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Affiliate in the Spotlight: SAG-AFTRA

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020
SF-NC SAG-AFTRA Broadcast Members at KRON 5

Name of Union: Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), San Francisco – Northern California Local

Mission:  From Fresno to the Oregon border, our local works to advance, foster, promote and benefit all local SAG-AFTRA performer and broadcast members; secure and protect their rights; and assist in securing equitable compensation and safe working conditions.

Current Leadership of Union: Kathryn Howell serves as president of the SAG-AFTRA San Francisco-Northern California Local. Howell holds a BFA in theatre and has gained numerous credits in theater, film and television throughout her professional career.

She first became involved in union service through joining the Actors’ Equity Association. In the early 2000s, she began serving on committees for the region’s SAG branch and was elected its president in 2006, a leadership role she has continued, following the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012 and formation of the SAG-AFTRA San Francisco-Northern California Local.

In addition to her work on local committees, Howell has also served on the SAG legacy and SAG-AFTRA National Boards as well as the National TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee. 

Number of Members: 4,500.

Members Work As: Actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voice-over artists and other media professionals.

Industries Represented: Broadcast, film, television, online media, sound recordings, new media, streaming.

History:  The Screen Actors Guild formed in 1933 during the heyday of the Hollywood studio system, when six actors came together to discuss forming a self-governing organization of film actors. One of the new organization’s first actions was protesting provisions in the U.S. government’s proposed code of fair competition for motion pictures that were objectionable to actors, including salary limitations, licensing of agents by producers and giving studios a right of first refusal when a contract ended, an act that severely limited an actor’s bargaining power.

In 1937, the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA) formed and would eventually become the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or “AFTRA,” after the rise of television in the 1950s. San Francisco was designated as one of the first six locals in the country, with corresponding locations in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Chicago and Cincinnati. That same year, SAG negotiated its first contract with 13 producers signing on; the following year, AFRA signed its first national contract.

By 1941, both unions began to move toward more actively expanding the rights of their members. That same year, AFRA engaged in its first strike against Cincinnati-based radio station WKRC. Over a decade later, SAG would hold its first strike against television commercial companies from 1952 through the following year.

In 1959, SAG’s governing body added National Board seats for local representation from branches around the country. The first group to participate in national affairs included members from New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco.

During this time, a major shift for both unions was a stronger focus on battling discrimination, both in front of and behind the camera. SAG spent the remainder of the century dealing with the expansion of broadcast productions and the growth of new technologies that would continually change the industry well into the present day.

Talk of merging the various performer unions, including SAG and AFTRA (as it was known then), began as early as the late 1930s, but the eventually a combined SAG-AFTRA wouldn’t officially be recognized until 2012, AFTRA’s 75th anniversary year. The merger was overwhelmingly approved by the membership of each legacy union, and SAG President Ken Howard and AFTRA President Roberta Reardon became the first SAG-AFTRA co-presidents.

The national organization continues to advocate for members in the workplace, offering Diversity in Casting incentives for filmmakers and landmark industry standards and protocols for the use of intimacy coordinators. The union is also is actively ahead of the rapid changes in media distribution.

Current Campaigns/Community EffortsOn a local level, the SAG-AFTRA SF-NorCal Local now offers a Regional Commercial Code and a Corporate/Educational waiver with reduced rates and usage for projects shooting within our jurisdiction.

In addition, SF-NorCal Local business representatives serve the daily needs of members while identifying opportunities for outreach and organization. They guide local filmmakers through the process of hiring SAG-AFTRA members and work in concert with film commission offices to encourage productions to take advantage of filming incentives within the region, city and state of California.

This past year, local SAG-AFTRA broadcast members led campaign efforts to put pressure on Entercom Communications, the owner of local all-news station KCBS Radio 740AM /106.9FM and music station Alice 97.3 during negotiations of more than a dozen union contracts covering SAG-AFTRA members around the country. The members coordinated T-shirt days, held a day of action on Twitter and undertook other grassroots efforts from broadcast members and other unions on a national scale. The campaign, supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, led to SAG-AFTRA members winning fair contracts with their employer and led the way for other coordinated campaigns across the country.  

Another initiative, The Bay Area Safety Summit, is a project of local broadcast unions SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, IBEW, NABET, local television and radio news stations, and local police departments. It is aimed at promoting the safety, security and well-being of field news crews working in the Bay Area. With news crews covering difficult stories in our community and facing security issues in the field such as robberies and unruly crowds, as well as major weather events such as wildfires and floods, this group meets biannually to discuss and share best practices, protocols and efforts to improve safety.

Here’s a link to a story and pic that features members from all four television stations at a recent safety summit: https://www.sagaftra.org/standing-safety

Women in Broadcast

The Women in Broadcast initiative is an effort to forge connections and solidarity among women working in broadcast in the Bay Area. SAG-AFTRA’s local membership includes women working as anchors, reporters, editors, disc jockeys, sports announcers, producers and board operators, the focus of the initiative has been to promote women’s leadership, collectivize challenges and opportunities for women in our rapidly changing broadcast industries and to collaborate across workplaces.

Learn More: WebsiteFacebook

Government Must Act to Stop Spread of Economic and Financial Consequences of Coronavirus

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Damon A. Silvers March 10, 202

The stock market fell 7% at the open Monday morning. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a catastrophic collapse—a financial crisis type number. Typically, the market might gain or lose in a whole year the value that was lost by the time the sound of the opening bell faded.

The collapse appears to be the result of a combination of the spread of coronavirus and falling oil prices—two events that are themselves connected. But it needs to be interpreted as an alarm bell, because we are dealing with the threat of two deadly kinds of contagions—one biological and the other economic and financial—both of which pose serious but manageable threats to the well-being of working people.

We have heard a lot about biological contagion and how to stop the spread of coronavirus in our workplaces and our communities. You can get up-to-date information on workplace safety and coronavirus at www.aflcio.org/covid-19 and at the websites of our affiliated unions. But what about financial and economic contagion? This is something elected leaders, economic policymakers and financial regulators must take action to stop.

How does it work? Coronavirus is a shock to the global economy. It stops economic activity of all kinds—shutting down factories, canceling meetings, sending cruise ships into quarantine. The only way to prevent that is to stop the spread of the virus (see above). The consequence of economic activity slowing down or stopping is that businesses lose revenue, and generally with loss of revenue comes loss of profits.

People who trade on the stock market usually price stocks by making projections about the future profits of the companies whose stocks trade on the public markets. The stock market reacts instantaneously to changing expectations about what may happen in the economy and to specific businesses. The stock market itself doesn’t create or destroy jobs, but it does contribute to the overall financial health of companies and of people. When stock prices fall rapidly, they can create their own kind of contagion—exposing fragile financing structures for both companies and people. That can in turn lead to retreat—companies pulling back on investments or, in the worst case, going bankrupt.

So the stock market can create contagion all by itself. But the much more serious kind of contagion has to do with corporate debt. We have had low interest rates for years, and businesses around the world have gone on a borrowing spree. This spree has been one of the causes of relatively healthy economic growth in the last few years, but it has also led to businesses carrying a lot of debt relative to their earnings and growth. 

Here is where the danger gets very real, because, as we all know, if you borrow money, you have to make payments on that debt. What if businesses that have borrowed a lot of money suddenly don’t have anywhere near the revenue they expected to have? This is what empty planes and blocked supply chains mean.  

If no one does anything and the coronavirus leads to months of revenue shortfalls in overleveraged companies, there is a real risk of pullbacks in investments by those companies or, worse, bankruptcy. Falling stock markets and debt defaults can lead to weak business balance sheets and to weak financial institutions. That is what financial contagion means. We saw that in 2008 when first mortgage intermediaries failed, then hedge funds and stock brokerages, and then major banks.  

Even more seriously, once investment pullbacks, bankruptcies and layoffs start, that leads, like a spreading virus, to more losses of revenue to other businesses—in other words, economic contagion. Economic contagion, once it starts, is even harder to stop than financial contagion. Economic contagion means recession, unemployment, falling wages. What makes this crisis different is that it starts with a kind of layoff—shutdown of economic activity and quarantines to stop the spread of disease. 

We need government to act to stop financial and economic contagion until the worst of the coronavirus passes and, most importantly, until everyone has a better sense of the exact nature of the threat—that is, until the uncertainty diminishes. Working people must demand that government act, or we and our families will pay the price for others’ lack of action, as we so often have in the past.

What should government do? First, it should directly address the source of economic contraction by dealing effectively with the coronavirus itself and making sure people who are sick or need to be quarantined are able to do what they need to do for themselves and for society without being impoverished. This means emergency paid sick leave for all who need it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have proposed comprehensive emergency paid sick leave for all workers; this is an urgent medical and economic necessity. We need to recognize that until the coronavirus is contained, it will be very challenging to contain the economic consequences of the virus.

Second, government should deliver financial support credit on favorable terms to sectors of the global economy that are threatened by the coronavirus and vulnerable due to overleverage. The U.S. Federal Open Market Committee took a first step in that direction last week by lowering short-term rates by 0.5 percentage point, but that is unlikely to be enough. Central banks need to work with major financial institutions to target cheap credit to vulnerable businesses—airlines, hotels, manufacturers paralyzed by broken supply chains and the like. It is time to discard the old neoliberal idea that we should let banks lend to whomever they want when we appropriately subsidize them with cheap public assets.

Third, government should provide support to the economy as a whole. Congress cannot leave this job to the Federal Reserve. We need to look at bigger emergency appropriations to support our weakened public health infrastructure, particularly hospitals; if the Chinese experience is any indication, we are going to face serious strains to the system as the coronavirus spreads. We need to look at macroeconomic stimulus—public spending to help the economy. This would best be done in the form of investment, such as finally funding infrastructure. But we also need immediate spending; that is why universal paid sick days would be such a good idea, as would be steps to improve the effectiveness of our social safety net—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—and make it easier for everyone to get the health care they need right now.

What we don’t need is the standard right-wing response to any and all problems—tax cuts for the rich. Even more than in a normal downturn, that would do harm, diverting desperately needed public resources to those who don’t need them at all.

Most of all, we need leadership and coordination among federal, state and local governments, between the U.S. government and the Fed and governments and central banks around the world, and with multinational bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization. This is critical, because neither the coronavirus nor the world financial system respects borders, and because people will succumb to fear in the absence of credible leadership.  

If Monday morning tells us anything, it’s that we need that leadership now, because once fear becomes contagious, it may be the hardest thing to stop.

Black History Month Profiles: Rev. George W. Lee

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Kenneth Quinnell February 13, 2020

Rev. George W. Lee
Wikimedia Commons

For Black History Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various African American leaders and activists who have worked at the intersection of civil and labor rights, with a particular focus on voting rights. Without access to the ballot box and an assurance that everyone’s vote counts, civil and labor rights are among the first to be taken away from working people. Today, we’re looking at the Rev. George W. Lee.

In 1955, the murder of Emmett Till shocked the United States and was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But Till wasn’t the only prominent murder of an African American in Mississippi that year and the murder of the Rev. George W. Lee not only informed the reaction to Till’s murder, but Lee’s murder was part of the pathway to the passage of the Voting Rights Act a decade later.

Lee lived in Humphreys County, which was only one county away from where Till was murdered later in the year. Before becoming an activist, Lee grew up in Edwards, Mississippi. His mother was an illiterate plantation woman who died when Lee was young. While living with his aunt, Lee successfully graduated high school, which was rare for Southern black men. He later worked in New Orleans before becoming a preacher in Belzoni, Mississippi, in the state’s delta area.

Poverty was high in Belzoni, and Lee worked hard to improve himself. He served as pastor at four different churches, opened a grocery store and his wife, Rosebud, ran a printing business out of the house. Lee was the first black person in Humphreys County to register to vote in recent memory. He and a friend Gus Courts, then co-founded a local branch of the NAACP. By 1955, Lee and Courts had registered nearly all of the county’s 90 eligible black voters. 

But local whites, led by the notorious Citizens Councils were purging black people from the voting rolls through economic pressure, intimidation and violence. Many of Belzoni’s black citizens were pressured into dropping themselves from the voting rolls, but Lee and Courts stood firm. Lee was a vice president in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. The organization not only focused on improving the skills of black people in the state, but they also pursued voting rights and led a successful boycott of gas stations that discriminated against black people.

Before long, Lee had developed into a top-notch public speaker who rallied black voters with words like: “Pray not for your mom and pop. They’ve gone to heaven. Pray you can make it through this hell.” The racists of Belzoni reacted just as strongly. Less than a month after Lee gave spoke those words at the Regional Council of Negro Leadership convention, he was murdered. Just before midnight on May 7, 1955, an assailant fired three shotgun blasts into Lee’s car and he died from the shots before he could be treated at the local hospital.

At the time Medgar Evers was a field secretary for the NAACP, and he was assigned to investigate the Lee murder. The work Evers did in this case was a springboard for his later civil rights activism. Evers found that Lee had received a threatening note to drop his voter registration three days before the murder. The autopsy found that lead pellets consistent with buckshot killed Lee, but the local sheriff claimed that the death was a traffic accident and that the lead pellets were “dental fillings” knocked loose during the car crash that ensued from the assault.

Much like Emmett Till later that year, Lee’s funeral was a media event for black newspapers. Rosebud Lee decided to hold an open-coffin ceremony. Black newspapers shared the photo of Lee’s mutilated corpse. When Till was lynched, his photo in black newspapers was an important part of spurring action in the civil rights movement. Lee’s funeral was a precursor to that type of communication to the public during the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists continued searching for evidence to pinpoint Lee’s killers, but the FBI investigation ran out of steam because potential witnesses were afraid to talk. No one was ever charged with Lee’s murder. Later, Lee’s partner Gus Courts was also shot, although he survived the assault.

The efforts of Lee (and Court) were important in showing how to register black voters in the South in the face of violent opposition. Rosebud’s decision to reveal the violence against her husband to the world would set the table for the successes of the civil rights and voting rights movements.

Unions an Integral Part of Dr. King’s Dream

Friday, January 31st, 2020

by Steve Smith
January 17, 2020193

“In the days to come, organized labor will increase its importance in the destinies of Negroes. Automation is imperceptibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming off unskilled labor from the industrial force. The displaced are flowing into proliferating service occupations. These enterprises are traditionally unorganized and provide low wage scales with longer hours. The Negroes pressed into these services need union protection, and the union movement needs their membership to maintain its relative strength in the whole society.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words 53 years ago. Talk about prophetic. He spoke about the dangers of machines replacing workers. He identified the peril in the expanse of low-wage service and gig jobs. King saw the future of racial and economic inequality that faced Black workers as a result of corporate greed.

He spoke out against it often. But he was never fatalistic about it. He always believed change would come. Equality would rise. If, and only if, workers generally, and Black workers specifically, held power to determine their own destiny.

From “Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Union Man” by Peter Cole, In These Times:

If Martin Luther King Jr. still lived, he’d probably tell people to join unions.

King understood racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”

Those disadvantages have persisted. Today, for instance, the wealth of the average white family is more than 20 times that of a black one.

King’s solution was unionism.

In 1967, nearly 30% of workers in the US had a union on the job. Today that number has dipped to 11%. Unfortunately, King’s dream of Black workers sharing in the prosperity America has long offered those of privilege, has largely been unfulfilled.

Economic Policy Institute:

“Black workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers overall (6.4% vs. 3.1%). Even black workers with a college degree are more likely to be unemployed than similarly educated white workers (3.5% vs. 2.2%). When they are employed, black workers with a college or advanced degree are more likely than their white counterparts to be underemployed when it comes to their skill level—almost 40% are in a job that typically does not require a college degree, compared with 31% of white college grads. This relatively high black unemployment and skills-based underemployment suggests that racial discrimination remains a failure of an otherwise tight labor market.”

There are lots of reasons for these bleak numbers: Structural racism. Inequality in the criminal justice system. Disparity in educational opportunity. But a common theme in King’s writings and speeches was the need for Black workers to have a union on the job. He called unions the “first anti-poverty program,” one that “transforms misery and despair into hope and progress.”

Today, recognition is growing that racial equality is inextricably linked to people of color having power on the job. Power that only comes from the right to stand together in a union and negotiate fair pay and decent benefits with your boss.

Natalie Spievack writes for the Urban Institute:

“A 2012 study found that if unionization rates remained at their 1970s level—when African American workers were more likely than white workers to be union members—black-white weekly wage gaps would be nearly 30 percent lower among women and 3 to 4 percent lower among men. Research also consistently finds that racial wage gaps are smaller among union members than among nonunion members.”

History remembers King’s “Dream” of racial equality. It’s what we celebrate every year on his birthday. But it’s also important to reflect on just how integral King believed economic power and unions were to his “Dream” becoming reality.

King at the 1961 AFL-CIO Convention:

“I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream—a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality. That is the dream…”

The Dream is still alive. It’s up to all of us to work tirelessly to make it come true by giving working people of all backgrounds the power to hold their economic destinies in their own hands with a union on the job.

Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges

Friday, January 24th, 2020

More than 70 scholars, union leaders, economists and activists says unions are key to tackling the crisis of economic inequality

This article was originally published in The Guardian and was written by Steven Greenhouse.

Members of the United Autoworkers (UAW) picket outside the General Motors (GM) plant in Arlington, Texas, USA, on 17 September 2019. The 40-day strike won improved wages and benefits for the workers.
 Members of the United Autoworkers picket outside the General Motors (GM) plant in Arlington, Texas, on 17 September 2019. The 40-day strike won improved wages and benefits. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

More than 70 scholars, union leaders, economists and activists called on Thursday for a far-reaching overhaul of American labor laws to vastly increase workers’ power on the job and in politics, recommending new laws to make unionizing easier and to elect worker representatives to corporate boards.

The report argues strengthening labor unions and worker power represents the most effective strategy to combat America’s economic inequality and corporations’ sway over the economy and politics.

“Today, the struggle to preserve democracy in the face of extreme wealth concentration is acute because we live in an historical moment when vast disparities of economic power have been translated into equally shocking disparities in political power,” says the report, Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy.Advertisement

“A large part of the explanation for our current crisis of economic inequality is the decline of the labor movement. Unions redistribute wealth – from capital to labor, from rich to poor – and without unions we have lacked for a check on economic concentration.”

The report calls for having workers elect “workplace monitors” at every workplace in the nation to educate workers about their rights. With many union leaders and presidential candidates calling for sectoral bargaining, the report recommends enacting a law that would require such industry-wide bargaining once 5,000 workers or 10% of the workers in an industry, whichever is less, request such bargaining.

Such a radical recommendation would greatly increase workers’ bargaining leverage at a time when unions represent just 6.2% of private-sector workers, down from a peak of 35% in the 1950s.

The Clean Slate report, nearly two years in the making, aims to rethink American labor law from scratch. “We firmly believe that we’re past the point of tinkering around the edges, that to really fix the problems in our economy and political system we need a fundamental rethinking of labor law,” said Sharon Block, one of the report’s main authors and executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

The report says unionizing and gaining a voice at work far too often mean a huge battle with companies and their anti-union consultants. “Democracy at work should be a right, not a fight,” the report states. “For too long, securing power and voice at work has required workers to fight herculean battles against nearly impossible odds.”

Among the Clean Slate report’s recommendations:

• Require the creation of employee committees, similar to German-style works councils, at any workplace once three workers at a worksite petition for one. These committees could have a voice on work scheduling, safety, new technologies and managerial decisions that affect workers.

 Allow minority unionism. Once 25% of the workers at any workplace sign cards saying they want a union, the employer would be required to recognize that union and bargain with it. This would be a sharp departure from the current system in which companies have to bargain with a union only after they demonstrate majority support, usually through a vote, with that union becoming the exclusive representative of all workers.

• Require corporations to let employees elect 40% of the members of corporate boards, and require a supermajority board vote on decisions that have the greatest impact on workers.

• Adopt a national system of “just cause employment. Under this system workers can be fired only for just cause, ending America’s longtime system of at-will employment.

• Give domestic workers, farmworkers, incarcerated workers and disabled workers collective bargaining rights. “Labor law reform must start with inclusion to ensure that all workers can build power and to address systemic racial and gender oppression,” the report states. “Our nation’s labor laws have long excluded too many workers,” most notably farmworkers and domestic workers, who are disproportionately workers of color.

• Allow unions to bargain over a far broader array of issues, and not just wages and working conditions. Allow unions to bargain over, for instance, a company’s dumping toxic chemicals or contributing to climate change or the need for affordable housing.

• Give independent contractors a right to bargain collectively and make it far harder for employers to misclassify workers as contractors.

• Make it easier to unionize by prohibiting employers from requiring workers to attend meetings where managers or consultants give anti-union speeches. Greatly increase penalties against employers that break the law in fighting unions.

• Prohibit employers from using permanent replacement workers to take the jobs of striking workers.

“This is an attempt to lay out a comprehensive vision of what labor law reform ought to look like,” said Ben Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s main authors. “We need this as a kind of North Star to know where we’re going when we have a chance to do reform of any kind.”

One of the report’s main themes is that when unions were at their peak they were a vital countervailing force to corporate power – at the workplace, in political campaigns and in policymaking.

To increase the voice of workers in politics, the report calls for a “public campaign finance system to limit corporate influence and allow greater participation by workers and their organizations”. The report also recommends mandating same-day voter registration, early voting and voting by mail. It also calls for mandating paid-time off for workers to engage in civic activities, including voting.

Harvard’s Block, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, said it’s vital to have a series of legislative proposals ready if and when progressive candidates come to power.

She noted that the Democratic presidential candidates “are talking about big picture progressive change they want to take. Our pitch is labor law is a way to do these things. We see it as the key that will unlock the door to a fairer economy and democracy.”

Turning perceptions around: How California’s unions changed Californians’ minds about unions

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

by Mark Gruenberg

Unions have a public perception problem.

Though opinion polls show the strongest favorability ratings for unions in years, those ratings – at least among those polled – have bounced up and down for decades.

Worse, more than 60 years of millions of dollars spent on corporate propaganda, plus union-bashing, hysterical linkages to radicals, rampant Red-baiting, mainstream media bias and outright lies have cemented notions in people’s heads of what unions are all about.

That is, if respondents know anything about unions and workers at all. Since only 10.7% of U.S. workers are union members, most of the U.S. doesn’t even know what unions are, what they do, or how they protect and fight for you and me, and not just for their members.

Those truisms hold even in progressive, “blue” states. Case in point: California.

So several years ago, the California state AFL-CIO and its member unions set out to change the mindset. On Nov. 14, Communications Directors Steve Smith of the state fed and Rebecca Band of Electrical Workers Local 1245 told union communicators how they did it.

“Ten years ago,” when Smith returned to his native California from working in the AFL-CIO’s communications department in D.C., “Californians were 40% positive and 45% negative about unions,” he told the International Labor Communications Association convention in Silver Spring, Md.

Their first step was to find out what people really thought, in words and images, not just percentages, about unions and union workers. Focus groups and interviews provided the answers – and the negative verbiage was chilling.

“Our truth is that we’re about fairness, about being good neighbors, about worker power, about getting better pay” and benefits “and about being champions of inclusion,” Band said. That wasn’t what respondents were telling them, though. “Protectors of slackers, overpaid, socialist,” were among the adjectives.

“How did we have this ‘unions just suck’ perception?” she asked.

And the negatives weren’t just among workers, she noted. They were also among other progressive individuals and groups, even though union members and their families provide most of the “people power” for those movements.

After the focus groups reported, the brainstorming began. And the key point was to change the language – and to get away from the details of policy and politics which unions, their leaders and their members often immerse themselves in, Smith noted.

Sure, he said, still talk issues, but talk about them in a way that hits home personally. And have rank-and-file workers, telling their stories, do it.

It was particularly tough in the Golden State, Smith noted. As governor, Republican Ronald Reagan assembled a “kitchen cabinet,” led by notorious right-wing brewery mogul Joe Coors, to “put together a 40-year plan to shrink union membership, reduce the influence of unions and reduce the size of government.”

That plan almost perfectly coincided with a national effort led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, starting in 1971, though Smith did not mention it.

Activated by a malevolent memo by conservative lawyer Lewis Powell – just before GOP President Richard Nixon nominated Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court – the chamber and its corporate clients launched an all-out coordinated decades-long attack against unions, academics, students, progressives, people of color and anyone else perceived as threats to corporate hegemony.

That attack included creation of think tanks, PR firms and the right-wing media echo chamber. It included recruiting conservative ideologues to produce position papers espousing right-wing – including anti-union – ideology and a campaign to influence elections through mountains of money funneled to corporate candidates, committees and causes.

Reagan’s and Powell’s plans have succeeded spectacularly, and that’s what Smith, Band and California’s unions found themselves up against. “They understood message discipline,” Band said of the right-wingers. “But anybody can do message discipline.” Including unions. Including workers.

So the state federation and its allies started testing phrases and words that would either substitute – and replace in people’s minds – the right-wing mantras, or that would highlight the positive benefits and aspects of unions not just for members, but for all. Some examples from the Californians’ “Words to Lose, Words to Use” fact sheet:

Instead of talking about corporations “keeping us from joining unions,” substitute corporations “take away our freedom to stand together.” Instead of generalized attacks on “business,” make the criticisms specific against “corporate lobbyists, special interests, CEOs and the wealthy elite.”

Instead of “collective bargaining,” talk about “a seat at the table to negotiate fair wages  and benefits.” And instead of “protect our right to a union,” talk about “workers deserve the freedom to stand together and have a voice on the job.”

And talk about “power in numbers,” not “political spending.” As for corporate attacks on how “union bosses” take dues money from workers’ pockets, the substitute: “When we stand together, we have power. That’s what we’re all contributing to.”

Current conditions also help, Smith admitted. While unemployment is low, millions of people are working two or three jobs to make ends meet, health care coverage is declining, and guaranteed pensions upon retirement are a mist in the past.

“The stagnating wages, all the income going to the 1%, and no retirement security” give us the opportunity to rebrand ourselves as fighting to change that picture, he explained.  After all, conditions are so bad “that a University of California at Berkeley study calculates that 50% pf workers now employed will retire in poverty.”

“So workers,” especially younger workers, “are looking for something to let them flip the script. Our opening is to make unions that ‘thing.’”

CEOs are one big target. Poll respondents often complain unions protect “wasteful” or “lazy” workers. “Where’s the real waste?” Smith asked. “It’s the CEOs and Trump.’

Make that point, they said. The California federation urges workers to cite CEOs who really make the decisions that run companies, families, factories, cities, villages and the entire economy – plus the environment – into the ground. And they feeding out of our trough, too.

“Why is Walmart getting my tax dollars?” to open warehouses where its workers toil for substandard wages. “And you can ask ‘Did you know Amazon pays no taxes?”

But how about Trumpites who yearn for “Make America Great Again” days like the 1950s sitcom ideal of a two-parent family with Dad working and Mom taking care of the kids in the suburban house.

That’s where Band jumped in with one very salient fact: “The ‘good old days’ were when union membership was high” – one-third of all private sector workers – “and we were creating and building the middle class brick by brick.”

“These messages transcend partisan divisions, even among people who have bought into the” right-wing “Heritage Foundation stuff,” Band said.

The effort has apparently worked, at least in California. Combined with non-partisan – not politically skewed – redistricting and strong labor organizing and political campaigning, the Golden State, the nation’s most-populous, is now arguably its bluest, and most pro-worker.

The legislature has a pro-worker supermajority, workers have a mostly, though not totally, favorable governor in Gavin Newsom, and both U.S. senators and 44 of the state’s 53 U.S. representatives are pro-worker Democrats. The result, at least on the state and local level, is union wins in both organizing and legislation.

The entire presentation, including power-points, is available from Steve Smith at the California AFL-CIO: ssmith@calaborfed.org.

Crosspost from People’s World 50Posted in Blog: Labor Edge

A Conversation with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Title: A Conversation with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
Location: Laborers 261 ~ 3271 18th St, SF
Link out: Click here
Start Time: 11:15
Date: 2019-10-04

Labor Unions Are for Safety and Creativity

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Amy Laura Hall September 13, 2019

Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom
Terence Faircloth

I do not go around asking people if they believe in God. But I frequently ask people if they believe in labor unions. I am genuinely curious about how people around me think about collective bargaining in workplaces. How do people who work for a living, or who have at some point worked for a living (meaning most of us) think about people being courageous, together, for the sake of the integrity of their work or the safety of their work or the dignity of their lives at work? Several men working for the fire department recently said, loud enough for people coming out of the grocery store to hear, “Oh, yes ma’am, we sure do need our union.” In a hotel elevator this summer, a man, carrying a poster noting his retirement as an airline pilot, said he is clear that people working in the industry, at all levels, need labor unions. He said it was a basic matter of safety.

This is one very obvious reason why everyone who walks around in the world needs labor unions. If you drive in a car, you want the people who put your car together to have the ability to stop production if they notice something is awry. If you ride around on one of those rent-by-the-day scooters, you want the people who put the scooter together to have been able to take the time to test whether or not the scooter is safe to scoot. (Same for the people who put together the helmet you should be wearing if you are scooting. Just saying.) People who work for the fire department need equipment that allows them to put out the fire safely and quickly if, by chance, you have overestimated your oven’s ability to be “self-cleaning.” (A real, and embarrassing, example.) Look up the cover of “The Berenstain Bears: Jobs Around Town” and tell me a job that Jan and Stan Berenstain feature that does not need a labor union? The man on the girder being lifted by a crane needs the person pulling the lever to be able to call in sick if necessary. The woman selling hot dogs does not want to sell Sister Bear a dog with, well…actual dog under the relish. The bear walking across the bridge with what appears to be a giant pumpkin relies on the fact that the bears who built the bridge had time off to eat lunches and sleep. And the bear with the pink shirt, up in the corner, painting on a canvas? They need a labor union, too.

This is one of the trickiest concepts for some people to grasp. Labor unions are about our safety as people living together in a town or city, and they are also about creativity. As a writer and a teacher, I need the committed, active support of other writers and teachers in order to write and to teach in my own unique, best, way. While I was a graduate student, collective bargaining allowed me to write what turned out to be a damn good dissertation (and eventually a book) without worrying that my adviser would punish me for writing something very different than what he had published. I needed the courage in common that was collective bargaining to formulate my own particular and singular way of thinking. Actors, photographers, journalists, sculptors—all have expressed a similar sense that labor unions allow for individual freedom in their craft. If you want to hear what music sounds like without labor unions, turn on your canned radio station and hear the same pop song every two hours, interspersed with a few others deemed by someone in marketing to meet the least common denominator of music. Alternatively, find the alternative station in the genre that helps you through your own workday, and consider periodically the teamwork behind the scenes that allowed those musicians to defy what some person in the number-crunching department determined would be passable as music.

There are no doubt some people in this world who manage to be remarkably creative without labor unions and the collective bargaining that comes with courage. I am frankly worn out from trying. I need a union as much as people putting out fires and people putting airplanes together. My labor is also important, and so I will keep asking people about their unions and their ideas about unions. And I will keep trying to find the best, most creative and unique ways to explain why I need a team.

Amy Laura Hall has taught ethics at Duke University since 1999. Her most recent book is Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. This post originally appeared at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

Pathway to Progress: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Friday, September 13th, 2019

Kenneth Quinnell September 6, 2019

Rustin and Cleveland Robinson
Wikimedia Commons

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. Today’s topic is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

We recently marked the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The full title makes it clear that the historical touchstone was about civil rights and worker rights. And the labor movement was key to the success of the march.

By any account, the march on Aug. 28, 1963, was a success. More than 250,000 people participated in what was then the largest demonstration for human rights in U.S. history. The pathway that led to the march started much earlier.

A. Philip Randolph, a leader in both the civil rights movement and a labor organizer with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, began pushing for a march on Washington as early as 1941. Randolph, labor activist Bayard Rustin and others nearly pulled off a march that year, but it was called off late in the organizing. From then until late 1962, Randolph got little response from civil rights leaders. Changing this would be a key to pulling the march off. He worked with the heads of the “Big Six” civil rights organizations, which included not only Randolph’s Sleeping Car Porters, but also the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Conference of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

That began to change once Randolph and Rustin got together to plan a march commemorating the centennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In early 1963, Bull Connor became national news when he turned fire hoses and attack dogs on children and then attitudes about the march quickly changed. Rustin was to originally direct operations for the march, but when some activists balked at having a homosexual man as the face of the march, he was replaced by Randolph.

Rustin continued to organize the event, however, and leading up to the march, they faced tough challenges, including bringing together civil rights leaders, defending against attacks from segregationists, moderates who wanted a slower approach to progress and the logistics of the largest peaceful protest in the country’s history. 

The influence of Randolph and Rustin on the agenda of the march was obvious. Among the list of demands the marchers presented were: a massive federal jobs and training program for unemployed workers, a national minimum wage that provided for a decent standard of living, an expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of labor and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in government hiring at all levels.

Labor’s influence on the march wasn’t limited to leadership. The UAW provided much of the funding for the march. Randolph’s Sleeping Car Porters helped transport thousands of demonstrators to and from the event. And many unions participated in the march, either officially or unofficially, as their members joined the cause.

One of the most important and memorable events in American history was not only a civil rights event, but from beginning to end, a demonstration on behalf of working people. We face many of the same issues in our current political climate, and the efforts that led to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom provide us with inspiration to continue building an America where all working people can thrive.

Affiliate in the Spotlight: Sign & Display 510

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Meet Sign & Display Local 510

Who We Are
Local 510 represents Bay Area Trade Show and Convention Installers and Exhibit Builders, as well as Outdoor and Commercial Sign Painters and Pictorial workers and our local has existed since March 10, 1900. Our jurisdiction covers Northern California, and we are a part of District Council 36 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Local 510’s membership numbers approximately 800 workers. Our local provides labor for more than 60 contractors in the Greater Bay Area. We are proud to have a California State affiliated Apprenticeship program and currently have 150 Apprentices.

What We Do
We have contracts to do the following kinds of work in the Greater Bay Area:

Trade Shows, Conventions, Meetings, and Special Events:
Installation and Dismantle: Floor coverings, furniture, signage & graphics, modular room assembly, custom booth work, sign hanging, and the fabrication of custom exhibits & displays. Local 510 handles interior and exterior temporary and permanent graphic installations.  We are proud to be doing signage at San Francisco’s new home to the Golden State Warriors, the Chase Arena.

Transit Sign Work
Local 510 has two contracts to handle advertising posters and graphics for buses and  transit stations.

Robert Collins, president, swears in new officers, Annette Dosier and Morgan Worth

A Change in Leadership
Local 510 recently elected two new Business Representative: Morgan Worth and Annette Dosier. Peter Forni continues his work as Field representative/Dispatcher and Joe Toback and Owen Murphy are assisting in the leadership transition.

Our Goals
Our goals focus on training, enhancing quality of life, maintaining a model of workplace respect, and to work to improve conditions with our local communities. We are proud to be a part of the greater Labor Movement and are active in our memberships in Central Labor and Building Trades Councils.

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