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Working In These Times

Saturday, Apr 14, 2012, 11:00 am

Labor News Round-up: Hungry Workers Lose, IAM Wins, and Hilary Rosen’s Anti-Labor Connections

BY Mike Elk

At the end of (almost) each week, Working In These Times highlights important labor struggles and protests that contributors weren't able to cover.

—This week, 126 workers at a new Spirit AeroSystems plant in Kinston, N.C., that is expected to eventually employ 1,000 workers voted 2-to-1 to join the International Association of Machinists (IAM).

“This is an important win for us. It allows us to build on the partnership with Spirit that the IAM has in the Wichita, KS, facility,” said Aerospace Coordinator Ron Eldridge. “We can show other aerospace workers in the South how beneficial an IAM contract is for working families. As a new plant opens and local workers are hired, it’s important that they get thorough and professional training. We plan to negotiate to make sure that Kinston employees get the training they’ll need to make great products.” 

—The California Supreme Court this week ruled in a case that could dramatically affect the abilities of workers to maintain their right to eat lunch.  Many workers are often discouraged from taking lunch breaks. Thus workers’ right advocates argue that in order to reduce workers’ fears of taking lunch breaks, employers should make lunch and rest breaks mandatory. The court ruled that employers were under no legal obligation to ensure that workers’ take mandatory lunch and rest breaks at work.

According to the AP:

Attorneys for workers said low-wage workers such as those at Chili's and other restaurants face unique issues that dissuade them from requesting meal and rest periods.

"The decision ... should have required employers to take affirmative steps to provide meal periods, and not just adopt policies that allow them," Fernando Flores of the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, said in a statement.

—Earlier this week, Democratic strategist and corporate lobbyist Hilary Rosen set off a media firestorm when she said Mitt Romney’s wife Ann “has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing.” The comments drew criticism from the Romney campaign and a denouncement from President Obama. 

Rosen may have special knowledge of the issues some workers are facing, since she works for the PR consultant firm SKDKnickerbocker, which has worked for some groups not very friendly to unions and collective bargaining rights. As Lee Fang writes at Republic Report:

– SKDKnickerbocker [consults] for Students First, a lobbying group aimed at destroying collective bargaining, and replacing public education with a mix of charters, private schools, and online learning companies. According to documents revealed by the blog At The Chalk Face, Students First helped craft bills in Michigan to break teachers unions by severely limiting collective bargaining.

– SKDKnickerbocker previously worked with the Association of American Railroads, a group representing large railroad companies. When the railroad industry was in a pitched battle with their respective labor unions, SKDKnickberbocker produced ads for the railroad lobby.

—Working-class poet Mark Nowak, author of Coal Mountain Elementary, has formed a new project with the Domestic Workers United to help domestic workers use creative writing to talk about their work experiences.

In the past, Nowak says he has developed similar workshops to help workers express themselves:

I’ve organized and run poetry workshops before with lots of trade unions and rank-and-file labor organizations—Ford workers at the St. Paul Assembly Plant in Minnesota (through the UAW), Ford workers at factories in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, South Africa (through NUMSA), formerly striking clerical workers the one semester I was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota (through AFSCME 3800), Muslim/Somali nurses (through Rufaidah), and others. 

The DWU workshop is a collaboration with PEN, who has been kind enough to send Olga Oros, a fabulous videographer, around with us to make a documentary on the workshops. And our first public event at the PEN World Voices Festival, scheduled for May 5, 2012 at the New School, will feature a 10-minute documentary clip about the DWU workshops, a reading by a number of the domestic workers who have been participating in the sessions all year, and a public conversation with the audience.

I’m often asked about the specific poets and poems I use in my workshops in the Ford plants and other workshops. Earlier this year, we were spending a good deal of time in the DWU workshops with the collaborative book of Cuban poet Nancy Morejón and US photographer Milton Rogivin, With Eyes and Soul: Images of Cuba, published by White Pine Press (one of my favorite books, which I’ve also been teaching in recent grad classes on the photo-text). Using Morejón’s poems as models, workshop participants have been writing deeply moving pieces about taking care of their employers’ babies and elderly parents across the five boroughs.

—90 Security Guards employed by AlliedBarton at the University of Pennsylvania have chosen to go with an independent union Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) instead of unionizing with SEIU. Previously, SEIU had attempted to organize 10,000 AlliedBarton security guards in Philadelphia.

SEIU cut a deal for employer neutrality with AlliedBarton nationwide on the condition that SEIU not organize in Philadelphia. (After leaving SEIU, SEIU Andy Stern went to work for a company owned by the same man that owns AlliedBarton: Ron Perelman).

Once SEIU heard that AlliedBarton security guards were going to unionize with an independent union, SEIU tried to get in on the action and persuade security guards at the University of Pennsylvania to join SEIU. Labor Notes reports:

 SEIU organizers... hit the doors [of guards who would be voting to unionize], and six PSOU organizing committee members report that [SEIU's] pitch included a promise of neutrality from AlliedBarton.

“Neutrality was not an offer that was extended to PSOU,” said Penn officer Terrell Rivers. “I wonder why. Is it because SEIU and our bosses at AlliedBarton are friends?”

SEIU organizers told workers a bigger union could win better contracts. But PSOU supporters were adamant that a union that cuts deals without inviting rank and filers into the conversation was not a union they want.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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