Posts Tagged ‘union’

5-5-12 038 “Don’t trust your employer to say everything’s all right,” says Al Bouchard, a member of NH COSH and an advocate for workers injured by chemical exposure.









Re-Awakening the Spirit of 1912

NASHUA — Keeping their fingers crossed that the biggest legislative battles of the year are behind us, union members and labor allies rallied in Nashua on May 5 to raise spirits for whatever struggles lie ahead.  The “Solid as Granite” rally drew about 75 people to the Greeley Park band shell. 

The mood was defensive and defiant sixteen months into an intense State5-5-12 004 House battle that isn’t over yet.  “We will not be intimidated.  We will not go away,” shouted Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO.  

With two right-to-work-for-LESS bills tabled in the State Senate, prospects are good that Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien’s anti-labor onslaught has been stopped.  But the Speaker, who recently took other proposals sidelined by the Senate and re-attached them as amendments to other measures, 5-5-12 011 may have more tricks up his sleeves. 

“Do not let up on any of us,” said Rep. Mary Gorman, one of ten local Representatives recognized for their “dedication to the middle class.”

The role of unions in creating and defending the middle class is by now well established.  Labor would be making a mistake, however, if it fails to connect with the issues facing people who aspire to the middle class.  Diana Lacey, president of the state’s largest union, was the only labor speaker who explicitly linked labor’s agenda to the needs of the poor.  5-5-12 012

Lacey, whose mom migrated from Mexico, also linked labor’s agenda to the importance of stopping the Arizonification of America.  She was also the one who mostly clearly identified labor with “the 99%.” 

MacKenzie also understands that labor’s fortunes are tied to other sectors, including “the religious community who care about the labor movement.” 

“That’s how we gonna take back the state of New Hampshire,” MacKenzie said.  I’m not sure we ever really had it, but his point is well taken.  With O’Brien already running again for Speaker, the 2012 election is looming large for labor. 

Other speakers included Robert Sherman of the Nashua Federation of Teachers;  Paul O’Connor from the Metal Trades Council at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; Magnus Pardoe of the Nashua chapter of SEIU 1984; Ed Foley of the Sheet Metal Workers; Ed Barnes of the Mail Handlers; Craig Lange of the new union of Community College adjunct faculty; and Laura Hainey of the AFT.   Matt Murray, editor of NH Labor News, served as emcee.  Gerry O’Connor spoke about growing up in Lowell and made reference to the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912.

If the New Hampshire unions are working hard to stand their ground and defend the4-28-12 008 status quo, labor activists and scholars a few miles south are looking back to 1912 in order to look forward.  The 100th anniversary of the landmark “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts has occasioned a variety of cultural programs, including last week’s  Academic Symposium.  300 people ranged between several buildings in the city’s historic mill district for workshops on topics as diverse as “Music and Culture and Labor History,” “The Strike and Immigration in the Classroom,” The Importance of Strike Activity in Building New Unions,” and “The Legacies of Labor’s Response to Racism.” 

One hundred years ago thousands of workers, mostly immigrants and about half women, walked out of Lawrence’s mills when employers cut their pay.  According to the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee,

What started as a wage protest quickly became a fight for better conditions both on and off the job. The strikers angrily complained about mistreatment by overseers and a job pace that made them work “like horses.” They also objected to a premium system that held part of their expected earnings hostage to month-long production and attendance standards.

After eight weeks of strike activity led by the Industrial Workers o4-28-12 007f the World, the bosses gave in and granted a 15% pay hike, with the biggest raises going to  the lowest paid workers.

The Centennial is “an incredible event for my family being able to reclaim our own history,” said Donna San Antonio, whose grandparents participated in the 1912 strike and who now teaches educators.   

While there were plenty of professors at the symposium, everyone present seemed eager to apply scholarship to current struggles for workers and immigrants.  That group includes the last unionized textile workers 4-28-12 015 in the city, 500 UNITE HERE Local 311 members working at Polartec.  “We continue to fight for bread and roses in our community,” said Juan Williams, who spoke at a lunchtime plenary that also featured AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. 

At an afternoon workshop other Polartec workers explained that they have better benefits than non-union workers in the city and that the union helps them solve workplace problems.  “If you have no union and someone doesn’t like you, there’s no way to defend yourself,” said a worker named Tony.   Another worker, Anya, said she has developed leadership skills through her union activity. 4-28-12 039 “Thanks to the union I have the opportunity to go anywhere to express myself,” she said. 

Formerly known as Malden Mills, the company where the Local 311 members work had a massive fire in 1995.  In the aftermath, the company shrunk from 2500 workers to 1000 and got bought out by Versa, a private equity firm which tried to cut benefits.  But the union is hanging on.

Labor’s resurgence is an essential ingredient of halting the drift toward plutocracy and lifting up the spirit of 1912.

In the words of James Oppenheim’s now famous poem,

No more the drudge and idler,

Ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life’s glories:

Bread and roses, bread and roses.






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This year’s drama over proposed Right-to-Work legislation hit a climax today5-12-11 006 when the Senate voted to table HB 1677, the latest version of this anti-labor proposal that has been kicking around the State House for decades.

This was not the defeat we would have preferred, but as NH AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie said at an impromptu rally on the State House steps, it’s a “step in the right direction.”

HB 1677 was the third bill on the Senate agenda this morning.  As soon as it NH House 5-25-11 024 came up, Senator Jim Forsythe moved to table it.  The non-debatable motion was quickly approved on a voice vote, with no apparent dissent.  Dozens of labor activists in the Senate Gallery seemed a little stunned by how quickly it had happened.  

HB 1677 can be removed from “the table” and put back on the Senate agenda any time by a majority vote, but this bad idea seems to be dead for the year.  Unlike their House colleagues, Senate Republicans apparently decided there was not point in waging a losing battle since their prospects for over-riding a promised veto were slim.

“Hopefully, we won’t see 1677 again,” MacKenzie said .

The message of today’s vote is that the attack on the rights of workers “will not stand in the state of New Hampshire,” said the Rev. Gail Kinney.

Still alive in the Senate is HB 383, a version of “right to work” that applies only to state employees.  This one should meet a similar fate.

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Robert Borosage has a good column on Huffington Post today with uvet park 10-15 onh3seful facts about CEO pay and middle class wage stagnation (tied to declining union density) as the major causes of widening inequality. He makes reference to another piece by Harold Meyerson, who quotes recent studies by Emmual Saez (on how the richest Americans are recovering from the Great Recession) and the Center for American Progress (on the link between union membership and middle class status).

Here’s a few excerpts and the links:

Robert Borosage, “The 1% Stike Back”

“In 2010, as the economy began its slow recovery from the Great Recession, a new study shows the richest 1% of Americans captured a staggering 93% of all income growth, while the incomes of most Americans stagnated. 93%. Occupy that. The 1% are back.”



Harold Meyerson, “The Rich are Different, the Get Richer”

“While never putting a premium on economic equality, America has always prided itself on being the preeminent land of economic opportunity. If all of this nation’s wealth is captured by a narrow stratum of the very rich, however, that claim is relegated to history’s dustbin.”


Emmanual Saez, “Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”

“[B]ased on the US historical record, falls in income concentration due to economic downturns are temporary unless drastic regulation and tax policy changes are implemented and prevent income concentration from bouncing back. Such policy changes took place after the Great Depression during the New Deal and permanently reduced income concentration until the 1970s. In contrast, recent downturns, such as the 2001 recession, lead to only very temporary drops in income concentration.”


David Madland and Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress, “Unions Make Democracy Work for the Middle Class”

“As our research and a number of academic studies find,2 unions strengthen the middle class and significantly reduce economic inequality. In fact studies indicate that the decline in union density explains as much of today’s record level of inequality as does the increasing economic return of a college education.
Most research on the importance of unions to the middle class tends to focus on how unions improve market wages for both union and nonunion workers.4 This research is no doubt vital, but it gives short shrift to the critical role unions play in making democracy work for the middle class.
Unions help boost political participation among ordinary citizens—especially among members, but also among nonunion members.”


And by the way, the “neo-plutocracy” quote comes from Harold Meyerson.  

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Two hundred teachers, firefighters, state employees, and other labor activists filled seats in Representatives Hall this afternoon to testify against several anti-labor bills, including one which would destroy the right of public sector workers to form unions.

Rep. Andrew Manuse, one of the sponsor of HB 1645. told the House Labor Committee “public sector unions are contrary to the public good.”  labor committee 1-19-12 026

His co-sponsor, Rep.George Lambert, was a little less blunt.  “What we have is a  structure that needs to be modified,” he said.  Although the staff of Legislative Services “did exactly what I asked them to do” when they drafted the bill, Lambert said he would propose amended language to fix what he called “unintended consequences.”  

Rep. Gary Daniels, chair of the House Labor Committee, labor committee 1-19-12 011 said he would convene another public hearing if the amended bill is “drastically different.”  

With the exception of the lobbyist for New England Right to Work (for less), John Kalb, every speaker opposed the bill in a hearing that went on for over two hours.

Members of the public erupted in applause after a statement by the Rev. Gail Kinney of the S. Danbury United Church of Christ, who told legislators that faith communities have consistently spoken out in favor of the right to bargain collectively.  The Roman Catholic Church has spoken out“Pope labor committee 1-19-12 027crop after Pope, encyclical after encyclical …Protecting the rights of workers “makes our beloved community stronger,” she said.

Gail and I both reminded the committee that the 1968 strike of sanitation workers in Memphis, during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, hinged on the rights of public sector workers to organize, bargain collectively, and have their dues voluntarily deducted from their paychecks.  

While legislators can try to take away the legal rights of workers, they cannot take away our human rights, nor can they take away the determination of workers to identify their common interest and act in solidarity.

Other bills considered today included renewed attempts to impose right-to-work conditions on public sector workplaces, prohibit dues deductions, and impair the ability of county officials to negotiate with their unions.  

Members of Occupy New Hampshire also visited the State House today to deliver a pro-labor message to Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien.  The Speaker was apparently not receptive. 

There’s more to come in the coming weeks, including the bill to limit membership on the Public Employees Labor Relations Board to business people, and one to end the mandatory lunch break.  And we’ll have our eyes on Rep. Lambert’s new proposal regarding the public sector.  

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labor committee 1-19-12 008 Two hundred union activists and allies poured into a hearing room this morning to oppose the first of several bills to weaken the power of organized labor. The first hearing, which started at 9 am, would forbid union dues to be deducted from private or public sector paychecks, while all other forms of payroll deduction would still be legal. 

Rep. Susan DeLemus, prime sponsor of HB labor committee 1-19-12 002 1163, said “I just want it to focus on union dues.”

“Right to work failed and those who backed it are using smaller ways to attack and destroy collective bargaining,” said Ted “O’Brien, a retired union member.“

Bills scheduled for later in the day include a ban on collective bargaining for public employees.  A rally is scheduled for 1 PM led by the national president of the Firefighters Union.

Chairman Daniels has just announced the hearings will move to Representatives Hall.

labor committee 1-19-12 010


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More Snapshots from Occupy the NH Primary

2012 01 07 machester occupy the primary 069 

The highlight of Saturday afternoon was definitely the GLBT March from Veterans Park to Victory Park by way of the Bank of America.  I counted 200 people, some chanting “1,2,3,4, Open Up Your Closet Door, 5,6,7,8, Don’t Assume Your 2012 01 07 machester occupy the primary 111 Kids Are Straight,”  while others chanted “Ru Paul Not Ron Paul,” and the ever popular “We are the 99%.”  Since all the chants were going on simultaneously in a procession that stretched across a city block, it was interesting to hear an impassioned marcher at a short Victory Park assembly express how great it felt that “we’re all saying the same thing.”  Despite the irony, her meaning was obvious: there was a spirit of solidarity of the Occupy movement with gays and lesbians whose lives are under attack by the Republican candidates.

I should say, the Republican candidates with one exception:  Fred Karger, a longtime Republican and gay activist who’s name will be on the GOP ballot 2012 01 07 machester occupy the primary 056 Tuesday, was part of the march.  He said he has visited Occupiers in several cities during campaign visits.  

The members of the Leftist Marching Band gave marchers a lift, as they always do.  They also joined the Funeral Procession for the American Dream prior to last night’s debate at St. Anselm College.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reports of a spirited demonstration that included more people than any of the candidates mustered.  

Given the heavily-discussed reluctance of the Occupy movement to2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 001 develop a platform, it’s worth noting that the theme of “money out of politics” is one that  resonates with everyone.  A graphic design created by Brett Chamberlin and Alex Freid, both of Durham, is omnipresent at Occupy the Primary, and even hung from the Kennedy Tower next to the Capitol Center for the Arts, where the weekend’s second debate was held this morning. 

Occupy activists clustered on the sidewalk, just north of the theatre, next to Jon Huntsman’s contingent (Huntsman supporters included a goat.  No, I don’t know its significance.).  Romney and Paul supporters likewise greeted t2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 003 crophe ticketed audience that stretched out along the sidewalk in the  middle of the Occupiers and campaign volunteers.  There may have been a few Santorum signs, too, but I didn’t spot sign-holders from the Perry or Gingrich campaigns.  A contingent of anti-Zionist rabbis, dressed in black, held the space just south of the Capitol Center entrance. 

Across the street were members of the Communications Workers of America, employees of the NH Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper and one of the debate co-sponsors.  They are in the midst of an ugly contract dispute with the paper’s publisher Joe McQuaid, who has laid off workers, increased hours without a pay raise, and essentially refused to bargain.   The CWA members were joined by visiting members of the United Auto Workers, who are spending a few days annoying GOP candidates and also meeting with labor and political allies. 

When the debate ended, at about 10:30, most everyone but t2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 013he Ron Paul and Occupy folks left.  That meant it was a good time for a wedding to be held between a corporation and a person.  I objected at the appropriate moment in  the ceremony, and said that in New Hampshire a man can marry a woman, a man can marry a man, and a woman can marry a woman, but neither a man nor a woman can marry a corporation since, despite Mitt Romney’s claim, corporations are not people.  

 The Occupiers and Ron Paul groups shifted locations to the south side of the theatre, where the candidates’ vehicles were parked.  There, joined by a handful of reporters and unaffiliated Primary 2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 031 crop gawkers, they waited for the candidates to emerge.  As each candidate left the building and got into his car, Brett delivered a short, personalized speech for each one, with help of the people’s mic.  The only exception was Rick Santorum, who was greeted by a loud, spontaneous chorus of boos from all, including the Paulists.

That seemed to be a common enough reaction to the former Senator that he cancelled his remaining New Hampshire campaign events and flew off to South Carolina, where he no d2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 039oubt hopes to get a warmer reception. 

Occupy the NH Primary re-convened in Veterans Park for an evening General Assembly.  Topics included a debrief of the previous night’s action, a report on communications with the Manchester police, proposed actions for Monday, and ideas for other gatherings of Occupiers from northeastern states. 

2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 041

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Workers – and their allies – are getting ready to fight back

The 2012 session of the New Hampshire legislature, known formally at “the General Court,” began yesterday with debates over usury (they are for it) and guns (they’re for those, too, also crossbows).  Today they resumed with debate over HB 383, a bill to weaken the organized force of state employees by barring union contracts that require non-members to pay an “agency fee.”  As several speakers noted, this is essentially the same argument that went on all last year over Right-to-Work-for-Less, a debate that finally ended November 30 when the Speaker end the war on public servants of the House failed to get the two-thirds majority he needed to over-ride the governor’s veto of HB 474.   

Today’s vote was 212 to 128 in favor of HB 383.  While the 84 vote margin might look like a lot, it is 15 votes short of the magic two-thirds needed by anti-union legislators to over-ride another expected veto.  Of course, 60 members were absent, but labor activists have a pretty good idea which side they are on, and they are feeling reasonably confident this proposal can be stopped.

But they better be prepared for an onslaught of new legislation to destroy collective bargaining, privatize services, weaken safety programs, and even take away the right to a lunch break. 

The intent of some bills is obvious in their titles:

HB 1645, “prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,”

HB 1189, establishing a committee to study the privatizing of county corrections operations,” and

HB 1206, “prohibiting the state from withholding union dues from the wages of state employees.”

For others, one needs to read the bills to understand their intent:

HB 1163, “relavigil 3-31 batch 2 027tive to the withholding union dues from wages,” the purpose of which is to “prohibit employers from withholding union dues from employees’ wages.”

HB 1513, “changing the membership of the public employee labor relations board.”  This one states that the 5-member PELRB would consist only of people who “own or shall have previously owned a business in New Hampshire, and that “no person who is currently, or was previously, employed by the federal government or a state or municipal government shall be a member of the board.”

Then there’s HB 1574, “relative to an employee’s lunch or eating period.”  This bill “repeals the requirement that an employer grant an employee a ½ hour lunch or eating period after 5 consecutive hours of work.”

We will need spirit and fortitude to make it through the session.  That’s why it’s a good thing that an alliance between faith leaders and the labor movement is growing stronger.  In fact, there will be an Interfaith Service for Economic Justice next Thursday, January 12, at 4 PM, at St. Paul’s Church in Concord.  The featured speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, former president of the United Church of Christ and now the Policy Director at the Washington office of Interfaith Worker Justice.   

Public hearings have not yet been scheduled for most of these bills. 

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