CORE 46 hosted a Cross Trades Rally in support of all workers fighting for better contracts. We were joined by nearly 150 members of the various building trades and other local unions at Westlake Center in Seattle on May 31st, 2018.
Mike Lucas was the director of organizing with the IBEW international office. Listen to the track below to hear a speech he made about where the unions lost their way in regards to organizing and how that has cost the unions everything. This speech was in the early 80’s and after it was made union activists secretly spread it through IBEW local 46 via cassette tape.
“I didn’t come into the union because I wanted a wage cut. And very frankly I don’t need the union to take a wage cut. I don’t see a whole hell of a lot of use in paying dues so I can take a wage cut. I came into the union because some rat contractor was paying me barely enough to keep me alive while he was doing his best to work me to death. That’s why I came into the union.”
That quote at the end really stands out to me. Mike Lucas was a very outspoken advocate of bottom up union organizing. He talks about needing to get the non-union worker into our unions and bringing their job with them. He talks about how if there are only two jobs left in town, those two jobs should be done at full scale.
Here is a link to an interview Mike Lucas did with Cornell University Labor Research Department.
The current trade union’s program around organizing seems disconnected from the work force, and because of this I think it is doomed to fail. Until we focus on creating opportunities for tradesman, union and non-union, to communicate about work we are doomed to lose workers to rat contractors. And until we recognize that a strong contract enforced effectively that provides great working conditions, fair pay and benefits is what organizes members, in turn with the inverse that it is organizing that wins strong contracts we are doomed to lose work to rat contractors. We need to stop the practice of buying jobs for union members at reduced wages and benefits at the expense of the non-union worker, and begin a serious campaign to organize those non-union workers into our unions, and make their jobs come with them.
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.
Supportive details for reason #7 of the 10 reasons to Vote No
Many have expressed frustration that the Sick & Safe hours accrued are not put into an account like the health care or vacation funds. Part of the reason for this is that the law requires employers to pay out current wage hours, not wages earned at a previous wage scale. For our trade a clear example is an apprentice who moves up in year would get paid at their current hourly wage, not the wages from the previous school year when they actually accrued the benefit. So, banking wages does not work and banking hours is not possible due to these discrepancies.
Unlike most workers however, many if not most of us are continually switching employers. As one job winds down, we are laid off and re-dispatched to a new employer. When we are released from employment we are relieved of the Sick & Safe hours which we have accrued under the law. This of course leads to workers trying to figure out how can they work the system to ensure that they receive the benefits that they earned before those benefits are taken away. Often this leads to workers taking time for Sick & Safe situations during the last stretch of the job when they are most needed, putting them at odds with the contractor.
To avoid a loss of the benefit and ensure that the jobs are fully staffed to complete the job, the benefit should be paid out when the employee is laid off. This would help keep the workers on the job until the end, and still give them the opportunity to take care of their Sick & Safe situations which the benefit is intended to accommodate. When a worker is able to count on being able to afford to go to the doctor, get check ups, and what ever else they will be in healthier condition for the next job. Allowing this to occur after lay off, helps mitigate the downtime the contractors will occur during the project.
This is a Win Win.
For most of us, the strength of the labor movement in the United States has been steadily declining for our entire lives. The monumental victories of the first half of the 20th century (the 8 hour day, closed shop union contracts, unemployment insurance, etc.) have been under attack and for many workers these fundamental rights have been all but eroded. With the loss of union power we have also lost the methods and tactics of struggle that made those victories possible in the first place.
That is why the recent strike of the West Virginia teachers union is so important. Not only were they able to win the 5% pay increase they were fighting for in the era of “right to work”, they did it by returning to the rank and file militancy of the past. In order to win their strike the teachers had to defy state law as well as their own union leadership and in doing so they reminded us all of where our true power lies: with the rank and file and on the job.
The strike in West Virginia began with the blessing of the statewide teachers union leaders. Frustration had been boiling over among teachers across the state for years. Teachers in West Virginia in 2016 were the 48th lowest paid in the country, the average salary being around $45,000. Wages were not keeping up with rising healthcare costs and cost of living. A vote was taken and a work stoppage began on February 22nd, closing schools in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties.
From the beginning the strike was dynamic and explosive. Union members didn’t simply sit back and wait for the leadership to tell them to act, they took matters into their own hands. A rank and file Facebook group was started that quickly grew to 20,000 members voicing their frustrations and updating teachers in other parts of the state about unfolding events. The teachers had broad demands which brought in other public sector employees in West Virginia who supported them on the picket lines.
It is this strategy of action and solidarity that made it possible to continue the strike even after the official union leadership called for it to end. After the leadership struck a deal that was unacceptable to the membership they didn’t hang their heads and go back to work, they continued the strike as a “wildcat”. A “wildcat” is a strike that is called without the approval of the local, national or international union leadership. This tactic was common in the past and crucial to the strength of the labor movement in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s but has been suppressed and forgotten in more recent years.
In the end the teachers won a 5% pay increase which was approved not just for teachers but for all State employees. They did it by remembering the lessons of the past, not just the lessons of the labor movement but other movements of working people like the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s as well.
That lesson is this: the rules are often written not for us, but against us. They are written by politicians who line their pockets with donations from big business. They are written by companies that want to drive down wages and erode conditions to maximize their profits. They are written by so called union leaders who want to advance their own career no matter the expense to the workers they are supposed to represent.
But these rules are also arbitrary. They exist only as long as we let them exist and they can be overcome when we realize the power of our solidarity. This is what we are going to have to do if we want to rebuild a powerful labor movement that can defeat attacks like “right to work”.
There is an analogy that I think best illustrates this point. To a lion, the whip of the lion tamer seems too powerful to overcome. The lion might believe that for weeks or even for years, and during that time he will do what the lion tamer says. But we know that the lion is much greater than the whip, and the tamer knows this as well. All the lion has to do is realize it.
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.
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.
In early December while volunteering at the hall I heard yet another version of a story that seems to be pretty common in our local. It was what I call a “Good Brother” story. These are stories about how great a specific brother was/is that usually ends with some kind of cringe-worthy exception to the member’s greatness. Now I understand that everyone is human, and we all have flaws but if we remember these members simply as Good Members, then we are likely to continue to have the same problems generation after generation. We should remember that as late as 1969 out of the 2700 members of IBEW local 46 only two were “non-white”, and none were female.
Now this particular story was a perfect archetypical “good brother” story and I think that is why I found myself needing to write this. In a nutshell the story was about a brother that was one of the finest the storyteller had ever known. This brother was always the fastest, hardest worker on every jobsite. He always stuck up for the contract and he always stuck up for the brotherhood. I emphasize the brother because this particular member’s flaw was that he always said that women don’t belong on the jobsite. Upon revealing this flaw the storyteller quickly followed by saying “but he was a good brother,” that was animated with a shoulder shrug that implied that this members’ flawed understanding of solidarity should be looked past, because he was a hard worker, a fast worker, and he worked the contract.
For the sake of our union moving into the 21st century this attitude must be challenged. We must begin to truly understand what a good brother, what a Good Member, really is. The pace they work does not define a Good Member, but the quality of the work they produce probably has something to do with it. They are not defined by the amount they sweat when they work, but by how intelligently they get work done safely, and lastly defending the parts of the contract a member likes, only for the members one likes also does not make one a Good Member.
The status of Good Member can only be earned as the result of good actions. At his or her very worse a Good Members’ actions hurt no other member. On average their actions are thoughtful and considerate and serve members. When a Good Member is at their very best their actions work to inspire other members to become better. Now it should be understood that being a good member is not like being a Seahawks fan or a member of the NRA, you can’t just pay dues or initiation fees or declare that you are a Good Member. In a strange way being a Good Member is kind of like being an alcoholic. You could be sober for one day or for one decade but you will always be an alcoholic and just the same you could be a Good Member for one day or for one decade but you will always be a human being with ingrained prejudices and selfishness that you must consciously and deliberately decide not to surrender to every single moment of every single day.
When this becomes the standard of Good Membership in our local our union will win every contract, we will have dignity on every jobsite everyday, and we will leave behind a union, a trade, and an industry that we will be excited to hand off to the next generation. “An injury to one is an injury to all” has been a fundamental rallying cry for unions since they began and it is as true today as it was in 1891, whether that injury is physical, economic, or psychological.
Less than a week to go until our Organizing Training with SEASOL! We have an event page up on Facebook. Please RSVP if you can make it!