Category Archives: Contract

Craft Unions and the General Strike

From: “The General Strike for Industrial Workers” as published by the IWW in June of 1946

            The Purpose of industrial unionism is to give the working class the greatest possible organizing power in industry. Unquestionably the General Strike, either on or off the job, is the most perfect manifestation of this power. If the craft unions of today are examined in regard to their adaptability to this end it will put the revolutionary industrial union movement in an entirely new light. Also it will reveal clearly the shortcomings of conventional unionism in general and the craft union movement in particular. After all, the full measure of power is the acid test of any labor organization.

            A cursory glance at the craft union movement will reveal the fact that it is constructed in such a way as to divide rather than to unify the forces of labor. The craft union is not designated to enable labor to use its full power. This type of union came into existence during the period of industrial evolution known as the small production when the tools of the craft and the skill of the craftsmen were important things. In those days the organized power of the tradesman consisted in his having monopoly of the skill necessary to make the tools of his trade industrially productive. The withdrawal of this skill during periods of strikes was all that was necessary to force the old-time employer of labor to terms. This it happened that the craft union was organized around the, then important, tools of the tradesmen.

Tools and Skill Obsolete

            But all this has been changed. The onward march of the machine process has to a large extent made both tools and skill unnecessary. This great advance in technical development has made the old fashioned trades union unable to cope with modern conditions. Craft unions still carry on as a matter of habit, it is true, but they are anachronisms in this modern world. Some of them merely serve as pie-cards for the tired business men who are their officials and all such unions serve more or less as props of the existing order. But they are not unions in the modern sense at all. They are merely the shells of once useful unions operating to secure advantages for a few favored groups of workers without regard to the interests of the working class as a whole. They are organized within the capitalist system which they have been taught to take for granted, and they have no thought or program of anything beyond this system.

            In relation to the manifest weakness of the trade union structure and concept the I.W.W. Preamble points out with telling emphasis: “We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trades unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs whish allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the workers have interests in common with their employers.”

Labor’s Problem is Industrial-not Craft

            Labor’s problem today is not a craft but an industrial problem. A labor union at the present time, to be an effectual instrument of offense and defense, must conform to the structure of modern industry. It must be industrial rather than craft in form. But the craft unions have not kept pace with the needs of a changing world. They have very largely remained just where they were in the beginning. Far from being the helpful fighting instruments they were in the old days, they have now become merely a further means of effecting the enslavement of the class whose interests they are supposed to serve.

            A General Strike of craft unions is an unthinkable impossibility. Being organized for the sole purpose of enabling a few groups of workers to “get by” under capitalism, they lack both the form and spirit necessary to make possible united action for a common objective against a common foe. For this reason, as organized today, they would be of very doubtful help to any unified effort of the working class to free itself from wage slavery by industrial means. The modern industrial struggle demands modern industrial weapons. And in this regard the craft union is as obsolete as the dodo. Workers who conceive of the final struggle for emancipation in terms of industrial power will have elsewhere for an organizational form more suitable for this purpose.

            The so-called independent industrial unions are in the same category. It is true their rather loose industrial structure makes it possible for them to think of their union in terms of a given industry. But, as in the case of the U.M.W. of A. and other similar unions, they are divided into districts if not in crafts and are tied down by contracts, which make it impossible for them to act in unison. In no case is there evidence of any attempt or desire on their part to ally themselves for purposes of solidarity with transport or other workers on One Big Union lines. Organized railroad, clothing and many other workers in the U.S.A. are similarly bound, similarly divided and similarly unable to get together for united action of any sort.

            As far as the interests of Labor are concerned these steps must be in the right direction. They must not only be distinctly industrial, they must also be unquestionably revolutionary. “Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wage system.” So states the I.W.W. Preamble. And in this historic slogan is found the source of the strength and inspiration of the organized industrial workers of all the world.

Labor Notes – Steward’s Corner: Legal Rights in a Contract Campaign

May 16, 2018 / Robert M. Schwartz

In today’s dysfunctional economic climate, straightforward bargaining frequently comes up empty. Employers come to the table with lengthy lists of takeaways and refuse to compromise. Claiming impasse at the earliest opportunity, they threaten to carry out their final offer or impose a lockout.

To cope with these realities many unions are turning to militant contract campaigns. Creative and aggressive tactics can demonstrate members’ solidarity, resolve, and willingness to act.

Successful contract campaigns rely on wide participation. Months before negotiations begin, the union selects a contract action team. Using individual and group meetings, surveys, and house calls, the team reaches out to every worker, soliciting suggestions for bargaining demands and ideas for exerting pressure. Films, speakers, and handouts educate members about labor struggles.

READ MORE.

Excerpted from No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts ($20).

Quantity vs Quality

Or is it Organize vs Represent?

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, like the majority of unions, has a tremendous focus on organizing workers into their Union under the premise of building market share. With new membership comes a greater share of the market, increased dues collection, and increased worker strength in contract negotiations. These characteristics hold true in an environment where employers are forced to be closed shops. Meaning that all of their workers who fall under the scope of the contract agreement with the Union, are required to be dues paying members.

In Right to Work (RTW) States, organizing an employer does not necessarily mean that all of the members will pay their fare share, and the ability to keep an employer signatory to a contract agreement is in constant peril. RTW States do not require employees to pay their fair share and they have recertification procedures which create huge hurdles for the Unions who are operating there. This dynamic leads Unions in these locals to the question of how to attract workers and win them over to being full dues paying members.

Do you focus your energy on Organizing new workers to account for attrition, or do you develop higher quality representation to turn those workers into dependable members?

If the 9th District Progress meetings of the past have been any indicator, the focus is on organizing new members and signing new contractors. All of the metrics which account for “progress” in the 9th District are focused on the organizing success and or failure of the constituent Locals. Numbers reflecting member engagement, such as participation levels at meetings or during votes, are absent from the powerpoint presentations and speakers. The focus on Organizing is of seeming paramount importance in the struggle against member attrition and market share development.

Unfortunately, this focus on organizing will not hold up when RTW makes its way into the remaining states which have yet to adopt it. When workers are given a choice of paying dues or not they will ask themselves, “What am I getting for my money?”. Currently the answer to this question is ultimately a lack of representation, an unenforced contract, and more organized workers to compete against for the next job. How many times have you seen a representative come out to your workplace when an election wasn’t right around the corner? Are the terms of the agreed to contract violated on a daily basis, by you, your coworkers, and or your employer? We need as many workers as we can get right now, so the third item listed above doesn’t play out currently, but be assured some will be thinking about it when times get lean again.

According to http://www.ibew46.org/our_team.html there are currently seven representatives in Local 46 for 5200+ members. That is over 740 members for every 1 representative. It is not possible for the number of representatives that we have, to be able to handle this many members effectively. The current membership is under represented, and there is an underlying resentment for paying dues without a justifiable level of representation on the jobs. This does not appear to be changing dynamic either, as the number of unpaid representatives (Stewards) remains in the single digits, and as the Leadership is focused on extending Organizing dues for another three years. The current representation model that has been implemented will be hard pressed to keep those that are concerned about being represented paying dues when RTW becomes a reality. There will be a dramatic cut off in the amount of dues collected as the membership is disenfranchised with the level of representation, tired of unenforced contracts, and fearful of having to compete with more workers for the same jobs.

Ultimately, the members are the customers that the Hall is in place to provide services for. The Hall has agreed to provide members with contract enforcement through representation and job opportunities through organizing. If the product that the Hall is producing only includes job opportunities, then the members who are buying for representation, will stop paying dues when given the choice. They will question what is the point of paying dues to an organization which is focused on bringing in more workers for them to compete against, when the Hall won’t provide significant representation and fight for the fair treatment of the members they currently have.

The end product of Local 46 has been too focused on organizing and needs to shift to representation as its primary focus. RTW is on the horizon whether workers and their unions want it or not. If the Local continues to focus the majority of its dues on organizing, then it will not be able to provide justification for those that question the level of representation they are buying with their dues payments. To remain competitive and to keep the funding up so LU 46 can afford to pursue organizing efforts, they must increase representation and turn the focus to customer satisfaction. The membership must become the primary focus of their Hall, and the quality of the representation must be increased substantially to keep them.

The costs of providing representation at levels more reasonable than 740 to 1, does not have to be substantial. There is a huge opportunity to drastically change the amount of representation that the membership experiences by simply appointing Stewards. At the time of this writing there is 7-8 currently appointed stewards for the Inside Wire unit of LU 46. There is way more than 7-8 job sites, which leaves thousands of members without daily representation on their jobs. By appointing Stewards, the Business Manager of LU 46 could show the membership that he too is concerned about providing the membership the representation it deserves, while keeping costs in check by hiring more and more staff to try and address the issues.

IBEW LU 46 should appoint Stewards on every job possible, and put more of the memberships dues money into providing the representation they are paying for.

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!

Sound & Comm Unit Soundly Rejects Tentative Agreement

NECA must increase wage package, drop its Occupied Premise language

They kept streaming in.

Nearly 200 members of the Sound & Comm unit, or nearly one out of every four unit members, attended a standing-room-only contract vote meeting on Thursday, August 17th. The meeting started late due to the large number of Sound & Comm members who needed to sign in.

Of the 174 members who voted, 173 members saw the negotiating committee’s Tentative Agreement (TA) for what it was: simply not good enough.

The high vote turnout was significant for a unit membership that has been given precious few opportunities to participate, or even be informed, in its own contract negotiations.

The Sound & Comm unit has been working under an expired contract since July 31st. Negotiations between our union and the Puget Sound chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) began over two-and-a-half months ago on June 7th. Since negotiations started, there have been no surveys sent to gather member input and no updates requesting their feedback. Many members say they only found out about the vote meeting through other vigilant coworkers.

Negotiations have not been easy, according to the negotiating committee. NECA has stubbornly resisted our union’s proposals, at first rejecting all of the union’s proposals outright during the second bargaining session (except for Tentatively Agreeing early on to a 3-year contract).

So when the negotiating committee was eventually offered $6.75 over 3 years by NECA, they understandably must have felt like they had made progress. When added to the fact that member opinions were not collected in advance, this could explain why the entire five-person negotiating team unanimously recommended that members vote “yes” on the TA. This recommendation the membership soundly rejected, with nearly equal unanimity.

Since the recently elected Business Manager added extra members to the negotiating committee, the committee has dropped key issues that the former unit’s Business Rep and his negotiating committee members had proposed.

The union’s dropped proposals included a pay differential while working in downtown Seattle to help defray the cost of parking and guaranteed upfront travel pay when working outside of the 35-mile zone.

The biggest issue for members at the contract vote was the insulting wage package (a measly $6.75 over 3 years) and a change (for the worse) in the already weak Occupied Premise language. NECA wants to be able to schedule Low Volt members during swing and graveyard shifts, for 4-day-10-hour (4×10) shifts at a flat rate. This would mean a giveaway on top of what has already been given away before. Currently, employers can waive the 17.3% and 31.4% pay differentials for Swing and Graveyard shifts if they claim that the shifts are due to occupied premise. If employers claim occupied premise, they only have to pay you 10% differential. With the TA language, the employer would be able to schedule occupied premise shifts as 4×10 shifts and get rid of all pay differentials entirely. The contractor would still get their 40hrs from you, and on the cheap.

A Change in Leadership Also Needs a Change in Practices

Our newly installed union leadership notified the Sound & Comm unit about the contract vote meeting in three ways; they mailed a small, easy-to-miss, 6” x 4” size postcard over the weekend, and they sent a robodial and “robo-email” less than 48 hours before the vote.

Many members received none of these communications. A tiny white postcard is easily overlooked as junk mail. And many members have not been added to the robodial and email list. This is unfortunately not different from the method of operating by the former unit leadership, which would repeatedly rebuff member requests to send negotiations updates out to all unit members.

Before June 7th, only one meeting to prepare members for negotiations was hosted by the Hall — on Mother’s Day weekend. No surveys have been sent to the over 650 members to encourage member participation, either before contract negotiations started or after.

“I came because I received a text from a coworker,” said more than a few unit members. This is as much a shining example of the power of members to mobilize each other, as it is an advantage for NECA over the negotiating committee and the union leadership for failure to effectively connect with hundreds of Low Volt members.

Given the lack of communication from our leadership, a near 25% vote turnout is nothing to sneeze at.

As the folks at Labor Notes have pointed out, members get a contract that they can be happy with when their leadership keeps them informed and engaged. Jason Ide, the president of Teamsters Local 814 in New York City, writes:

Surveys can:

  • Get members involved. Contract campaigns ask more of the members at every juncture, from wearing buttons all the way up to walking off the job. Asking members to fill out a survey is an easy first step that will help set the tone for wide participation in your campaign activities
  • Gather contact information. Working cell phone numbers and emails are the foundation of any contract campaign. If you can’t reach your members, you can’t take action.
  • Assess your strength. You should track how many surveys you get from each department, shift, or building, and use the data to assess where you are strong and where you need to do more organizing. If you can’t get members to fill out a survey, you certainly won’t be able to get them to wear a button or strike.
  • Identify and evaluate leaders. You should also track what percentage of their group each steward, business agent, or committee member delivers. The people who can motivate their co-workers to fill out a survey now will be the most effective at motivating those same co-workers to take bigger actions later.
  • Show unity. If you craft your survey correctly, you will have some questions that most members answer the same way. You can use the results at your union meeting as evidence of unity—building members’ confidence in each other.

The Tasks of the Negotiating Committee: Engage, Inform, and Empower the Membership

Going forward, the negotiating committee must work on the areas described above to successfully negotiate a strong contract that members can support. Otherwise, the leadership’s own practices could stymie our success. A few small things they could do right now:

  1. The negotiating committee could email the recently rejected Tentative Agreement to all Low Volt members who have given the union their email address. Members need to know what was voted down to be more informed about what has changed (and what hasn’t) at the next contract vote.
  2. The negotiating committee could post the recently rejected TA on our union’s Facebook page and website so all members can access it.
  3. The negotiating committee could create an online poll that Low Volt members can access to clarify what they’re willing to vote for, not just what they’d vote against.
  4. The negotiating committee could send out an update after each negotiation session to keep members up-to-date.
  5. The negotiating committee could make copies of the next TA available to all members days before the next contract vote so that members have more time to read, think about, and discuss the issues with our coworkers.

Next Steps: We Need an Active Rank-and-File

The best contracts are won when members get involved. The Caucus of Rank-and-File Electrical Workers (CORE46) is a grouping of local electrical workers who want to strengthen our union for the betterment of our members. We believe solidarity and action are some of the most important ways to do this.

Inside Wire members, support your fellow Sound & Comm union members. What happens in their contract will set the terms for your own negotiations next summer.

Low Volt members, there’s no more important time than now to start coming to unit meetings and voicing your opinion. This new contract will affect your life and livelihood for the next three years and many more years to come.

IBEW members, let’s demand $15 over 3 years for the Sound & Comm contract, and an Occupied Premise language that matches the Inside Wire contract.

Contact the Sound & Comm Business Rep, Mark Samuelsen (253-395-6528), to let him know: $15 over 3 Years No to NECA’s Occupied Premise Send NECA Packing!