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Working Life Episode 193: The States Go Broke; The Democratic Convention Approaches

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The pandemic has ripped a hole through every state budget in the country to the tune collectively of over $550 billion. That red ink is more than half a trillion dollars in money states won’t have—which translates into millions of people losing their jobs, services being decimated that we all rely on, attacks against people of color who are employed disproportionately in decent-paying government jobs and an economy that won’t recover if aid is not dispatched. Pronto.

And it doesn’t have to be this way, if ideology wasn’t more important for Republicans, and some Democrats, who should be pouring money into states and closing these big deficits—deficits that, remember, were no fault of management by state leaders. The deficits were caused, essentially, by one person, Donald Trump, who dismissed the pandemic, called it a hoax, made fun of people who tried to sound the alarm about the approaching calamity and, thus, caused the economic crisis that is burying states in mountains of red ink. I talk with about the state budget emergency with Michael Leachman, Vice President for State Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It’s not a wild guess to say that a very high percentage of the thousands of people who tune into the show are political junkies and probably a big piece of that number consider themselves progressives. So, with the Democratic convention coming up, you’d think I’d do a lot on that, right? Nope: because conventions don’t matter. And, even more so, party platforms don’t matter. And I say all that as a bona fide elected delegate for Bernie Sanders for whom I’ve already cast my virtual ballot for his nomination. My musings about the convention and the progressive movement kick off the show.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on August 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years


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The Culinary Workers Run Vegas. The Politicians Are Just Visiting.

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Image result for Hamilton Nolan

It was the politicians that turned the picket line chaotic. Not the workers. The workers knew just what they were doing. Hundreds and hundreds of them, in their red Culinary Union T-shirts, stretched out down West Flamingo Road in front of the Palms Casino, just off the Vegas Strip last Wednesday. They marched a few hundred yards and back in an orderly if boisterous circle, guided by a battalion of bullhorn-wielding chant leaders. They’d done this before.

Then the presidential candidates showed up.

One by one, each taking their turn in the spotlight, and each accompanied by a seething scrum of press, they plowed their way down the the picket line like speedboats slicing through a river. Cameramen walking backwards tripped over curbs; microphone-waving reporters bumped into strikers; union staffers had to join arms and form human shields around the more popular candidates, just to keep the march moving. Some of the candidates, like Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, looked natural, familiar with the rhythm of pickets. Others, like Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden, looked awkward and nervous, pale, spectral wonks in white Oxford shirts dropped into a seething horde of humanity and forced to carry “No Justice, No Peace” signs, unable to quite pull off the angry working-class look. And some, like Tom Steyer, accompanied by a single staffer and ignored by most of the press, just looked happy to be invited. (Bernie Sanders was conspicuously absent.)

But all of them, one after the other, messed up the flow of the picket line. Their presence was something to be tolerated. This was all part of a system that has been perfected over decades. The reporters come to trail the politicians. The politicians come to pay homage to the Culinary Union. The Culinary Union puts them all to use by marching them up and down a picket line for a fight against Station Casinos, a grinding fight that has been dragging on for years and years.

For a few days, the national spotlight is here in Las Vegas, for the Nevada Caucus. But after the spotlight moves on, the Culinary Union and its 60,000 workers will still be here, trying to win contracts in the face of criminal intransigence, trying to pull thousands of working people into the middle class through sheer force of solidarity and stubbornness. It is this dynamic that always gets twisted in the whirlwind of the national media around a presidential election. The union does not exist to serve the politicians. The politicians exist to serve the union. The union has built a wondrous machine to ensure that it stays that way.

That machine is a simple virtuous circle. It begins and ends with organizing, which never stops. Organizing is propelled by the fact that the union demonstrably improves the lives of its members. Building that array of member benefits, from health care to pay to job protections to a training academy to discounts on rental cars, never stops either. These things provide a large number of extremely engaged people. The union can offer the support of this motivated and well-organized force to politicians who back the union’s goals. These union members can do everything from phone bank to flier to knock on doors to produce screaming rallies on short notice. Their support is highly prized, and their opposition is feared. The political allies they earn help to clear the omnipresent political obstacles to more organizing, and the cycle continues.

The Culinary Union has spent more than 80 years becoming what it is today, which is one of America’s most effective social and economic justice organizations. Its members are mostly women and mostly Latino. They work in casinos, making the food, cleaning the rooms, serving the drinks, doing the laundry, carrying the bags. They are the work force that makes Las Vegas run, and the members of that work force have middle class wages and health insurance and job protections and the backing of local and state and national elected officials as a direct result of the work of the union. The Culinary Union operates in the heart of the most gilded industry in an unnatural city built of money, and it is the one and only reason why the people who do the work of that industry are not exploited to the hilt.

They have pulled off this feat with their cycle of organizing, improving people’s lives and exercising political power. Never is this method more evident than during Nevada caucus week, when it is put on display for the entire world. This year, it came with more than a little extra drama.

The union’s headquarters is a squat, sprawling two-story white concrete building just north of the Vegas Strip, in the shadow of the Stratosphere spire, with “In Solidarity We Will Win!” emblazoned in red on its wall. The visitors who pass through the lobby on an average weekday morning provide a sampling of the union’s sprawling operations. A young woman dragging two wayward toddlers is checking on a grievance. Workers are here to sign up for job training. A team of Steyer staffers wants to know if Tom can come in and talk. Someone from the Mexican embassy would like to set up a meeting.

In back, a warren of cubicles had been cleared out for volunteer get-out-the-vote phone banking, which continued for a solid week before the February 21 caucuses. It was the least combative phone banking I’ve ever witnessed—not a grumble from anyone who picked up the phone, after they heard it was the union calling.

Marc Morgan, a middle-aged bellman at the D Hotel and six-year member of the union, sat patiently dialing from a list, telling callees the time of the caucus (Saturday at 10 a.m.) and the exact location of their caucus site at their workplace. He reminded them to get permission from their supervisors and to alert a shop steward if the supervisors illegally refused. Within an hour, at least a half dozen people who were not planning to caucus—including one who said, “Caucus? What does that mean?”—promised to turn out. Multiply that by many people calling for many hours for many days, and you start to get a sense of why the Culinary Union is a sought-after political ally for Democrats. Thousands more members voted early as well, another process the union encourages and supervises.

Morgan, a shop steward, is, like many union members, a practical man more than a fire-breathing ideologue. His attachment to the union was motivation enough for him to volunteer to spend hours calling fellow members, just out of a sense of duty. That attachment was rooted in personal experience. “I can see the necessity—the managers, oh my god,” he said. He had been through a bitter contract fight at his own casino in 2018, and had seen the petty retaliations that workers suffered. “Employers want to test the boundaries. They’ll continue to test those boundaries until you pull them back in. It’s like parents and children.”

Despite being coveted madly by everyone running for president, the Culinary Union did not issue an endorsement this year. The union endorsed Obama in 2008, but he lost to Hillary Clinton in Nevada anyhow. It didn’t endorse in the 2016 primaries. Much has been made in recent weeks of its spat with Bernie Sanders, which became a huge political news item after the union issued a purportedly educational flier to members warning them that Sanders, if elected, would “end Culinary healthcare”—a rather misleading characterization widely interpreted as a declaration of opposition to Medicare For All.

This mushroomed into an entire news cycle pitting the union against Sanders, and even drove a round of questioning in last week’s presidential debate. Moderate Democrats seized on the opportunity to frame their opposition to Medicare For All as a pro-union position, a development that certainly pleased the health insurance industry and drove progressives in the labor movement mad.

There was much speculation that the union decided not to endorse anyone because they were pretty sure Bernie was going to win, and they couldn’t endorse him because of the conflict they’d started, but didn’t want to endorse someone who would lose, and so decided to sit on their hands. But officially, they simply chose to endorse their own “goals.”

The conflict over this issue—within individual unions, and within organized labor as a whole—is very real. The Culinary Union runs its own healthcare center for members, and uses its healthcare benefits as a key recruiting tool in a “right to work” state. Major unions that are, in effect, in the health care business themselves have a natural level of conservatism towards change in the system. But there is also an influential portion of the labor movement that is strongly in favor of Medicare For All, not least because it would free up unions to spend their political capital on things other than health care, like better wages.

Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America who now leads the Sanders-affiliated group Our Revolution, says that Medicare For All would amount to a spectacular gain for unions in the long run. By bringing down administrative and pharmaceutical costs, he says, national health care would actually save employers money—money that would be funneled to workers in the form of better pay and other benefits. On top of that, there is the simple fact that freeing people from employer-based health care would allow them to be less enslaved to bad jobs.

“If you go do something else, you’re not covered!” Cohen exclaims. “Why would we possibly want to have a system where the job is what gives you the health care?”

Culinary Union members and staffers will remind you that their current health care system, which is free for members and provides care for more than 100,000 people, has been won at the cost of many years of great struggle and quite a few strikes, some of which dragged on for years. They consider it a crown jewel, and view it with pride. Yet the decision of union leadership to wade publicly and aggressively into the Medicare For All debate has put them in the position of becoming a useful talking point for for-profit health care interests. (It is much more politically palatable for conservatives to say “unions are against public health care” than “insurance companies want to maintain profits.”)

One union staffer told me, “The best way for any worker to be protected is a union contract.” That may be true, but all three million citizens of Nevada are unlikely to be in the union any time soon, and they still get sick. As Culinary Union member Marcie Wells wrote last December in a widely shared essay calling for Medicare For All, “We have to acknowledge the reality that for-profit insurance asserts that if you don’t work you deserve what you get: up to and including death. Also, sick people don’t deserve jobs.”

The other thing that should be said, however, is this: For the political left, or supporters of Bernie Sanders, to view the Culinary Union as some sort of enemy is utterly insane. The union has actually accomplished the things that the left says it wants to accomplish. There is no popular political movement that could not learn from its success. Ultimately it is incumbent on the left to bring along the Culinary and other unions on the path to Medicare For All, not vice versa. They are natural allies. Some people in the union world say privately that Bernie Sanders is on their side ideologically, but that he often fumbles or ignores the standard political business of pulling in stakeholders and listening to them before he plunges ahead on big issues that affect them. The differences between the two sides, in other words, are fixable. Fighting over such things is a waste of time, when there is still a working class that needs help.

***************

The general public typically hears about the Culinary Union in relation to electoral politics. But from the perspective of the union, electoral politics is just a means to an end. All of the famous politicians stumbling down the picket line think they are there for the sake of their own campaigns, but in fact they are there to help draw attention to a nearly decade-long union organizing campaign at Station Casinos, the company that owns the Palms and seven other casinos where workers have voted to unionize in recent years.

The company relentlessly fought the organizing campaigns. Once workers at individual Station Casinos began voting to unionize in 2016, they refused to recognize the unions, stalled on contract bargaining, and have dragged the entire mess into the bureaucratic mire of the National Labor Relations Board. Thousands of workers who should already have union contracts have been forced to continue their fight against the company for several years.

To heighten the contradictions to cartoonish levels, Station is owned by the billionaire Fertitta brothers, who got filthy rich when they sold the Ultimate Fighting Championship for $4 billion in 2016. The Fertittas have donated millions of dollars to the Trump campaign. In 2018, Frank Fertitta spent $25 million on his daughter’s wedding, complete with an appearance by Bruno Mars. Yet there seems to be no length to which they will not go to prevent their housekeepers from joining a union.

They are unsympathetic figures. A picket line feels almost polite, in relation to their conduct. At the rally at the Palms on Wednesday, flight attendant union leader Sara Nelson, who had come in support, called them “the frittata brothers.” D. Taylor, the hardboiled head of Unite Here—who, in shades, a ballcap and a faded t-shirt, resembled nothing so much as a high school baseball coach about to yell at everyone to run laps—was even more direct. “These guys are scumbag liars!” he shouted. “The only way we’re going to win is to kick the everloving crap out of them and beat the shit out of them.”

That is a colorful way of saying: “We recognize the value of continued organizing.” On Friday, the day before the caucuses, as the national press corps was still replaying two-day-old debate zingers, a group of 17 Culinary Union organizers involved in the Station Casinos campaign met at 9 a.m. in a second-floor conference room at the headquarters building. They were men and women, young and old, Latino and black and white, and almost all of them had been as casino workers and union members before they were organizers.

For an hour, they reviewed the past week’s work. Most important was the tally of how many union cards each person had gotten signed, with each card earning a round of applause inside the room. (One organizer who had pulled in five signed cards earned herself a day off, and the jealousy of everyone else.) Afterward, the organizers headed out for home visits. This is the true, sweaty, grinding substance of union organizing: a never-ending process of talking to people who are always busy doing other things. A never-ending process of refining and updating a master list of names. Without this work, unions don’t exist.

I set out with Oscar Diaz, a 35 year-old with a shaved head, glasses, and a goatee who had been with the Culinary Union for ten years. His father had been a Culinary Union shop steward at the Westgate, where he worked for more than 30 years. Diaz’s organizing work focuses on Boulder Station and Palace Station, two Station Casinos properties that, after years of organizing, held successful union elections in 2016.

The fact that he is still deeply engaged in organizing them four years later will give you an idea how hard the fight has been. Part of the slog is directly attributable to national politics. When the company breaks the law, the union files charges against them with the NLRB. But staffing numbers at the NLRB’s Las Vegas office, Diaz says, have been reduced under President Trump, meaning that cases take longer to work their way through the bureaucracy. The delays mean the union cards signed a year or two ago have expired; organizers must get workers to sign again.

Good organizers combine the talents of a salesperson, a private detective, a motivational speaker and a long-haul driver. With a printed list of workers’ names, Diaz drove around North Las Vegas, seeking out addresses in the expanse of identical sand-colored housing developments. The workers do not know that organizers are coming, meaning that they may be gone, or asleep, or suspicious about opening the door. But Diaz is used to navigating logistical hurdles. We reached one apartment complex only to find that we didn’t have an access code to open the front gate. Diaz hopped out of the car, peered on top of the keypad box, and found the code. “The FedEx guys will scratch it on top of the box sometimes,” he said, shrugging.

An organizer may knock on dozens of doors in a day and have only a few truly productive conversations. The ability to navigate unknown neighborhoods with little information and track down security codes and slip seamlessly between Spanish and English and read each person for signs of bias or dishonesty or confusion are all just inherent in the job. And things used to be even harder. At the beginning of the campaign, Diaz recalls, organizers got referrals with no names or addresses, just vague descriptions: “Go up Tropicana, you’ll see a house that has a statue of the Virgin Mary, knock on the back door.”

For the worker who signed a union card, Diaz will come back again another day with one of her coworkers, to recruit her to get more involved. For the workers who didn’t answer their doors, he will mark them down, and come back again, however many times are necessary to pull cohesion out of this huge group of tired, busy, far-flung people. He and his fellow organizers will do this tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. They did this for years already to get an election, and years more to try to get that election affirmed, and may do it for years more to win a contract. This is what it takes.

“Busting unions is not hard,” Diaz says. “It’s playing with people’s fears.” During the long Station Casinos campaign, he has seen how much effort it takes to counteract intransigent bosses that possess enormous advantages in time and money. The people that they are up against have billions of dollars. The Culinary Union has Oscar Diaz, and all of the other organizers, who will find out where you live and convince you to stand up for yourself. With those tools, the Culinary Union has organized Las Vegas. Organizing beats money, even if it takes a very, very long time.

Saturday was caucus day. The caucus for workers at the Bellagio, one of the more opulent properties on the strip, was held in a ballroom, where 100 chairs were set out on garish paisley carpet under crystal chandeliers. Around 11 a.m., small groups of housekeepers wearing their dark blue uniforms began trickling in, taking seats and trying to ignore the mass of cameras at the back of the room, where every network and news outlet had gathered to witness this immodest open demonstration of democracy.

Most of the caucus-goers were women of color. A few shared their thoughts as they waited for the proceedings to begin. Laura Flores, a housekeeper and 20-year member of the Culinary Union, said she was supporting Bernie Sanders, because of his position on health insurance.

Morena Del Cid, another Culinary Union member, who worked in the poker room and had been with the company for 30 years, was participating in her first caucus. She was supporting Bernie Sanders. “People have to make a change,” she said. Asked about his stance on Medicare For All, she replied, “I love that.”

Of 123 eligible people in the room to caucus, 75 went for Bernie Sanders in the first round, and 39 went for Joe Biden. Warren got six and Steyer got three, meaning they were not viable. One supporter of each viable candidate then had a minute to make their case to the handful of voters whose candidates didn’t make the cut. A Bellagio worker wearing a red Culinary union t-shirt spoke for Bernie Sanders, declaring, “My children and future generations should all have health care!” Medicare For All was her pitch.

The final tally was 76 votes for Bernie, 45 for Biden, and two uncommitted. Bernie ran away with the Bellagio and almost all of the other casinos on the Vegas Strip, the very heart of the Culinary Union’s territory. This set up an easy narrative about a political victory over an entrenched union leadership.

But that narrative is misleading. A union is the people in the union. The members, collectively, are its heart, its mind and its voice. In a good union, its leaders and organizers and staffers do what they do in order to give power to its members. The Culinary Union is a good union. Its members won, so it won.

After the votes had all been counted, those who had caucused filed out of the room quickly, returning to work and trying to avoid the gauntlet of media that lined the exits, bombarding them for quotes. I didn’t have the heart to press them any more. They had already spoken.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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So MANY Op-Eds Pushing Corporate “Free Trade”

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Dave JohnsonBernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s campaign criticisms of our country’s disastrous trade policies are resonating with voters. In response there has been a flurry – a blizzard – of op-eds from noted celebrity, “establishment” pundits, explaining that moving millions of jobs out of the country is good for us because it means lower prices for those who still have paychecks. They sell these lower prices as a “free lunch” that we will never have to pay for.

These opinion pieces present corporate-negotiated trade as an all-or-nothing proposition, as if there were no balanced, fair-trade alternative approaches we could take instead. In these op-eds, proponents of fair-trade agreements are called “anti-trade,” even “anti-commerce.” Many of them not only repeat the same arguments, they actually even use the same words.

This week’s Fact-Check This: Arrogance Of Elites Helps Drive The Trump Phenomenonexplored Glenn Kessler’s “fact check” that awarded Trump “four Pinocchios” for claiming that our country’s corporate-negotiated trade policies and trade deficit are costing our country jobs, wages and wealth. Kessler wrote that the reason we import so much is that “Americans want to buy these products from overseas” when the reality is that companies move jobs and production out of the country to get around paying our country’s wages, taxes and environmental protection costs. (And we let them do that because … ?)

Last week’s Has The Election Finally Killed TPP And Corporate “Free Trade”? took on a Thomas Friedman op-ed promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP):

It seems as though Thomas Friedman got in a cab driven by the head of the Chamber of Commerce … talking about how great a deal the TPP is, writing, “… if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. [. . .] Our workers can compete if we level the playing field …” They’ll be buying a lot from us for sure with that $150 a month, you betcha. Meanwhile companies here that want to pay $150 a month will be closing factories and moving them there…

A Bunch More

Those were just a couple of examples, a flurry before the blizzard. Here are more.

Mark J. Perry, in “Trump is completely wrong about the U.S. trade deficit” at the Los Angeles Times, argues that our enormous, humongous $758.9 billion goods trade deficit is actually good for us, a free lunch that we will never have to pay for,

When American businesses and consumers voluntarily purchase more products from China than Chinese businesses and consumers buy from us, it does lead to a U.S. trade deficit with China. But the trade deficit can’t accurately be referred to a “loss,” because it’s based on millions of mutually agreeable individual exchanges that took place between a willing seller and a willing buyer.

In fact, you could make a strong case that China “lost” last year on trade with America, not vice versa. After all, we acquired $482 billion of merchandise made in China and they acquired only $116 billion of merchandise made in the U.S., for a net merchandise surplus of $366 billion in our favor. China “lost” a net amount of $366 billion of goods that ended up being consumed and enjoyed by Americans.

This batch of bamboozlement explains that if you’re a baker who makes a deal to “trade” by buying supplies from your neighbor in exchange for providing bread, and you buy flour and sugar from your neighbor who then presents you with a huge bill and says he used your money to set up his own bakery and advertise to your customers, this is a good thing, because now you have to come up with a way to pay that bill. Got it?

Robert J. Samuelson, writing at The Washington Post in Trade myths and realities, explains to us that moving so many jobs out of the country is good for us because the 2.4 million jobs lost to China in the last decade were only 2 percent of total payroll employment. (We lost way more than 2.4 million, but who’s counting?)

Samuelson explains that we export, and exports create jobs, ignoring the huge trade deficit that is the result of so many more imports than exports. Exports are great, but he ignores that trade must be balanced or it drains our country of jobs, wages and wealth. Worse, when imports exceed exports for decades we lose (and have lost) important parts of our overall manufacturing ecosystem. But who’s counting?

Cokie and Steve Roberts offer another rationalization for the lost jobs and wages, in “Don’t discount the benefits of trade.” They wrote, “There are always winners and losers, and the losers are both more visible and better organized.” (Laid-off workers are better organized than the Wall Street billionaires who get to pocket their paychecks?)

Their examples of their winners include, “the mom who buys cheap sneakers from Bangladesh.” Never mind the dangerous, near-slave conditions for workers in Bangladesh, and the downward pull on our own wages as Americans try to compete with that. (We could demand that Bangladesh pay decently and protect workers before we allow imports from there, but how would America’s corporate trade negotiators benefit from doing that?)

The Robertses continue, “Moreover, many of the workers losing manufacturing jobs belong to unions, and organized labor has become the most vociferous foe of new trade deals.” This begs the question, if free trade is so great for jobs and brings with it so many higher-paid export jobs, then why would organized labor be free trade’s “most vociferous foe”?

The Roberts pair offer one that we hear over and over. We should just give up, suck it up, and accept our sorry fate because, “The clock cannot be turned back. Lost manufacturing jobs will not return.”

Speaking of “jobs that aren’t coming back,” Ben Casselman, Chief Economics Writer at FiveThirtyEight, writes that “Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back.” Casselman explains that we should just give up, suck it up, and accept our sorry fate. “A plea to presidential candidates: Stop talking about bringing manufacturing jobs back from China. In fact, talk a lot less about manufacturing, period.”

He writes that we don’t need manufacturing anyway, because service sector jobs something.

It’s understandable that voters are angry about trade. The U.S. has lost more than 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect in 1994. And as Eduardo Porter wrote this week, there’s mounting evidence that U.S. trade policy, particularly with China, has caused lasting harm to many American workers. But rather than play to that anger, candidates ought to be talking about ways to ensure that the service sector can fill manufacturing’s former role as a provider of dependable, decent-paying jobs.

Casselman explains that our economy is already replacing well-paid manufacturing jobs with low-paying service sector jobs. “In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. Today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening. More than 80 percent of all private jobs are now in the service sector.”

Cassleman says candidates should start “talking about” making a service-based economy “work for workers.” With talk like that, no wonder voters are fed up with America’s corporate-favoring trade policies that sending our jobs, wages and ability to make things – including a decent living – out of the country.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on March 13, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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Democracy in Action, from the Coffeehouse to the Statehouse

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Watching another politician visit a local diner on the campaign trail, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of politicians—who, research shows, have become exponentially wealthier than the average American family—claiming to understand the daily challenges facing the middle class. Outside of the campaign trail, do our elected officials know what it’s like to have to clock in and out, or live paycheck to paycheck?

With the cost of campaigning growing dramatically with every election, it’s almost impossible for regular working people to run for office, leaving many of us to wonder if our elected representatives truly understand our struggles and represent us in the halls of power. How we can ever expect policymakers to share our concerns as their wealth further removes them from the day-to-day experiences of Americans who are trying to stay afloat in this economy? Aside from campaign finance reform, how can we fix the disconnect between elected officials and the people they represent?

One potential solution comes from the labor movement. Unions across the country have been encouraging their members—often workers from solidly middle-class backgrounds and professions—to run for elected office at the local, state, and even federal level.

As union members, workers can ascend as leaders by taking on active roles in negotiating collective bargaining agreements on behalf of their colleagues to help protect their fellow members’ interests on the job. These positions require both an enormous amount of transparency, accountability, and leadership—bargaining leads can’t just spin, smile, and handshake their way out of a bad deal. They need to look their colleagues straight in the eye and work next to them after a vote’s over.

Las Vegas is home to the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, a union which is actively proving how to run a citizen farm team by engaging and recruiting future political stars through the ranks of its membership. Las Vegas may not seem like a typical training ground for politicos, but through leadership roles with their union, members are learning the skills necessary to serve in public office.

Maggie Carlton is a Local 226 member who waitressed at the Treasure Island casino coffee shop. She got hands-on leadership training while participating in negotiations for three major collective bargaining agreements, covering casinos across the strip.

Carlton was inspired by her ability to impact the lives of her colleagues and wanted to do more for them and others in the community. With the support of her union, she eventually ran for public office and won. Through leadership positions she held within her union, Carlton gained experience directly crafting workplace policy and advocating for workers’ interests. She brought these skills with her when she moved to the Nevada Statehouse, first as a state senator and then as an assemblyperson.

Once a working mom like Carlton is elected into office, she doesn’t forget where she came from. In the current era of political back-scratching, we could easily conclude that a union recruiting their members to run for office is just an attempt to pack legislatures with union sympathizers. But in fact, when American Rights at Work analyzed the 1994–2011 voting records of federal legislators who either had a working-class or middle-class occupation or who self-identified as a union member, we found that a politician’s union background significantly and positively influenced his or her likelihood of taking a policy position benefiting all working families, not just unions. Members with a union background had more “worker-friendly” voting records on issues ranging from protecting Social Security and unemployment to enacting stronger workplace safety laws workplace discrimination even when controlling for other factors, including party affiliation.

Politicians love to extol the virtues and the values of hard work—in their stump speeches, press releases, and in debates. But how many of them are going to bat legislatively for those who work hard for a living? Clearly, an individual’s life experiences and personal history shape how they vote. We need to elect more working moms, public teachers, nurses, truck drivers, and small business owners: people who bring the real perspective and values of working people to the table when developing policy that affects our daily lives.

This article was originally published at American Rights at Work on October 3, 2012.

About the Author: Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs with Justice (JwJ) and American Rights at Work. Jobs with Justice works to build a strong, progressive labor movement working in concert with community, faith, and student organizations to build a broader global movement for economic and social justice. In over 45 communities in 25 states, JwJ local coalitions are organizing to address issues impacting working families. American Rights at Work is an independent labor policy and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the right to organize and collectively bargain.


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Company Denies Creating Jobs in Indiana Because of Anti-Union Law

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Laura ClawsonIndiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has been bragging about a secret list. It’s the list of companies that he claims are thinking about moving to Indiana and creating jobs there because of the passage of the state’s new right to work free rider law, and it’s 28 companies long, three of them supposedly committed to moving to Indiana. That sounds like a genuine boost to a state’s economy. The catch is that the only company Daniels has been able to name as having brought jobs to Indiana because of the anti-union law says that’s not actually what happened:

MBC Group President Eric Holloway said Thursday that he always planned to expand his Brookville operations and that a state news release issued two weeks ago mistakenly quoted him as saying “right to work” legislation factored into his decision.

“We are not a union shop. The effect that this was going to have was not going to affect our decision one way or another,” said Holloway, whose company estimates that its planned $4.1 million expansion will create up to 101 new jobs.

When your evidence that a law is creating jobs is 28 companies you can’t name and one that says the jobs it’s creating have nothing to do with your law, that’s called grasping at straws. Also “making shit up.”

*Disclaimer: The opinions of the author are the opinions of the author alone and not those of Workplace Fairness.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.


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Employee Rights Short Takes: GOP Private Club Sued For Race Discrimination, Latino Discrimination On The Rise And More

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It’s a political week, so here are a few short takes – admittedly- with a political twist::

GOP Social Club Sued For Racial Discrimination

The National Republican Club of Capitol Hill, an exclusive club known to be the place where the DC Republican “backroom deals” get made, is being sued for raImage: Republicance discrimination by its former human resource manager. The plaintiff, Kim Crawford,  alleges that she was repeatedly passed over for raises while “less qualified, less deserving male and white counterparts were given” increases.

Crawford also claims she was fired in July after investigating a racial complaint from the club’s acting executive chef. Race discrimination in employment and retaliation are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more about it read here.

Being A Liberal And Hating Sarah Palin May Be Genetic

I must say this story caught my eye – particularly since we have three generations of Sarah Palin bashers in my immediate family. A new study in the Journal of Politics, as reported in Time,  says that there’s a biological explanation why some people favor big government, oppose the death penalty and can’t stand Sarah Palin – and it’s called the liberal gene.

The DRD4-7R gene affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine has already been linked to a personality type driven to seek out new experiences. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard University hypothesized that this predisposition might affect political beliefs.

The researches suspect that the D4 novelty seekers would have more exposure to a wider variety of lifestyles, a wider circle of friends and more exposure to broader  views, attitudes and beliefs. Apparently, all of this does have an effect on D4 inidviduals’ political views and the new study bears out their hypothesis  —  those born with the D4 gene are more liberal. It’s all quite interesting. I wonder if we’re going to hear about a conservative gene too?

More Latinos Concerned About Discrimination

Nearly two thirds of Latinos in the United States think that discrimination against Hispanics is a “major problem” according to a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center. There are 47 million Latinos in the US, which make up 15% of the population and constitute the nation’s largest minority group. According to the study:

Asked to state the most important factor leading to discrimination, a plurality of 36% now cite immigration status, up from a minority of 23% who said the same in 2007. Back then, a plurality of respondents-46%-identified language skills as the biggest cause of discrimination against Hispanics.

The Pew study was released days before the mid-term elections in which the Latino vote is expected to play an important role, particularly in the Florida gubernatorial race and Nevada Senate contest between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Tea Party Republican Sharon Angle. Anlge has been sharply criticized for ads run in recent weeks which portray Latinos as menacing interlopers. 17% of voters in Nevada are Latinos who are expected to vote in high numbers this Tuesday.

images: ktnv.images.worldnow rlv.zcache.com politicalmuse.com

This article was originally posted on Employee Rights Blog.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.


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