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Working In These Times

Monday, Oct 22, 2012, 11:26 am

Jerry Tucker Dies; Even More Workplace Political Intimidation; Collusion in Pro Sports Lockouts?

BY Mike Elk

Every week, In These Times rounds up the labor news of the week that we missed. Email stories to mike@inthesetimes.com.

Legendary dissident United Auto Workers organizer Jerry Tucker died on Friday. From Labor NotesMark Brenner:

Jerry Tucker's name is legendary, and on so many fronts. He led the successful effort to beat back a right-to-work referendum in Missouri in 1978, uniting unions and farm organizations. He reintroduced work-to-rule strategies to UAW plants, winning critical early fights against concessions (read about them in the Troublemaker's Handbook).

As the concessions trend picked up steam, Jerry stood at the head of the New Directions Movement within the UAW in the 1980s, pledged to resist both givebacks and the "partnership" mentality. He dared to run for UAW regional director against the "jointness" candidate—and won, despite a slew of dirty tricks.

Jerry later turned to advising workers and unions in a host of industries. His tactics were adopted by the workers at the Staley plant in Decatur, Illinois, before and during their lockout, as detailed in the book Staley.

Earlier this week, In These Times unearthed an audio recording of a conference call from June in which Mitt Romney told business owners (members of the right-leaning National Federation of Independent Businesses) that they should tell their employees how to vote. Now an investigation by Lee Fang of The Nation exposes that a large number of corporations are gearing up to campaign among their employees. From The Nation:

The effort may spread like wildfire in offices and factories across the country. On Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying association that represents companies like Dow Chemical and Prudential Financial, kicked off a campaign to have employers stuff payroll envelopes with explicit campaign propaganda. The first political mailer is being distributed in Massachusetts and in bold letters reads “Defeat U.S. Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren.”

The Chamber, ABC News reports, says it hopes to reach 7 million people.

“The real concern here is…the inherent power dynamics between employees and their employers,” Adam Skaggs, a senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, explained recently on Current TV. An official e-mail from the boss saying something like “your job could depend on who wins the race” could be interpreted as coercion or intimidation, said Skaggs.

Another Nation reporter, George Zornick, reveals that former Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain is going around the country trying bosses in how to pressure their workers to vote for Romney. From The Nation:

Mitt Romney landed in hot water this week when In These Times reported his remarks on a conference call with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, in which he told business owners that “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.” But Cain’s tour represents a much deeper and well-organized effort by the GOP to use what borders on workplace intimidation to influence this fall’s vote—and one that has largely gone on below the radar.

 Before each event, which are happening exclusively in swing states, invites go out to business owners through local Tea Party groups. The lunches are always free, and during nice meals business owners are plied with information about how President Obama’s re-election will supposedly damage their bottom lines. They are also given multiple pamphlets containing similar information, and instructed to pass them out to employees. Cain said he has already made contact with 1,600 small business owners since beginning the tour.

Unlike Romney, who used a bit of tact on that conference call (saying employees should vote “whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama,”) the materials and speeches leave little doubt about who employees are supposed to vote for. There are occasional disclaimers that this is a nonpartisan exercise, but they border on nonsensical. “This is not a party stance. The mission is to defeat Barack Obama,” Cain said Friday in Philadelphia.

Another group of striking miners in South Africa, 23,000 employees of Gold Fields, in have received an ultimatum from their boss: Return to work or be fired. From Reuters:

 According to his "final ultimatum" to wildcat strikers, Gold Fields chief executive Nick Holland is hours away from firing 23,000 miners.

In the poisonous atmosphere of the worst industrial unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid, everything points to him making good on his threat on Thursday, adding to the 15,000 men already sacked by platinum mines in the last two weeks.

The numbers are dramatic, and have political implications for President Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress (ANC), since each miner probably supports up to 10 dependents.

The reality, however, is that the mass dismissals are just another tactic - albeit a hard-ball one - in the long standoff between management and workers over pay and conditions. When a deal is finally reached, most will get their jobs back.

There have been four professional-sports lockouts in the last 14 months. A new piece by Dave Zirin in The Nation raises serious questions about whether or not pro sports franchises have been colluding to lock workers out. From The Nation:

I’m sure this must seem like a wild coincidence: four lockouts in fourteen months, affecting three of the four major professional sports leagues of this country. What are the odds? Actually, they’re very good. This is not merely a case of four sets of labor negotiations that have tragically broken down. This is a conscious, industry-wide strategy. A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.

 Proskauer Rose partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and Major League Baseball, and fellow-partner Bob Batterman has led negotiations for the NFL and the NHL. As Sports Business Daily reported, “Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players.”

In other words, they are the people who scuttle collective bargaining and give word when to bring on the scabs. It was the now-infamous Batterman who was lead negotiator when NHL owners locked out the players in 2005 and canceled the entire season. Ian Pulver, counsel for the NHL Players Association in 2005, said of the lawyer, “Bob Batterman is a hard-nosed, smart management attorney who leaves no stone unturned. He will do his best to attempt to execute the orders of his clients including, but not limited to, breaking unions if necessary.” When Batterman was told of Pulver’s words he said, “I would be proud to have that on my epitaph.”

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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