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First Mubarak, Is Your CEO Next?

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Image: Bob RosnerIn just eighteen days, Egypt went from being a pillar of the Middle East to being the poster child for the demise of out-of-touch dictators.
Rather than focusing on the geopolitical lessons, of which there are many, I’d rather take it all back to the workplace. Could your CEO be the next out of touch dictator to fall?
I hear what you’re thinking, Come on Rosner, gimme a break. My CEO has control of the board of directors, he’s been around forever and people are loathe to do anything but violently agree with him in meetings. There is zero-chance that his reign of errors could ever end.
To this I’d like to point out one simple fact. Mubarak had all that, and $1.3 billion dollars in new military hardware year-in and year-out courtesy of your tax dollars. Until he learned that his power base, the military, felt that the safer road was to send a strong message to the people in the streets that these arms would not be used against them. Then it all came crumbing down. Quickly.
Autocratic rule, exiling creativity and decision-making based on a toxic combination of ego and greed. Sound familiar?
Tahrir Square probably won’t happen in the courtyard of your corporate headquarters with a throng of people chanting for your leaders to leave. But there are places in your company where people already tell the truth without looking around to see who might hear.
If your company is like most, there is an underground economy where people act first and ask for permission later. Where most of the innovation happens. But its not happening in the “C” level suites. It’s often taking place in lower levels where mid-level managers nurture and protect risk takers.
How do you find this more fun group of people to work with? Look for people who aren’t fighting the last war, but who are fighting the next one. They’re out there. But it’s not something that appears on a business card or organizational chart.
No this is more of a secret society of innovators. You don’t have to learn a secret handshake, you just need to do some digging on your company’s most recent big innovations. Chances are that you’ll find that there is the “official” story and then real way that things came down. you want to get close to the people who are the real innovators.
Revolution might not happen immediately, but revolutionary activities could start right away. But it’s going to take some guts to network with your company’s trouble makers and risk takers.
The actual pyramids are now free. Who knows, you might find that your pyramid, a.k.a. the corporate hierarchy, might not be as rock solid as you thought. Just sayin’…
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Workplace Violence Is Not Part of the Job – A Nursing Phenomenon

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Image: Richard NegriDeborah Bonn, the director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, recently sent an email to more than 500 SEIU nurses about the recent cluster of tragic events facing nurses around the country. These events put a spotlight on the extent of violence against nurses and other healthcare workers.

The problem is that even though these violent acts were widely reported, they have unfortunately since fallen off the radar.

In October 2010, there were two tragic news items originating in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • A psychiatric technician, Donna Gross, was killed on the job at Napa State Hospital. A mentally ill patient at the facility allegedly strangled her to death.
  • Two days after Ms. Gross was killed, Cynthia Palomata, a nurse at the Contra Costa County jail, was killed by a violent inmate who lost control and beat her with a lamp.

In Bonn’s letter to RNs, she wrote,

“Unfortunately, workplace violence won’t end by media attention alone…we should NOT BE OK with going to work knowing there’s a real possibility of getting hurt, traumatized or killed.”

Bonn says that nurses need to bring home the seriousness of workplace violence by telling their stories. As a nurse and union leader, she agreed to share her story with the public.

During my in-hospital nursing career, I was stabbed in the back with a fork by a patient, suffering from DT hallucination, who was hiding behind a door while doing hourly rounds on the night shift.

I’ve also been kneed in the chest by a belligerent patient – an incident which left me in severe pain. After a chest X-ray that was ordered by my private physician because the hospital doctor did not feel one was warranted, I learned my ribs were just bruised from the patient’s attack.

If this is not enough to convince you we need change, I can tell you about the time I was stabbed in the arm with a needle by an elderly demented patient, who grabbed the needle from me after I had given her insulin.

There was also the time I got kicked so hard by a patient that I was thrown against the wall and knocked unconscious to the floor – that was more than just a bad day on the job!

Is this what nursing has become? Was I supposed to just accept these acts of workplace violence as a ‘hazard of the job’ and expect nothing would change?

Believe me, I’ve endured many other attacks in my career besides the ones I describe here. In each case, the facility gave me the impression that this was just part of the job. The facility, in not so many words, told me that we are responsible for the patients and therefore, I was responsible for all these events!

How can we make this workplace violence stop?

For one, we need to keep it on our radar long after the traditional mainstream news drops the story.

Second, we need to hear from nurses everywhere with what their experiences have been – and what they think is the remedy to fix the issue.

SEIU has set up a form for nurses to share their experience so that we can then share their stories with others.

If you’re a Registered Nurse, tell us about your experiences with violence on the job in your hospital or care facilities at http://nursealliance.onlineactions.org/wpv

*This blog originally appeared in SEIU Blog on Feb 2, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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New Labor Split? Trumka Refuses to Denounce Obama Chamber of Commerce Speech

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Mike ElkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Many in the labor movement objected to President Barack Obama speaking at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Yet there was little protest from AFL-CIO leaders to the president’s speech.

For the first time, President Obama ventured over to the Chamber of Commerce to speak. While the speech was full of the usual platitudes of most Obama speeches, what mattered most was not what he said, but the speech’s symbolism. By speaking at the Chamber, President Obama was offering an olive branch to the very organization that has led attacks against him.

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7 in Washington, D.C. He talked about the importance of working together on job creation and growing the economy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7 in Washington, D.C. He talked about the importance of working together on job creation and growing the economy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The president defended some of his regulatory agenda and tax policies. He also called on CEOs to create more jobs in America. But he made no mention of the Chamber’s tolerance of unionbusting policies that lead to nearly 30,000 reported cases of unfair labor practices against U.S. workers by companies every year.

The symbolism of the speech upset many in the labor community. Ralph Nader wrote an open letter to the President suggesting “What about walking next door and visiting your political friends at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, whose member unions represent millions of working Americans? You can discuss with Richard Trumka, a former coal miner and the new president of the AFL-CIO, your campaign promises in 2008. Repeatedly you said to the American people that you supported the “card check” and a “federal minimum wage of $9.50 in 2011.”

The AFL CIO neither organized a protest of the president’s speech nor extended an invitation for the president to cross the street and speak at the AFL CIO headquarters (where Obama has never given a speech).

Two unions—the National Nurses Union/California Nurse Association (CNA) and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), though, did organize a protest of the president’s speech at the Chamber. Both unions, it should be noted, have traditionally been more politically independent of the Democratic Party. Both unions endorsed Ralph Nader in his 2000 presidential run (At that time the CNA hadn’t merged with other unions).

The AFL CIO refused requests to endorse the protest. Still, 75 union members and allies picketed the president’s speech, chanting “Hey Hey, Hoo Hoo, Union Busting Got To Go”! One labor union member, who wished to remain anonymous, told me afterward that “I feel like by protesting today, we at least salvaged the dignity of the labor movement.”

Following his mantra “The President doesn’t communicate well with me in the press,” AFL-CIO President Trumka refused to denounce President Obama in remarks on MSNBC. In fact, Trumka disagreed with IAM (machinists union) President Thomas Buffenbarger‘s remark that “this isn’t a truce with business. I think he capitulated.” Instead, Trumka defended the president’s speech. He also praised the selection of former JPMorgan Chase Director William Daley as Chief of Staff, suggesting his selection might make things better for organized labor.

Why is organized labor’s top leader so unwilling to criticize the Chamber of Commerce appearance?

One CNA official told me that the AFL CIO was hesitant to protest the Chamber as a result of their rare joint statement last month in which they endorsed increased spending on infrastructure program. The AFL CIO, it seems, is hoping that by teaming up with the Chamber, it has a better chance of seeing Congress pass funding to keep its members employed and its unions financially solvent and vibrant.

But I can’t help worrying that by teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO is undermining energy the labor movement needs to win the war against the country’s business class.

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on February 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.

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Day of Action: Workers, Activists Call for Democracy in Egypt

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Image: James ParksUnion members from all parts of the world today joined with community activists in a Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt. In actions outside Egyptian embassies and government buildings, they pressed their governments to demand a democratic transition in Egypt and guarantee that those responsible for the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations be brought to justice.

In the United States, AFL-CIO union members will join the Egyptian American community and human rights organizations in a demonstration in Washington, D.C. The AFL-CIO and the Metropolitan Washington Council are calling on union members in the area to demonstrate their support for the people of Egypt at 6:30 p.m. in front of the White House (Lafayette Park side).

The desire of Egyptian workers to make their voices heard through their unions played a key role in laying the groundwork for the protests. Click here to see video messages of support for Egyptian citizens and workers from world union leaders.

In other actions today around the world:

  • In Brussels, Belgium, an international trade union delegation led by Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and including Jan Eastman, deputy general secretary of Education International, together with representatives of three Belgian trade union organizations held a protest at the Egyptian Embassy.
  • In Dakar, Senegal, TUC-Africa General Secretary Kwasi Adu-Amankwah and TUC-Africa President Mody Guiro led an international trade union delegation to the Egyptian Embassy.
  • Union members also are taking part in protests in Australia, Korea, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, France, Tunisia, Canada, Sweden and Italy.

“The demands of the Egyptian population are legitimate,” said the ITUC’s Burrow.

After years of dictatorship, the Egyptian people, including the country’s trade union movement, yearn for a change of regime and democratic transition. The violent response of Hosni Mubarak’s regime is totally unacceptable. Those responsible for the killings, attacks and intimidation must be brought to justice without delay. The impunity must end!

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks – My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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Care Too Much

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Image: Bob RosnerHave you ever worked in a job where you felt like the Energizer Bunny, Superman and James Brown rolled into one. You know what I mean, like you’re the hardest working person in your company always willing to leap tall inboxes in a single bound?

If you’re like many of the people who write to me, the only problem is that the people you work with seem to be a combination of Homer Simpson, Eddie Haskell and Rip Van Winkle. We’re not just talking about your co-workers here, often your boss seems to care less about work than you do.

Well I have a simple rule, you shouldn’t care more, or work harder or be more patriotic about work than the person who signs your paychecks.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If everyone felt this way then our productivity would just go down the drain.

Maybe. But at least you won’t be losing sleep over a job where the mucky-mucks are sleeping like babies.

Another way to look at this is that if the world were metal chain, then your standard of work should be equal to the weakest link.

Am I saying that we should all strive for mediocrity?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying if the bosses themselves don’t care about how things are done. If you feel like you’re working in an episode of the Jersey Shore, then it’s probably time for you to either mentally check out or find a new job. One where the leaders are actually interested in creating an environment where people are rewarded for working hard and where the leadership models this behavior.

To quote Charles DeGaulle, “The graveyard is full of indispensable men.”

That’s the problem. So many people are sweating, losing sleep and worrying when the people above them don’t share this level of passion, commitment or engagement. We should have a Surgeon General’s report on how dangerous this is to your health. Because it is. Not only for you, but for all the people who love you away from the job.

If during the 60’s the phrase was “tune in, turn on, drop out,” then the phrase for anyone struggling in a job where you seem to care more than your boss, the mantra should be, “tune out, turn away, get out.” Even if you can’t get out physically at least you can check out mentally, and maybe even physically.

Caring at work is great, but only when it’s supported by the powers that be.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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What Do Packers and Steelers Have in Common?

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Image: James ParksWhat do the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers have in common–besides playing in the Super Bowl Sunday? Both teams are named after the major manufacturing industry in their towns. Both cities were built on manufacturing and enjoy a loyal following built on the middle-class, blue-collar jobs supported by these industries. The Packers’ middle-class fans are also the team’s owners–the only team not owned by a super-rich person.

This is not the first Super Bowl with both teams hailing from proud working class communities.  The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has launched the first-ever Super Bowl Manufacturing Index, which shows how many people were employed in manufacturing at the time of each working class Super Bowl. The index shows that in 1967 when the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, there were 17.9 million manufacturing jobs. This Sunday, there are only 11.7 million.

The players know the importance of manufacturing to their fans. At a recent AAM town hall meeting in Green Bay, Packer players A.J. Hawk and Mason Crosby spoke out about the value of manufacturing jobs (see video).

Scott Paul, AAM’s executive director, says:

As we celebrate this year’s Super Bowl, let’s not forget the men and women who have made these team great–their blue-collar fan base.  We can keep these communities strong by supporting a strong American manufacturing base and its highly skilled workers.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks – My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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Obama Admin Blocks Two Workplace Safety Regulations, Pleasing Big Business

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Mike ElkLast month, President Obama wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for “a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

The announcement by Obama to eliminate burdensome regulation was seen as dramatic tilt to the right for the White House, which is increasingly pro-business. Others, though, dismissed the move as mere posturing that would not seriously affect workers. But since calling for the regulatory review, the Obama Administration has done away with  several proposed workplace safety regulations that have upset worker safety advocates.

Earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration  announced it was delaying (or stopping, as many advocates claimed) implementation of a set of proposed regulations on ergonomics. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders remain the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in this country,” stated OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels in a press release. “However, it is clear that the proposal has raised concern among small businesses, so OSHA is facilitating an active dialogue between the agency and the small business community.”

The proposed regulation would have forced firms to count ergonomic injuries—also known as musculoskeletal disorder injuries (MSDs)—in statistics provided to OSHA . The push to merely count ergonomic injuries as part of workplace injury statistics was considered to be the compromise over regulating ergonomic injuries more broadly. Advocates had tried to bring tougher Clinton-era workplace safety laws, but settled on counting the MSD injuries as the compromise.

Workplace advocates hoped that being able to point to companies where a high amount of workers were suffering from ergonomic injuries would allow them to hold companies accountable. Now they will lack even the ability to shame corporations using government-published statistics.

Ergonomic injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and strained backs are agrowing problem, as more Americans wind up working in offices. Federal data shows that MSDs injuries “accounted for 28 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses” that forced workers to miss time from the job.

Previously, there had been regulations on the books during the Clinton Administration to at least monitor and to offer minor protections to workers from such injuries. However, in 2001, a Republican-led Congress eliminated most ergonomic regulations. This was followed by eliminating the counting of ergonomic injuries by the Bush-era OSHA in 2003.

Many labor observers say OSHA’s decision not to regulate MSD workplace injuries shows that the Obama administration is slowly shifting away from its focus on tougher regulation of workplace safety. The decision to delay implementation of rules to regulate MSD workplace injuries follows a decision in mid-January by OSHA to write a rule regulating extreme noise on the job, which affects the hearing of many who work in the construction and manufacturing industries.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Association of Manufacturers had advocated against the proposal and in a letter to the new chairman of the House oversight committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), called for celebrating its demise. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Issa has threatened to investigate such regulations, which has scared many administration officials who do not want to get caught in bureaucratic wrangling.

Those in the business community saw the defeat of these two regulations as a sign of their growing influence with the Department of Labor and OSHA. “We hope that these first two steps are a signal to the business community, and employers in general, that OSHA will ‘stop, look and listen,’” Joe Trauger, vice president of human resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers told the Hill newspaper.

People in organized labor are upset about the proposed regulation being withdrawn. “All of these actions are coming because of the November elections and the fierce business opposition to anything,” said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of health and safety. “Just because the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups scream doesn’t mean there is a legitimate reason to retreat. There are real negative impacts here that can harm workers.”

The ability of corporate forces to stop the implementation of these rules may signal the ability of big business to block or water down other rules protecting workers. One has to wonder: Will the elimination of such regulations actually save any jobs, as the president seems to believe? Or will their elimination hurt workers’ lives?

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on Feb 3, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.

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Making America the Best Place on Earth to Work

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Leo GerardNot the wars. Not greenhouse gasses. Not even the deficit. The issue most important to Americans is jobs.

Despite that, jobs failed to make an appearance in the State of the Union address.

The talk was all about business. Business was doing better. Business needed taxpayers to help pay for research and innovation. Business will get government help to eliminate pesky regulations. Business must have lower taxes.

The most telling statement was this:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.”

Especially because it wasn’t matched by a companion:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to work.”

The speech expressed a policy in which business is the focus of government, taking precedence over workers.  The American colonists created a government for their own benefit; they did not constitute an agent to serve business. A policy giving corporations primacy is risky for American workers.

The state of the union noted that happy days are here again for corporations and banks:

“Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”

Never mentioned, however, were the 14.5 million unemployed Americans, the sustained record rate of foreclosure, and the increasing poverty and food bank reliance among citizens of the richest nation in the world.

The state of the union outlined a plan under which the government will coddle corporations, essentially proving companies government welfare using American workers’ tax dollars. If businesses create jobs for workers as a result, fine. If they don’t, there’s no plan to exact a penalty.

For example, under the policy described in the speech, American workers will fork over tax dollars to pay for research and development for businesses that are sitting on a record $1.8 trillion in cash reserves — hoarding it rather than creating jobs.

The president said:

“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

Maybe it will create new jobs. Hopefully. But no guarantees were offered. Mentioned as a business success story in the speech was a Michigan company, Luma Resources, which began manufacturing solar shingles with the help of a $500,000 government grant. It created 20 jobs, $25,000 a job.  American taxpayers might think that’s a little pricey, but what’s worse is the potential for Luma Resources to go the way of Evergreen Solar, squandering the corporate welfare.

Evergreen, the third largest maker of solar panels in the U.S. and recipient of at least $43 million in corporate welfare, announced earlier this month it would close its main American factory in Massachusetts and move manufacturing to China. Eight hundred Americans will lose their Evergreen jobs by April.

Evergreen officials said China will give the company even higher amounts of corporate welfare, which, of course, makes sense since China is not a capitalist country. Its economy is government controlled. And that government routinely violates international trade regulations – by providing banned subsidies to industries and by deliberately devaluing its currency.

No matter how better educated American workers get. No matter how much more innovative. No matter how much more productive. No matter how many tax dollars the government spends on research and development, if the corporations that benefit move manufacturing overseas, the American workers who paid for it will suffer.

In fact, it’s more than suffering; it’s betrayal by their government that provided tax benefits to companies for off-shoring jobs. It is betrayal by their government that fails to stop violations of trade laws by countries like China that lure away firms like Evergreen.

At the end of the State of the Union speech, the president said:

“From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.”

An ordinary American dreams of a family-supporting job, owning a home, saving enough to pay for a child’s college education, helping to build a safe community. Corporations aren’t Americans, no matter how often the U.S. Supreme Court grants them rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to human beings. Businesses aren’t citizens. Their allegiance isn’t to America. It’s to profits. They dream only of dollars. They concede no responsibility to family, community or country.

They were not included when the president said:

“Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference.  We are part of the American family.”

The top priority of the American government must be making America the best place on Earth for Americans.  If that’s good for corporations, great. The government must never place American citizens second.

*This post originally appeared in United Steelworker’s Blog on January 31, 2010.

About the Author: Leo W. Gerard is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama recently appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.  He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union.

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Another Proposed Chicago Wal-Mart Sparks Opposition

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Six years ago, Wal-Mart’s efforts to build its first store within the Chicago city limits sparked a city-wide furor and debate over the big box giant’s labor and community practices…and led to the passage of a historic living wage “Big Box Ordinance” heralded as a national model.

But the ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who called it a job-killer that would prevent stores from opening. Wal-Mart then opened a store on the city’s west side free from the living wage requirements. Now Wal-Mart is moving forth with plans – despite community opposition chronicled on this blog – for two stores on Chicago’s south side. And the company reportedly also plans to open a store in a relatively upscale north side neighborhood.

Wal-Mart opponents rally Jan. 27 at a proposed new location for the store on Chicago's north side. (Courtesy of UFCW Local 881)

Last year, the Chicago Federation of Labor and other community groups touted a “deal” with Wal-Mart, which has announced plans to build a dozen stores in Chicago. According to the labor group, the corporation promised to pay at least $8.75 an hour (with an increase of 40 to 60 cents after one year of work) and hire union workers to build all its Chicago stores. The same day, a Wal-Mart spokesman disputed the concessions, saying: “There are no deals. All raised are based on performance.”

Despite the fact that labor claimed a victory last year, Wal-Mart is still not welcome to the city, according to union members, workers’ rights advocates and local business leaders who rallied against the proposed north side Wal-Mart on January 27.

Though the city’s media, elected officials and general public are paying relatively little attention to the issue this time around, UFCW Local 881 and other labor and neighborhood groups are trying to galvanize opposition to the proposed north side store because of Wal-Mart’s labor practices and effects on surrounding communities.

At a rally near the proposed site last week, Susan Hurley, executive director of Jobs with Justice, said:

We are reinforcing our fight to bring good jobs to our communities.  As we work towards positive economic development of our neighborhoods and long-term sustainability, we recognize that there are many alternatives and Walmart should not be one of them.  We cannot afford the widespread expansion of poverty-type Walmart jobs.

The Lakeview neighborhood where Wal-Mart proposes to build is more upscale and commercially vibrant than the south and west side Chicago sites Wal-Mart has previously targeted. Much opposition has come from local retailers, including boutiques and independent high-end stores who don’t want the competition and stigma represented by a Wal-Mart.

Chicago workers’ rights advocates say that along with these concerns, they also want to keep the focus strongly on the labor record of Wal-Mart, which has launched a campaign to clean up its image nationally over recent years, even as it continues to face the nation’s largest class action gender discrimination lawsuit and a host of other legal complaints.

Maureen Martino, executive director of the local Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said:

Walmart’s strategy was to build in areas where food and retail deserts exist. Obviously their strategy has changed and perhaps the City Council needs to reassess the impact this will cause on our small business community.

Now is the time to preserve our communities by offering incentives and financial assistance to our small businesses and not add another factor that will lead to storefront vacancies.

And Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society, added:

Walmart is supposed to be applauded for their appalling corporate behavior for locating themselves in economically underserved areas, but that’s clearly not their only purpose. They also seek to bring their race to the bottom wage and benefit standards to economically thriving neighborhoods all over the city of Chicago. I know Chicago can do better!

Editor’s note: This article, including its headline, has been updated to note the fact that Wal-Mart has disputed that any formal wage agreement between it and Chicago labor groups was made in June 2010.

*This article originally appeared in Working in These Times on Jan 31, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen is an In These Times contributing editor and a Chicago-based journalist writing for various publications, including the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

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