|The Bronx Burns - with Activism |
Speaking Out for Social Justice
| By Bill Hohlfeld |
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Last night, in the auditorium of Our Lady of Refuge School, in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, the clergy representing several local churches and faith based groups, neighborhood residents and community organizers, came together with union representatives from RWDSU, 32B&J, Local 608 of the Carpenters, and of course, Local 46 Metallic Lathers to put pressure on NYC elected officials to ensure that the development project at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, is of maximum benefit to the NYC citizens and taxpayers who live there. The event was aptly titled: Rally for Responsible Development, and its chosen slogan was: Good Jobs - Strong Communities.
The meeting was brought to order and the seriousness of both the subject and the moment was made evident by one of the local pastor’s fervent opening prayer ”to the Almighty God of justice” that her community might be empowered. Make no mistake about it. A little divine empowerment will come in handy when a Bronx community is up against a multi-billion dollar Corporate developer like Related, who, after receiving city and state subsidies that allowed them to purchase a property estimated to be worth 20 million dollars for a much reduced price of 5 million dollars, plans to install yet another “big box” store in the space.
That type of development provides no real benefit to the community because operations of that nature typically employ people at low (non-union) wages in part-time jobs with no medical benefits. In the Kingsbridge scenario, the picture becomes even bleaker as such a retail model would virtually destroy the two neighborhood Associated Stores and possibly the seven other smaller supermarkets in the surrounding areas that manage to employ over 450 local residents with living wage jobs. And living wage jobs are very much on the minds of members of a community that is currently trying to cope with an 18% unemployment rate, a rate that is roughly double the national average.
Another chief concern among the community residents is the usage of the non-retail space being developed. At present, only 3% of the 875,000 square feet is being allocated for community usage. That’s totally unacceptable to the young people from SUBA (Bruthas and Sistas United) Don’t be misled by the hip-hop choice of spelling. These kids are bright, articulate and focused on the future and the path they need to take to insure that future. They know that the library needs to be developed, a minimum of another 2000 school seats need to be provided, recreational facilities made available and a general attitude of investment in our city’s youth be taken. Their voices did not fall on deaf ears.
NYC Controller, and candidate for mayor, Bill Thompson has pledged his unbridled support for the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) and all its aims, bar none. City councilman Koppell has pledged 100% commitment to the residents right to organize the workplace as well as to hammer out a palatable community benefits agreement with Related. And last, but certainly not least, the indefatigable Assemblyman Jose Rivera, one time union carpenter and one time ILWGU member pledges his support in the “fight for the right to be union.” In NYC politics, this might be as close to divine empowerment as one gets.
An interesting footnote to the story is that the NYC Union Building Trades have been “good” on this project for well over a year now. Yet, that hasn’t stopped or even slowed down their efforts to guarantee that all the stakeholders receive their fair share. The Building Trades were keenly aware in this case, that to simply insure that the project was to be “union built” and walk away, was simply not good enough. There is a revitalization in the belief that only through true solidarity can working people ever acheive the economic justice they want and deserve.
I started things off by telling a brief story of a similar workshop I ran last month for a few hundred local leaders affiliated with the Teamsters. In the workshop it was mentioned that if the locals don't get on point with online organizing, mobilizing and education than they should expect that their local unions would exponentially decrease in size over time.
I exmplained that there was a 15 year-old kid who, in just a couple years will be looking for a job -- and not by way of his local newspaper classified section. He will be, most likely, using his Facebook account, his Myspace account, Twitter and probably even setting up a small site that tells of his qualifications.
If this kid wanders over to any number of local union web sites he will be blown away that some sites he visits haven't been updated since the mid 1990s. While the thought of that to some us working in the online community seems impossible, these sites are out there representing the working class every minute of everyday on the World Wide Web.
This is a big problem in the labor movement. Local unions will say that they don't have the resources - both finanical and human resources to build out and maintain a web site. My response to that is: the locals have no choice ... it is either they come up to speed online or plan to lose membership as older workers retire.
At Metro I talked a little about UnionReview.com, how I started the site shortly after the split of the AFL-CIO. I told people how I was getting calls from friends who, after learning of the split in the morning papers, were calling me asking if there were going to be any changes in their dues ... everyone seemed a little in the dark. Labor communicators, apparently, didn't communicate that this split was going to occur or what it really meant for rank-and-file workers.
I highlighted my experience in getting information to folks, sending out emails, starting a blog on blogger and then moving it to its current platform in 2007 after meeting with the people from Prometheus Labor Communications. Proudly I shared with the group that Union Review is now getting anywhere from 15,000 - 20,000 hits a day, and that this is proof that there was/is a hole in labor communications in the United States.
When I thought I was alone in the endeavor of spreading labor news and opinion I began to use other online tools. First Myspace and then Facebook, hooked up with Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. In short, I began to sign up to every social networking tool I could find, learned how they work -- and began to build a little community.
This was not to just blow smoke up my own ass for accomplishments with UnionReview.com ... it is more to prove that 90% of what I have done, so far, costs no money at all, the other 10% is very affordable, enough for me to pull it from my own pocket. The excuse that unions don't have the resources is ... well, not good enough.
I think that the presentation went over well, or at least I hope. It was an honor to be asked to moderate and sit on a panel with folks with incredible credentials, all of whom supported, shared and taught how this simple technology and organizing the working class is imperative for our survival.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith’s arrogant campaign of threats and intimidation continued this week when his top spokesman threatened to take down members of Congress who oppose FedEx’s position on a key piece of legislation.
When asked about FedEx’s multi-million dollar ad campaign against the legislation that is reported to launch on Tuesday, June 9, top FedEx flack Maury Lane told U.S. News and World Report in a story posted in The White House Bulletin, “I’m going to try to destroy them.”
This follows Smith’s repeated threats to cancel a $10 billion contract to purchase Boeing 777 planes if FedEx Express workers were moved under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
FedEx clearly threatened in a March 24, 2009 SEC filing, and Smith reiterated in testimony before Congress in May, that its contract to purchase additional aircraft from Boeing is contingent upon its labor relations for all of its employees being governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Under this provision, if Congress dares to grant even a portion of its workers the rights enjoyed by most American private sector employees under the NRLA, FedEx has the right to cancel those purchase orders.
“Fred Smith and FedEx breed a culture of arrogance,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “First, they cut wages, increase medical insurance premiums and eliminate pension benefits for its employees. Then they try to blackmail Congress with threats to pull the Boeing contract. Now they threaten to destroy the political careers of those who oppose them.”
Currently, all workers at FedEx Express are covered by the RLA regardless of whether they have any direct relationship with the operation or maintenance of the air fleet. This includes package delivery drivers, workers at sorting facilities and truck mechanics.
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation on May 21 that is a part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and would place those workers under the NLRA, the statute that protects virtually all other private sector workers. Under the NLRA, workers may organize by individual terminals while the RLA requires a more difficult path to unionization that requires a national vote by every worker at FedEx Express. The reauthorization bill is currently awaiting action in the Senate.
“It’s astonishing that Fred Smith and his flacks will go to any length to boost FedEx’s profits at the expense of American workers and the economy,” said Ken Hall, Director of the Teamsters Package Division. “By threatening to destroy members of Congress, FedEx’s efforts to manipulate the American system of government have crossed the line.”
45% of the US blood supply comes from the American Red Cross.
45%, that's a huge amount from a single source.
Blood is collected through donor blood drives. And the blood is then handled or transported by phlebotomists, drivers, RNs, LPNs, technicians (in the lab, product management, and apheresis departments), and one mechanic.
These are front line workers for the collection and processing of blood.
These front line workers set up blood drives all over the country.
When you think of a blood drive, think of the work as equivalent to the set up and break down of an event like a small circus, carnival or maybe a convention.
And these are safe events, or at least intended to be safe events through the regulation of blood as a "drug" but the FDA. Yep, these events are FDA regulated.
Front line American Red Cross workers follow FDA guidelines, yet since 1993, the FDA has fined the American Red Cross more than $21 million for violation of blood safety laws and regulations. In fact, the American Red Cross has been under a Consent Decree
The 2003 consent decree settled charges that the Red Cross had committed "persistent and serious violations" of federal blood safety rules dating back 17 years.
So, what does all of this mean?
What all of this means is that BLOOD is BIG BUSINESS. Blood is, as the New York Times noted after the FDA announcement of a $5+million fine:
The Red Cross has struggled for years to get its multi-billion dollar blood business, by far its biggest money-maker, into compliance with federal rules.
The American Red Cross makes MULTI-BILLIONS of dollars on donated blood.
Let me repeat that
They make Billions of dollars based on all of our volunteer blood donations.
So, the Red Cross makes billions and billions on supplying 45% of the nation's blood, but is now fighting unions representing front line blood drive event workers. These are the same workers who put on these blood drive events, make them safe and then do it all over again at another location. These workers provide reading material, documentation throughout the blood drive, ask health history questions of donors, perform mini physical exams for donors, take blood, care for the donor afterward donation, pack up the blood, break down the event, and bring it back to the lab for processing and testing, only to do it again the next day or week, depending on their schedule.
And the fines? Are they based on the work of the front line workers? The ones primarily handling the blood, well, according to NPR's All Things Considered, not so much, it is a "management problem".
So, we have a multi-billion dollar business, management problems, FDA fines, and now, they're crying broke as they sit at bargaining tables with 9 different unions as they negotiate front line worker agreements.
So, the unions got together and told the American Red Cross just what they thought of their anti-union, anti-worker negotiation tactics and I got to meet some of these workers on Friday on E street in Northwest DC.
These are the workers who make our blood supply safe, and they have been reduced to marching on Washington for getting what they deserve, a fair negotiation with the American Red Cross.
The request for massive concessions and pay freezes across the board has been covered in a number of local papers, like the New Haven Register who noted something interesting which really got me thinking:
The union claims that the Red Cross is demanding pay cuts for workers, as well as staffing changes that would replace some workers with management representatives.
“They’re not licensed. They’d be making medical decisions, based on what?” asked Crystal Guimaraes, a registered nurse from Naugatuck. She said workers at blood drives need to know what to do in the event of medical complications, physical reactions or seizures.
Would these be the same managers who were at the heart of the fines to the American Red Cross in 2006? Are they part of the "Management Problems" that NPR reported?
And, what about the response from the American Red Cross:
In a statement released Friday, Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for American Red Cross Blood Services Northeast Division, said the Red Cross blood supply “has never been safer, and the American Red Cross is committed to the health and safety of every blood donor who volunteers to roll up their sleeve and every patient who receives blood.”
Morrissey said the pay and benefits package offered to union members is “consistent” with pay and benefits provided to nonunion employees. The Red Cross also has frozen salaries for nonunion workers for the next year and made changes to its retirement programs for all staff.
What I notice in this comment is something big that's been in the news lately and was oddly unaddressed:
What about BONUSES?
So, I went hunting and found that the American Red Cross pays "incentives", from the American Red Cross website:
Donor Recruitment Representative (Great Lakes Region-Flint/Saginaw/Bay City/Midland, Michigan) American Red Cross Blood Services, Ohio/Michigan Division; Salary: $35,000 +Incentive; Benefits: TBA; FAX: (517) 484-0374; Email: email@example.com; Please send resume via email; Posted: 3/2/2009.
Incentive pay sounds like a bonus to me, and this is only at a volunteer recruiter level. What about higher levels like the CEO level (which has been a virtual revolving door since Bernadine Healy left in 2001) or directors and regional levels? And for an organization with more than 30 CEO's, can you imagine the kind of money we're talking about when we're talking about a multi-billion dollar business?
Take the Director of Collections in Connecticut who received a sizable un-reported bonus (the size is unknown because it's not being reported by the American Red Cross and is not being provided to the unions during the negotiations). And why would this blood collections director receive a huge incentive? Well, it's for introducing the MCS machines to the region.
I suppose I'm way more concerned today than say a year ago about how big companies hide their payments to employees. After the issues with AIG bonuses and all the banks that got money from the government for sinking their companies, well, would you really blame me for being suspicious?
Let's take the case of Theresa Bischoff, American Red Cross CEO for New York. In 2005, based on Red Cross records, she earned a salary of $315,656. And performance bonus of $60,000. And this is on the American Red Cross web site.
There's also Christopher Lamb who received a retention bonus of $132,600 and Douglass Loock who received his retention bonus of $105,215. And these three folks all work in areas related to plasma and blood.
If in 2005, when the Red Cross was going through turmoil due to their response to Katrina, they were also handing out retention bonuses of $100k to some of their top executives, and these are only reported on the top 5 paid non officers. If during turmoil they were handing out this kind of money, what are they doing now? Clearly, what they're doing now is trying to get out of negotiating with people like Christine Holschlag (she's the one with the mega phone). And for a Congressionally chartered non-profit like the American Red Cross, that's just not acceptable.
The American Red Cross does answer to a higher power, they answer to all of us donors. We make it possible for you to make volunteer blood donation into a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR business. It's time for them to negotiate in good faith with the unions representing the folks who make our blood supply safe. Until they do, they won't be getting checks from me or my blood. I'm just not comfortable with the American Red Cross profiting on the backs of folks making our blood supply safe. It's time for them to do the right by workers and not so much their CEO's.
American Red Cross, I think you can put down the AIG play book now, don't you?
Your help is needed! During this time of economic downturn and continuing job losses, we need to reiterate our opposition to trade deals left over from the Bush Administration, such as the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The Panama FTA is modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and should not be approved by Congress. Congress should not continue the Bush legacy of bad trade agreements, which cost jobs and hurt families.
We especially should not enter into a trade agreement with Panama, a country known as a tax haven for multinational corporations. A Government Accountability Office study identified Panama as one of eight countries listed on all the major tax haven watchdog lists. A trade agreement with Panama only perpetuates the use of this country as a tax haven and a money laundering center.
The Panama FTA as currently written, along with the Colombia and South Korea agreements, are examples of the flawed trade policy that our country can no longer afford to live with. We cannot continue to outsource American jobs, undermine our Buy American or Buy Local procurement policies, place downward pressure on wages and labor standards, degrade the environment, import unsafe food products, and allow the decimation of family farms in other countries.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Mike Michaud of Maine introduced the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment, or TRADE, Act last year and will do so again in this Congress. The TRADE Act offers a blueprint for what our trade agreements with other countries should look like and ensures that these agreements are fair for all those involved. Eighty members of the U.S. House and Senate signed on as cosponsors last year, and we need to have even more support when the legislation is reintroduced this year.
Your members of Congress need to hear from you! Please take the time today to ask your representative and Senators to come out publicly against the Panama FTA and to sign on as a cosponsor of the TRADE Act when it is reintroduced this year. It is time for a new, balanced trade policy, not more of the same!
Take action here.
Bobo says wage theft in America is the crime wave no one talks about, and she is right. Billions of dollars' worth of wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year. The scope of these abuses is as staggering as it is wrong - paying workers far less than the legal minimum wage, purposefully misclassifying employees as independent contractors, and illegally denying workers overtime pay. But now people are starting to take notice -- and it is my hope that they do so starting with this very good book.
Chapter 5: Organizing to Stop Wage Theft: Why Unions Matter, starts with a story of 39 year-old Mercedes Herrerra. She came to this country from Mexico, lives in Houston since 1994 and works as a janitor for staffing agencies cleaning buildings and sports facilities. Bobo says she was never paid for overtime!
Her employers would tell her, "There is no overtime. After 40 hours you work for someone else." (This is not legal).
The story continues that after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the worker was hired by a cleaning firm contracted to clean the Reliance Center. She was in charge of keeping the bathrooms clean. Her staffing agency charged her $100 per week for her shoes, gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, and shuttle rides to the Center. She wasn't told when she was hired that such charges would be taken from her paycheck. As a result, her hourly wage fell significantly below minimum wage. (This is not legal).
The lower paid workers in our country are treated like crap. Union activists have been saying this for a long time. Some claim we blow it out of proportion or distort the reality -- for Herrerra, according to Bobo, worse than the wages stolen was her ill treatment. Managers would scream at her and her colleagues. Some would tell workers they were old and worthless.
I was there once. I used to load trucks for a small production firm in NYC. I was hired as an independent contractor. It was hard to get any other work at the time for myself and I took what I could get. I had to pay $35 a week for "supplies" but never used anything but my body. One day a dumpster was filled with packing wrap and cardboard. The boss screams at me (note, he did this to others, he didn't signal me out for any apparent reason)to flatten the dumpster, "Jump your fat fucking ass in there and keep this motherfucker moving, will ya?" My coworkers laughed, then shook their heads. I wondered what kind of a sentence I would receive for throwing that boss in the dumpster and thankfully just went back to work. Moved on.
Wage theft and disrespect are twins for a worker. One is slightly more evil than the other, but both are equally painful. Bobo does a phenomenal job in telling that story -- and then says, "wage theft has been wiped out for the unionized janitors. Anytime there is a problem on wages, workers call the union hotline and someone works out the problems." (NOTE, This is the same with any unionized jobs, including my former line of work as a truck loader).
Unions not only raise wages, benefits, and working conditions ... they stop wage theft.
Bobo on: Why Aren't Unions Stronger?
Given the crisis of wage theft in the nation and the effective role unions play in stopping wage theft, one would think that unions would be growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, many workers would like to have a union in their workplace - 53 percent of all working Americans who are not currently represented by unions would vote to join a union if they had the opportunity to do so without risking their jobs. But workers are afraid. I used to be afraid.
It is simply a matter of fact, which this book does so well of spelling out for everyday folks, that no other industrialized nation has such a powerful union-busting industry or weaker labor protections.
Stopping wage theft in the United States and strengthening our unions has all to do with changing or strengthening labor laws. But it is confusing stuff -- as I have said in the past, today you need a JD just to go to work to know your rights.
Section 7 of the NLRA sets out your right to organize. It says:
"Employees have the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right might be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 159(a)(3)."
Actions by the employer that violate this right to organize are called "Unfair Labor Practices" (ULPs), and they are ILLEGAL. Section 8A of the NLRA deals with unfair labor practices by employers. These include:
* Making threats— threatening that the plant will have to close or move if people vote in the union; threatening to take away jobs or benefits if the workers bring in the union, or threatening they will need to make rules stricter if workers bring in the union.
* Giving raises— giving wage increases timed to keep people from voting for the union OR not giving regularly scheduled raises because workers are organizing. (NOTE - IF YOU ARE GIVEN A "TIMELY" RAISE, TAKE THE RAISE AND VOTE UNION ANYWAY ... IT IS A WINNING PROPOSITION).
* Questioning people— asking questions about union activities or people’s support for the union in a way that would "restrain or coerce" them.
* Spying on union meetings—or pretending to spy on union meetings.
* Discriminating against people— discriminating in hiring, promotion, layoff, termination, benefits or working conditions in order to discourage people from organizing.
* Discriminating against people who give testimony to the National Labor Relations Board (the body that enforces the NLRA).
Please learn your rights as working people. Please buy Kim Bobo's book.
Let me know what you think.