pension without a fight.

Tosh may claim in the future how he won a reduction to 35000 hours, but don’t forget, he was ready to settle at 45000 back in October. It was the Membership standing together that won the reduction!

In the next fight we have, let us look back on this and know that we can win when we stand together!

Rank & File Primary Night

We need your support! To build a stronger union, we need to put democracy back in our Local. Can you print and share these fliers on your job? We will be hosting a Rank & File Primary Night, but we need help getting the word out. The plan is to have the Rank & File candidates give a little speech and answer a few questions. Followed up by a vote at the meeting as well as an open poll here online. We will provide a link to the poll once it is set up. In the mean time, please share the event and fliers below:

FaceBook Event

Wow, Uncomitted Much?

If you are reading this, then you are probably already aware that a lot of members suddenly had “something else” to do on Thursday of this last week. For most, it was to go down to the Hall and confront the business manager, Tosh, on how the pension changes are unfolding at the expense of the members. We could get into the weeds about the details of those pending changes, but hopefully you already know, and we should really take a stronger consideration of how Tosh has responded to the membership.

Facing 50+ members during “working” hours on a Thursday afternoon supposedly came to a surprise to the BM, so he REFUSED to meet with them. Instead putting off the discussion one more day, with a reason of “I didn’t know you guys were coming. Had I known I would have scheduled time to discuss” (paraphrasing here). This is BS. He knew that the membership was going to be on his doorstep Thursday. The possibility of an action was reported to the Hall on Wednesday the day prior, with a confirmation that the Hall was already aware of the pending situation. I don’t know what you think of this dancing around that Tosh is doing, but he is being untruthful even on the small technicality that this is.

There was a benefit of Tosh refusing to speak to the membership on Thursday. This gave an opening for the Rank & File to organize and come back the next day when with even more members. Estimates have been in the 75 – 100 members attended the meeting on Tosh’s terms and gave him hell about the proposed sNECA changes to the pension. Time and again, Tosh presented the options as something that they don’t have to do, but want your advise on how to proceed. Tosh is looking to make a bad choice for the membership, and then blame the membership for voting for that bad option on a rigged ballot. I’m calling it out as rigged, because the choices here are artificially limited by sNECA and a complicit Board of Trustees.

Three maybe four times (at least), the members asked Tosh, “what are you going to do now?”  The response of “I don’t know”, is less than promising that Tosh is going to take our position seriously. The next pension trust meeting is on the 16th. Time and location is a secret, as they don’t want a picket outside during their meeting. But if they are refusing to listen to the membership, and the proposed changes that we would like to see implemented to save the 30K retirement AND the multiplier, what choice do we have? A picket may be the only thing that the membership can do now to prevent the tragedy that is unfolding.

Pention Write-in: Graph A

The least damaging option presented to the members was graph A. This “solution” keeps the 30K retirement and does not change the multiplier. Unfortunately, this option was pulled from the ballot by our labor trustees because they do not think they can convince the management trustees to accept it.

Don’t believe them! If the membership is willing to put their money (an additional  $0.80/hr) into the pension plan for a solution the Actuary suggested, then we should be able to win the Fiduciary Responsibility argument.

Write in “Graph A”, the choice comes down to $0.80/hr now or 5+ years of additional labor with reduced benefits.

Where is the Rank & File?

Granted, this post is being made ahead of the meeting tonight, but our past turnout shows that there is little involvement by the membership. There has been no effort by the Hall to organize the Rank & File, and CORE 46 is still trying to make inroads with the most vocal, there will be a low turnout tonight as well.

Unfortunately, members have been led to believe that they should just rely on the Leadership they have elected at the Hall to protect their interests. Whose responsibility is it really though? The Leadership is acting on what they believe is in the best interest of the membership from their perspective, NOT from yours! The members need to hold the Leadership of our Local accountable, and push them in the direction that serves the membership first.

Time and again, the members put in motions which are ignored by our Leadership. This type of leadership is what causes members to say “What is the point? The Hall will do it anyway!” Do you really think they would if the membership was holding its own rallies or pickets in front of the offices of both the Local and NECA? Don’t try and pretend that the pension issues are just from NECA. Tosh told the membership not to put more than $1 into the pension even though the Actuary said we needed $1.83.

It is actually the last raise allocation which is now being cited as the reason we are not being given a 30,000 hour retirement option. The membership “choose” to only put $1 into the pension even though the Actuary said more was needed. Yea, and this was done at the “advise” of your Leadership.

We need to organize the Rank & File, and the Hall isn’t going to do it. If we don’t do it, we should expect to continue to give up more benefits and get lousy contracts.

Building Trades Call To Action

The Washington Building Trades has issued a Call To Action in response to the recent introduction of Senate Bill 5692, Right To Work (for less).

At this time, we are asking ALL construction union members living in and around Spokane to call Senator Baumgartner’s office at 360-786-7610, after 6:00pm once every day through, and including Tuesday February 7 (or until the bill is removed from the agenda ​ ), and tell him you are Opposed to Right to Work Senate Bill 5692.

Here is the full text of the notice that was released.

#UnionStrong #FightBack