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CTUL Ends Hunger Strike; Negotiations Planned

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 3, 2011

US Representative Keith Ellison (in red CTUL shirt) and Minnesota Representative Jim Davnie join CTUL hunger strikers on the picket line, Sunday, May 29, 2011.

In all the tumult lately, I forgot to note that the CTUL hunger strike (last mentioned here a few days ago) has ended, with the promise of fruitful labor-management negotiations to come. From the CTUL press release:

On Wednesday June 1st, retail cleaning workers with CTUL and their allies agreed to end a 12-day hunger striker at the request of faith leaders and elected officials who pledged to press Cub Foods management to agree to meet with the workers’ organization to discuss a proposed code of conduct.

Minneapolis Council Member Gary Schiff, State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, State Representative Jim Davnie and members of the clergy spoke before a crowd of approximately 75 workers and supporters. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and ELCA Bishop Craig Johnson issued statements citing concern for the health of the hunger strikers and calling on Cub management to agree to meet with CTUL, whose Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning has sought to reverse years of declining wages and increased workloads.

“These courageous people have sacrificed their health long enough,” Congressman Keith Ellison said in a statement. “In the end, I hope all parties can sit down, talk, and come to a conclusion that ensures these workers’ voices are heard. I will continue to work to get the management involved to meet with the workers and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.”

This is good.

(Crossposted to MyFDL and Renaissance Post.)

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Wrestlers, Paperkids, Grocery Workers: Why the CTUL Fight is Important

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 31, 2011

US Representative Keith Ellison (in red CTUL shirt) and Minnesota Representative Jim Davnie join CTUL hunger strikers on the picket line, Sunday, May 29, 2011. Courtesy

When I was growing up in the ’70s, I shared a paper route with my brother. He did the mornings, I helped him in the evenings, and our parents sometimes helped us on the weekends — if nothing else by making sure we got out of bed on time.

The paper we delivered was the St. Paul Pioneer Press in the morning and the St. Paul Dispatch in the afternoon; the two papers were once separate entities, but were both bought by the Ridder company in 1927, and ever since then were essentially the same paper. In 1990, as TV news continued to eat into print media’s market share, the Dispatch was shut down and the PiPress has been a morning-only paper ever after.

The Pioneer Press was and is a “union” newspaper, in that its reporters belong to a union, the Minnesota Newspaper Guild. Most major newspapers have a unionized reporting staff; this has been the case for decades. The people who deliver the paper to your front door, however, are not unionized employees of that paper. In fact, they’re technically not even employees of the paper, but “independent contractors”, which in essence means they get paid a pittance (and in our case the pay depended on going door-to-door each month to collect the subscription fees, which we didn’t mind doing as at least that way we could get tips or even Christmas bonuses, which didn’t happen when subscribers opted for automatic renewal by mail or credit card).

The “independent contractor” concept shows up in other fields, too. Did you know that Vince McMahon’s wrestlers aren’t actually employees of the WWE, but “independent contractors”? That means that Vince doesn’t have to do diddly in terms of providing benefits, sensible work hours, or job security. That means that he can overwork them as much as he wants without letting them have time to rest and recover — and that means that alcohol and drug use and abuse is rampant, as it’s hard to take such a punishing schedule unless you’re sloshed or doped to the gills, and often not even then. (Jesse Ventura’s first brush with politicking was when he attempted to form a union in the 1980s back when he worked for Vince McMahon — oh, pardon me, I meant was “an independent contractor whose paychecks just happened to come from Vince McMahon”.)

This brings me to discussing the persons that clean the stores belonging to local grocery chains such as Cub Foods. While other grocery-store workers, both at Cub and at stores like Rainbow and Byerlys, are unionized employees, the cleaning people are all too often “independent contractors”, which in their case means they work for an agency that farms them out to various stores and pays them a pittance, thus allowing the grocery-store chain to avoid paying them a living wage, much less provide benefits or acceptable working conditions:

All night long, Jose Garcia performs his job while surrounded by food — a painful bit of irony, he says.

The 52-year-old Mexican immigrant works the overnight shift cleaning floors inside a Cub Foods store in Minneapolis, Minn., a job he’s mostly appreciated for the nine years he’s held it down. But lately, waxing aisle after aisle filled with groceries has simply reminded him of how little he has.

Despite his long tenure with the same cleaning company, Garcia says he earns a wage of $9 an hour — more or less the same rate he was making when he started cleaning floors back in 2002. Taking inflation into account, his salary has effectively gone down since he started working on the cleaning crew.

There are times when he can’t afford as much food as he’d like. He says it pains him to see workers at the store throw out unsold perishables like roasted chicken at the end of the night.

These are jobs that once were good union jobs held by unionized employees. Not any more. They’re all contracted out to third-party companies, who sometimes subcontract to other companies, all in the quest to keep wages low even as the workload grows.

The contracting agencies depend on exploiting the labor of people like Mr. Garcia, immigrants who may not be aware of what rights they may have as workers in America — and may find themselves trapped in untenable situations as a result.

This is why Jose Garcia and his fellow cleaning-crew workers are saying: Enough!

At the Lake Street Cub Foods, CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha), began an open-ended hunger strike to change the unfair wages and working conditions of workers who clean Cub Foods and other Twin Cities stores.

For over a year cleaning workers have asked Cub Foods to negotiate a Code of Conduct ensuring fair wages and working conditions for the workers who clean their stores. Ten years ago, many workers who clean Cub Foods made up to $10-$11 an hour. Now, most workers make as little as $7.50 an hour and the workload has doubled. The workers’ requests for dialogue with Cub have been ignored and in one incident peaceful protesters and bystanders were pepper-sprayed by Cub security.

“Every night we work in grocery stores and are surrounded by food, yet often many of us cannot even afford to feed our families. I am hunger striking to bring to light the injustices workers face every day cleaning Cub Foods and to call on Cub Foods to meet with us,” said Mario Colloly Torres, a former cleaner at Cub Foods and who was fired from his job after the protests against Cub began.

One thing that the wrestlers, paperkids, and cleaning crews here have in common is that society has been encouraged to think of them and their concerns as trivial. This is especially true in the case of the cleaning crews, where because so many of the cleaners happen to possess darker skins and non-Midwestern accents, the specter of bigotry plays an unsavory role.

It will be interesting to see who sides with whom in this fight. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189 union, which has endorsed the campaign, are appearing at the CTUL protests in solidarity on the picket line with the CTUL hunger strikers. Sadly, some persons one would expect to be sympathetic to CTUL’s cause are in fact very friendly with Cub Foods management, and may well want to keep on the good side of Mike Erlandson, the former DFL party chair who now works for Cub’s parent chain, SuperValu.

Time will tell.

(Crossposted to MyFDL and Renaissance Post.)

Posted in food, immigration, Minnesota, unions | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The darkness before dawn

Posted by Charles II on March 21, 2011

Yves Smith:

One thing I have never understood in America is the way that people who lose their jobs become pariahs in the job market.

I’d argue that the roots lie in a fundamental change in policy that took place around 1980. The lesson that economists drew from the stagflation of the 1970s was that labor had too much bargaining power. The excessive fiscal stimulus of the later 1960s and the oil price shocks of the 1970s had been amplified by the fact that workers had enough clout to demand and get wage increases when they faces sustained price increases. That of course led to more price increases since higher wages led to higher production costs which led business owners to increase prices of their goods and servicer, thus accelerating the inflation already under way.

The solution, per neoclassical economists, was to use unemployment to keep wage demands in check.

Before, there had been an explicit agreement between unions and employers embodied in the so-called Treaty of Detroit, which was that workers were to share in productivity gains. President Kennedy even warned major corporations that if they did not adhere to this understanding, he’d push through legislation to make sure they did.

This bias against those out of work is long-standing, although it has gotten worse over time. Talented people over 40 who have lost a corporate perch are pretty much unemployable….

This creation of a “reserve army of the unemployed,” which is what the capitalists of this country have managed to create, is from the Marxist playbook: in Marx’s view, successful capitalism required what we now call a flexible workforce. One can see other elements of right-wing policy as emanating from this fundamentally Marxist viewpoint. Breaking unions, crashing Social Security, ending the minimum wage– all of these are obvious methods of flooding the labor market with cheap labor.

But here’s a less obvious example: the hostility of the right toward not just abortion but towards contraception that emerged during the Reagan years is a fundamental cause of the existence of enormous populations of the young in the developing world… populations which are largely unemployed, desperate, and willing to work for less. Now, hostility toward contraception is certainly consistent with the patriarchal view of the Catholic Church. But consider how ineffective they would be if the wealthy said that population growth of the browner masses endangered their control. To caricature a bit, that’s why so many right-wingers were attracted to Margaret Sanger, and why throughout the sixties and seventies so many right-wingers favored not only contraception but abortion.

As on Animal Farm, we discover at last that, in many ways, there is no fundamental difference between communists and capitalists. They both view a successful capitalism as one in which many people are unemployed. But, as we see in Egypt, if there are people to teach the unemployed about what is going on, so that their idleness does not decay into despair, there are other outcomes. It was mostly unemployed young men who beat back Mubarak’s police.

May this period of darkness be the prelude to the dawn of a new awakening of the American spirit, one that is determined that never again will disproportionate wealth and power be allowed to bring disaster upon us. And may no one come to believe that because s/he is unemployed, s/he is of no worth.

Posted in capitalism as cancer, economy, unions | 2 Comments »

Michigan Dems Seek to Protect Collective Bargaining

Posted by MEC on March 17, 2011

Michigan Democrats are calling for a state constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining rights.

State Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and House Minority Leader Richard Hammel plan to jointly sponsor the amendment in the legislature. It’s unlikely to get the required two-thirds majority, especially since the House has a sizeable Republican majority. A petition drive, however, could put the issue on the Michigan ballot.

Posted in unions | 4 Comments »

Going Wobbly in the knees

Posted by Charles II on March 13, 2011

Onyx Lynx in comments at The Sideshow notes that the IWW (known more usually as the Wobblies) have put together a pamphlet on the nature of general strikes. Probably the key takeaway has to do with certain provisions in American law that make it impossible for labor leaders to advocate general strikes:

Labor law is set up in the United States to discourage unions from standing together. Your union’s officials will be afraid of possible legal ramifications. They will also be afraid that no other unions will endorse the call or actually carry out the strike. Your union may have contractual agreements that union officers are worried about.

So, in interpreting events, do not expect any political leader or any labor leader to advocate a general strike. They occur only when individuals get together and act without leaders. This is why they are very rare.

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Pro-democracy Politicians

Posted by MEC on March 11, 2011

Kudos to the Mahoning County commissioners for listening to their constituents.

The commission fired the law firm that had been representing the county in labor negotiations, because the firm supports the anti-union bill the Republicans are pushing through the Ohio legislature.

Posted in doing the right thing, unions | 1 Comment »

Don’t let the bluegrass grow under your feet

Posted by Charles II on March 8, 2011

Via Jude of First Draft, who also interviewed Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka Joe Plumber

Also, via Avedon, a song by Kurt Griesemer on Wisconsin:

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Wisconsin GOP: Cribbing From Monty Python?

Posted by Phoenix Woman on March 3, 2011

The increasingly desperate behavior of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and his fellow Koch Republicans in the state legislature took yet another turn towards Onionville today:

The Republicans in Wisconsin are floating a bunch of nonsense about chipped marble. The building is so much more spotless that anyone could ever hope to expect after two weeks of occupation. The protesters have recycling and cleanup teams. This is bullshit. But not as much as the ammo at the entrance rumor! Meanwhile their lockdown of the Capitol kept out firefighters during an emergency call.

The whole “oh oh look we’ve found bullets” bullshit is oddly familiar.

For a visual demonstration, see the video above.

(Crossposted to Renaissance Post.)

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More News The National Media Won’t Tell You RE: Wisconsin

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 28, 2011

— Instead of kicking out all of the protesters for “cleaning” as Scott Walker ordered (despite the fact that the protesters have been working with the cleaning and maintenance personnel to keep the place clean the entire two weeks they’ve been there), the cops only partially cleared out the first floor — and even then there were still lots of people there. Everyone else got to stay.

There’s a rumor going around that Wisconsin Republican state senator Dale Schultz may defect and vote against the Walker bill, but I’d take that with a grain of salt; I suspect it’s a ploy to lure Senate Democrats back for a quorum to get the bill passed. But if it’s true, it means that just two more defections from the Republican side would suffice to kill the bill.

— In the two weeks since the start of the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, there have been no arrests — zero, zip, goose egg, nada — of any protesters for conduct-related reasons. The “union thuggery” hyperventilatings of FOX and its copycats in the rest of the GOP/Media Complex were groundless.

Stay tuned for further developments. This isn’t over yet.

Posted in unions | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Walker Orders Capitol Police To Clear Building At 4PM – But Will They?

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 27, 2011

As David Dayen, who is reporting from the Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, mentions, the Capitol Police have been ordered by Scott Walker to clear the building by 4:00 pm today.

But will they? A recent Dayen Tweet calls this into question:

My sense is that the Capitol police don’t quite know yet how they will clear this building

Sit tight, everyone. Things could get interesting. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.

Posted in unions | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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