Wisconsin Anti-Union Law Struck Down; Chicago Teachers Rock Social Media; Victory at Hot & Crusty

Mike Elk

The Chicago Teachers Unions has gained wild popularity on Facebook.

Every week, In These Times rounds up the labor cov­er­age that we missed the week before. Please send sto­ries to mike@​inthesetimes.​com .

In a major labor vic­to­ry, Wis­con­sin cir­cuit court Judge Juan Colas, who immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States from Colom­bia at age 5, has struck down key parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union law. Colas’ deci­sion restores col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights for city, coun­ty and school-dis­trict employ­ees, but still main­tains the anti-col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing law for state and Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin employees.

Colas ruled that as it was applied to munic­i­pal and school-dis­trict employ­ees, the law vio­lat­ed both the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion and the Wis­con­sin State Con­sti­tu­tion. From the Wis­con­sin Jour­nal Sen­tinel:

Colas ruled that the law vio­lat­ed work­ers’ con­sti­tu­tion­al rights by deny­ing to union work­ers cer­tain pow­ers avail­able to their nonunion coun­ter­parts. The deci­sion could still be over­turned on appeal – the Supreme Court has already restored the law once in June 2011 after it was blocked by a dif­fer­ent Dane Coun­ty judge ear­li­er that year.

The deci­sion essen­tial­ly cre­ates the (2011) sta­tus quo for munic­i­pal employ­ees and school dis­trict employ­ees because it declared that the essen­tial pro­vi­sions of Act 10 to be uncon­sti­tu­tion­al,” said Lester Pines, an attor­ney for the Madi­son teach­ers and city of Mil­wau­kee employ­ees who are plaintiffs.

School dis­tricts and local offi­cials will have to return to the bar­gain­ing table with their work­ers in a much more sig­nif­i­cant way. The deci­sion rais­es a host of ques­tions about changes in pay, ben­e­fits and work rules that have tak­en place in the mean­time while bar­gain­ing was essen­tial­ly dead.

Under Walk­er’s law, both the state and local gov­ern­ments were pro­hib­it­ed from bar­gain­ing over any­thing besides a cost of liv­ing salary adjust­ment. Oth­er issues such as health ben­e­fits, pen­sions, work­place safe­ty and oth­er work rules were strict­ly off limits.

Those can all now be bargained.

Polling in Chica­go has shown that city res­i­dents back the Chica­go Teach­ers Union in its strike against Chica­go Pub­lic Schools. One expla­na­tion may come from the CTU’s savvy use of social media to reach out direct­ly to com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. From WBEZ:

The union picked up 16,000 new Face­book fans since the strike began. As an admin­is­tra­tor of a Face­book page, I can attest that is a very envi­able traf­fic graph. For the CTU, this activ­i­ty did­n’t come by acci­dent. [CTU Social Media and Video Direc­tor Ken­zo] Shi­ba­ta says he’s been train­ing union mem­bers for months. We have focused a lot of atten­tion on social media through this strike. We knew that we could not rely com­plete­ly on tra­di­tion­al media to tell the sto­ry, so we empow­ered our mem­bers to become cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists on the ground,” Shi­ba­ta said in an email interview.

He prais­es union lead­er­ship for being for­ward look­ing in chang­ing his posi­tion from Pub­li­ca­tions Edi­tor to New Media Spe­cial­ist. He con­sid­ers him­self an online orga­niz­er.” The union claims close to 30,000 mem­bers and has more than that total back­ing their Face­book page. Those fans have been suc­cess­ful at their online activism since more than 81,000 Face­book users have been talk­ing about CTU.

What have those activists been doing on social media? For one, they’ve been mak­ing pho­tos like this go viral. Shi­ba­ta says they’ve also been shar­ing a video the union made in August called Chica­go Teach­ers Union Vs. Astro­turf Bil­lion­aires.” The union made this video specif­i­cal­ly for mem­bers to share on social media and it has clear­ly influ­enced the agen­da of many of the march­es and signs. Their Face­book fans have also been shar­ing pho­tos and videos of those march­es (includ­ing some adap­ta­tions of Call Me Maybe”).

Inspired by OWS, work­ers at Hot & Crusty Bak­ery In New York City have won an impor­tant vic­to­ry in keep­ing their bak­ery open after Occu­py­ing for a week. From Jacobin mag­a­zine:

Fed up with long hours, abuse and sub-min­i­mum wages, some of the work­ers even­tu­al­ly end­ed up at Zucot­ti Park after start­ing a free eight-week orga­niz­ing crash course at the Laun­dry Work­ers Cen­ter (anoth­er grass­roots insti­tu­tion about to cel­e­brate its first birth­day). Some of the employ­ees then joined the Immi­grant Work­er Jus­tice Work­ing Group, an OWS com­mit­tee formed to address the lack of immi­grant voic­es in Occu­py. Through that milieu, the work­ers com­ple­ment­ed their grass­roots cam­paign by plug­ging in to New York’s mush­room­ing activist network.

The com­mu­ni­ty sup­port and the Occu­py sup­port in this cam­paign were absolute­ly crit­i­cal,” said Nas­taran Mohit, an orga­niz­er with the Laun­dry Work­ers Cen­ter. Occu­piers and oth­er activists pro­vid­ed a sol­id com­mu­ni­ty sup­port sys­tem,” she said. They helped spread the word about the cam­paign, and attend­ed demon­stra­tions on short notice.

A recent law­suit about farm­work­ers employed as sub­con­tract­ed work­ers have far reach­ing effects to com­bat a grow­ing trend of wage theft. From the Amer­i­can Prospect:

Farm-labor con­trac­tors give Amer­i­can pro­duce grow­ers what com­pa­nies like China’s Fox­conn offer to Apple: a way to out­source a cost­ly and com­pli­cat­ed part of the busi­ness, often sav­ing mon­ey in the process and cre­at­ing a fire­wall between the brand and the work­ing con­di­tions under which its prod­ucts are made. The con­trac­tor sys­tem makes it very dif­fi­cult to enforce wage and hour laws because the idea is that the grow­er says, It’s not me, it’s him. It’s the con­trac­tor. I had noth­ing to do with this,’” says Rob Williams, direc­tor of the Migrant Farm­work­er Jus­tice Project of Flori­da Legal Ser­vices and a lead­ing farm-labor advo­cate. The case by Vil­lalo­bos and Gomez, their lawyers say, offers a text­book exam­ple of abuse with­in the con­tract­ing system.

Unlike most farm-labor cas­es filed each year, Vil­lalo­bos is a col­lec­tive action” suit. This des­ig­na­tion broad­ens the case beyond the named plain­tiffs and opens the case to any work­er who can prove he or she expe­ri­enced the same treat­ment at the hands of the defen­dants between 2008 and 2011. We’re expect­ing it will cov­er hun­dreds if not thou­sands of work­ers,” says Megan Bea­man, an attor­ney for Cal­i­for­nia Rur­al Legal Assis­tance, the non­prof­it farm­work­er advo­ca­cy group that filed the suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court. If the court finds in favor of Vil­lalo­bos and Gomez on all counts, the award per client could reach tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. Mul­ti­plied across hun­dreds of work­ers, this could be enough to deter oth­er employ­ers from cre­at­ing those same con­di­tions,” Bea­man says. The case, in oth­er words, isn’t just about claim­ing back wages for its plain­tiffs but about chal­leng­ing the broad­er cul­ture of abuse in their workplace.

Although the case is lim­it­ed to agri­cul­tur­al work­ers, oth­er indus­tries may be close­ly watch­ing it. By nam­ing the grow­er as a defen­dant, the case con­fronts one of the thorni­est prob­lems fac­ing Amer­i­can work­ers: the rise of sub­con­tract­ed labor and the ques­tion of who is respon­si­ble when abuse occurs. If you think about the jobs we can’t out­source and will stay here, that’s where you see a lot of sub­con­tract­ing going on,” says Cather­ine Ruck­elshaus, legal co-direc­tor of the Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project, a pol­i­cy advo­ca­cy group. Sub­con­tract­ing has sprawled into oth­er low-wage jobs in con­struc­tion, jan­i­to­r­i­al, secu­ri­ty, health-care, house­keep­ing, and ware­house indus­tries, often at name-brand com­pa­nies like Ama­zon and Wal-Mart. It’s kind of like Whac-A-Mole. If you go after the small­er-lev­el con­trac­tors, they just pop up again on anoth­er site,” says Ruck­elshaus. You have to go up to the next lev­el — or the lev­el above — to make the pat­terns change.”

IBEW’s pen­sion fund this week sued Wal-Mart over its alleged role in the Mex­i­can bribery scan­dal. From Indi­ana Pub­lic Media:

In April, the New York Times pub­lished an inves­tiga­tive arti­cle that said Wal-Mart’s Mex­i­co sub­sidiary had been brib­ing Mex­i­can offi­cials to obtain store con­struc­tion permits.

That sparked the Cal­i­for­nia State Teach­ers’ Retire­ment Sys­tem or Cal­STRS and the city of New York to file suit against Wal-Mart direc­tors, say­ing they breached their fidu­cia­ry duties to the company’s share­hold­ers by cov­er­ing up the scandal.

Then they asked a much small­er share­hold­er, Indi­ana Elec­tri­cal Work­ers Pen­sion Trust Fund IBEW, to join their suit.

The IBEW funds’ attor­ney Stu­art Grant says the oth­er plain­tiffs were rely­ing heav­i­ly on infor­ma­tion from the New York Times arti­cle for their suit, but the Indi­ana pen­sion fund prop­er­ly request­ed com­pa­ny infor­ma­tion that could reveal whether the exec­u­tives knew about the bribery. And that infor­ma­tion, Grant says, could hold up bet­ter in court.

They used the tool at hand to make a demand on the com­pa­ny for its books and records so that they could have the accu­rate facts in order to put togeth­er a com­plaint that would with­stand scruti­ny,” he says.

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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