Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Organizing Roadtrip

Last week, LC2 had the opportunity to go out of state to help with an organizing drive at a university in New England. I'm not being real specific about the place, since management is making the union sound like we are a marauding pack of thugs trying to take the money from their poor, defenseless employees. There has been a concerted effort to make the employees believe that they will be taken care of by the administration, with their best interest in mind. Needless to say, there are horror stories out there amongst the employees, and even though they are well paid, their benefits, especially health care are starting to be eroded. There are also issues with policy interpretation, explanations change from one hour to the next and folks really have a hard time with classification issues. It shouldn't be a surprise to know that with this kind of atmosphere, the "pseudo" process on campus for employee greivances is not very functional. Despite these issues, the employees are scared, many not wanting to be seen talking to a person from "da union". More on that....

Anyhow, to avoid being googled and this being spread all over, I'll just use this photo to tell you what state I was in:

I arrived on Wednesday and met the folks I'd be working with for the next few days. The group included 4 of us from midwest universities, coming to spread the good news of the union. The governor recently signed an exec. order allowing for organizing on campuses. The requirement is to be able to get 50% + 1 of the employees to sign a union card. As a result, there are two international unions working on organizing the campus. As a result, there is even more pressure being put on the employees to sign cards and back one union or another....in addition to being fed misinformation by the administration. Here's the office for the union I believe will best represent the employees!

The campus is beautiful with flowering trees and bushes, old buildings mixed with new, construction going on. The perfect picture of a thriving campus. But, yet, the employees are being told that there is not a lot of money to pay for generous raises AND the health insurance they have grown used to. One of the stories an HR manager used in an email to employees stated, "she didn't know how she would find the $32 a month to pay union dues, as a single parent, she'd have to make her daughter give up dance lessons". Needless to say, organizers who were single parents had real issues with that. Being a single parent trying to make ends meet is about more than dance lessons that cost a whole lot more than $32 anyhow. Another "tale" being spread by the HR department is that the union would "take away" their benefits. Hmmmmmmm......... Guess those health insurance increase don't count as taking benefits away. But, that is what the union is up against here.

The building to the left in the above photo is the library. LC2 did go there. There is support there (of course, library workers are usually pro-union). I had a great conversation with a librarian at the reference desk. The Faculty ARE represented on this campus, and the one I spoke with believed that the staff need a union. The Faculty just finished a prolonged contract negotiation, but, came out with a good settlement, both economic and benefits. This will be a great tool for the staff organizing drive.

In previous Organizing experiences, I've encountered folks who were against joining a union. This was the first time I experienced folks who were scared to even talk. We spent time leafletting the first day. This was our first taste of the problems we would face. Talking to folks as they left the parking lots (oh ya, parking fees are also a big issue), we encountered reluctance to talk with us. That reluctance grew as the day went on. Spending time in an area with the shops and IT department, we encountered real resistance to our message. At one point, we spotted employees watching out a window. It was close to quitting time, yet no one came out of the building.....until we left. The same thing happened when we tried again to talk at break time the next morning. After we left, folks came out. In the shops, usually a pretty easy place to go and talk to folks, our two blue collar brothers from the midwest were met with a very cold shoulder by their colleages.
I went into the IT building and had a conversation with an employee tearing down a computer lab. Making small talk and IT chit chat, I started having a pretty good conversation, including talking a bit about the union. As soon as another employee came in however, she clammed up, and the other employee started in on the "who is that, they aren't supposed to be in here". Oh, well, you gotta try!
In the same complex as the facilities shops, the IT building, the HR Dept. had their offices. This is a site 1 mile off the main campus. So much for HR being where the employees can deal with them face to face. Guess they have to hide out so they don't have to face the folks they're messing with.
That evening, an event was held at the union office to allow employees to come and meet the organizers off campus. That was where I heard some horrow stories, but, also had some very fulfilling conversations with folks with questions about the union. At least we were able to give them real answers, and not the misinformation that HR is spewing out.
There is some tough work that needs to be done here, but, fortunately there are some leaders coming out of the employees who are willing to be upfront about supporting the union. My concern is that management will use one of them as an example and give them grief for supporting the union. When something like that happens, it can either help the cause, or scare other supporters away.
The second day produced successes and more frustration. We traveled around campus talking to employees and trying to get the truth out. The group I was with got to ride with one of the pro-union employees to an off campus site on the water. Although the employee out there was not willing to support the union, she understood the need "others" probably had for one. It was interesting talking, since she did not have the spector of HR hanging over her head.
After debriefing, the local organizers got ready for a "summit" the next morning. This was going to involve planning between the organizers, the local supporters and those visiting from other campuses. Unfortunately, most of us from the midwest had to make our planes to return home and weren't able to participate. Hope it went well.
In between a lot of walking and talking, there was some time for some great seafood meals in the evening (this was New England after all). We also had some time for really kicking back on Friday night at a bar serving micro-brew. This is called a "Paddle" and features 10 samples of the various brews. LC2, was one of two who finished every glass.

Other then meals, there was little time for sightseeing. But, I took a backroad to the airport to see Derry, the location of many Stephen King novels. LC1 is a big fan. Note, the play that is being done at the Derry Opera House soon---Little Shop of Horrors.

Good luck to the employees, know that the union is your best avenue for gaining a voice on campus.
Stay tuned for a report on the WCLC Labor Dinner and the Chicks contract.
In Solidarity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

......Holy Pic update.....

Went to our Labor Council meeting this evening. Apparently our labor council president was asked to be there--the night before (he had offered himself up a month before, with no takers). Of course, he's been really busy working on the movie stuff right now, being the IATSE business agent for the region which stretches from roughly the Fox Valley to the Michigan/Wisconsin border and halfway across the state, so he was not able to come pose for pics as the token union person on such short notice. But the pictured folks did ask him for information on how the money stuff positively influenced the community, yadda yadda and gave him no credit for such information. As a fellow union person, I can relate--we don't really appreciate being trotted out as token people and then told to go back to doing grunt work with hardly any recognition of organized labor and ordinary folks contributions. Kinda gets to you after while.


Posin' for Holy Pictures

This picture appeared in the photo gallery on the Oshkosh Northwestern website detailing the set teardown in Oshkosh's downtown after the departure of the movie making people for "Public Enemies". While the Labor Chicks political bent is of the Democratic Party and everything and we don't want to not give these people in this photo any credit for helping in whatever small way they did with facilitating the way for the movie being made here, we have one small thing we would like to point out. Where are the union members in this picture, particularly IATSE members who worked their butts off getting everything set up, built, painted, and torn down for this shoot in Oshkosh? This makes this Labor Chick feel a little steamy under the collar (so what if it's a pink collar--ya wanna make somethin' of it?). The IATSE people actually did work hard to help get the tax break legislation in place in our state and had to actually convince the AFL-CIO that it was a good thing as well.

And....what were IATSE members doing during the Holy Picture shoot?

See for yourself:

'Nuff said.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

1930s era gangster violence hits for real in Detroit

I read in the New York Times this morning about a melee which occurred at the Labor Notes conference last weekend in Detroit. The story in a nutshell (which was not easy to find) is essentially that the California Nurses Association has been attempting to organize nurses in Ohio. SEIU is not pleased and sent a contingent of SEIU protesters to the Labor Notes conference to disrupt it.

I am appalled that some amongst the labor community would like to bring back the mob-style tactics of the past. We don't need that sort of thing going on. I'm not suggesting we all join hands and sing kumbaya, but for heavens sake, knock off the violence and disruptive tactics and TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Read more about the goings on here:




Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Love your library workers!

Happy National Library Week! Today is an especially good day because it is National Library Workers Day.

Have a book mark!


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Welcome to Oshywood

Filming for "Public Enemies" started on Friday at Pioneer Airport. It starts downtown tomorrow.

Here's a job related sign we saw in a fake soup kitchen on the "set":

Yow--who could live on money like that? Of course, collective bargaining and unions weren't really in full swing until the late 1930s, or you would never have seen something like this. Women's work wasn't valued as highly then. Hey, wait a minute, is it now? Men still get paid higher wages.

More pics from downtown, which was a crazy scene today.

Hey, IATSE 470, could you keep the fake billboards up? They are much better looking than that fountain.

Main Street never looked so good.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hollywood comes to Oshkosh

The Labor Chicks took a trip to the monthly Gallery Walk. It was crazy downtown....normally the Gallery Walk brings a lot of people, but, it was especially busy tonight with a lot of folks down to see what is going on with getting the area ready for filming for Public Enemy. The first photo is normally the Exclusive Company, but it will be a Walgreens drug store during the filming.

The New Moon is a restaurant for the movie--notice all the folks on the street! The transformation is amazing thanks to the hard work of the members of IATSE 470....painting, props in windows, replacing windows.

The filming for this movie, last month in Columbus, this month in Oshkosh and also Manitowish Waters is the result of a tax incentive now being offered to film companies for using Wisconsin locations. IATSE was one of the promoters of the legislation to allow this, with a great deal of support from Lt. Gov. Lawton. The Winnebago County Labor Council also promoted the legislation.
The result is, if nothing else, folks from around the state discovering downtown Oshkosh and seeing that there is something going on down there (besides the filming.)

Kudos IATSE, for your work on getting the legislation, and for your hard and skillful work in bringing downtown Oshkosh back to another era.

After all....doesn't every downtown need a hosiery store!