Tag Archives: collective bargaining

Airport Workers Say, “Poverty Doesn’t Fly!”

The cold wind bit my cheeks as I gratefully pulled on an SEIU purple stocking cap emblazoned with an image of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the words “Destination: JUSTICE.”

This was our way to commemorate Dr. King. My wife, daughter and I joined a rally for airport workers who want to form a union with 32BJ, an affiliate of SEIU. About 100 of us gathered under the bright sky near the King Memorial on the National Mall.

Yikes, it was cold! We stamped and hopped around for warmth while workers took turns speaking nervously at the microphone. We heard from sky cab drivers and the workers who push wheelchairs for passengers at DC National Airport. Neither of those jobs pay the federal minimum wage, because they’re classified as tipped workers. I was shocked to learn the minimum in Virginia for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour!

Every few minutes, chants broke out: “What do airport workers want? $15 and a union! What do airport workers want? $15 and a union!” and “If we don’t get it, SHUT… IT… DOWN! If we don’t get it, SHUT… IT… DOWN!”

IMG_0351Some workers work three full-time jobs, and don’t even have enough time to go home after work. They just sleep at the airport and wake up for the next shift!

“We’re busted and disgusted! We’re tired of working with no healthcare and no benefits!”

One of the speakers was a grandmother who spoke from cards so she wouldn’t get too much stage fright. She said she cleans airplane cabins for $8 an hour. Her pay barely covers her bus fare to work. She’s only able to get enough to eat with help from Food Stamps. She wishes she could provide for her kids and grandkids. That’s why she wants a union.

DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd that Dr. King had gone to Memphis for the same reason we gathered today. The wind was cold. She declined a hat, joking that she was too vain to mess up her afro. The crowd loved it.

Then we all marched past the King Memorial, where we stopped and sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” led by Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.

We marched to Independence Avenue, stopping occasionally to pray and chant, until we reached the corner on 14th Street SW.

“Everybody down!”the organizers hollered. We all sat down in the middle of the intersection. There was a long prayer. The 14th Street light turned green, but nobody moved. The traffic backed up. After a few minutes, we all rose together. Dozens of airport workers boarded busses to get to go back to work.

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Three Words Behind the Gawker Union: What About Us?

“What about us?” was what Gawker reporter Hamilton Nolan asked as he wrote about talk of Vice workers forming a union. Nolan’s beat is work and jobs, but the subject resonated with him at his job.

What followed came fast. Nolan spoke with Justin Molito of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), who talked him through the nuts-and-bolts of organizing a union.

Nolan and others at Gawker didn’t wait for the full old-school process, though. The next thing Molito knew, Nolan and others had posted a meeting invitation on Facebook. Forty people came. The next morning a bunch of Gawker writers were posting about their desire for a union.

“This is something we waged publicly, because that’s how Gaw

From left to right at the table: Freddy Kunkle of the Washington Post talked about organizing among skeptical media workers while NewsGuild-CWA organizing director Tim Schick and Hamilton Nolan of Gawker look listen.

From left to right at the table: Freddy Kunkle of the Washington Post talked about organizing among skeptical media workers while NewsGuild-CWA organizing director Tim Schick and Hamilton Nolan of Gawker look listen.

ker operates,” Nolan said. Then something rare happened. Instead of resisting the idea, Gawker CEO Nick Denton agreed to a private ballot vote. On June 4, about 120 Gawker workers voted to unionize by a margin of 3-1.

This Wednesday afternoon, Nolan and Molito joined NewsGuild-CWA organizing director Tim Schick and Freddy Kunkle, co-chair of the Washington Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild for a discussion on at the AFL-CIO on organizing in digital media. The News Guild has been organizing in new media for 20 years and counts about 2,000 new media members.

Gawker workers wanted to publish at every step along the way, beginning with an early position piece on why workers there wanted to organize. That openness continued with a public discussion of how people planned to vote and why.

“It can almost be a tutorial for organizing,” Nolan said.

He’s not kidding. The discussion is frank, and even raw at times. The workers literally wrestle out issues in real time.

“If new media industry is going to grow up—and it is growing up—we need to do this,” he said.

If you’re interested in organizing at your workplace, please take this survey. Or you can simply email me. I’m a member of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild.

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The Return of the Montana Newspaper Guild

Steve Schnall in Great Falls in1983 pedaling to raise money for a Montana Newspaper Guild college scholarship, which happens to be named after my grandfather, also Robert Struckman. Steve is now assistant athletic director at San Diego State University in California.

It’s an uncertain and insecure time for journalists in Montana these days, what with unrelenting layoffs and buyouts at the state’s newspapers coupled with more than a decade of below-inflation raises, when the staff received any pay increases at all. There have been furloughs at the Great Falls Tribune, and staff at the state’s five newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises have had significant benefit cutbacks, estimated by one staff member to equate to a 7 percent pay cut.

But here’s the funny part. Montana’s journalists have consistently produced top-quality news, year after year. The papers themselves have been beautifully profitable, earning dependable millions every year.

I can actually remember when pay stalled for Montana’s reporters. I was a bumbling and excited new police reporter at the Billings Gazette in 1998. As I got my first raise, my supervising editor explained that the paper’s corporate headquarters had clamped down on raises, just the previous year. Instead of good raises—I’m thinking maybe 5 percent or so—I would receive a fraction over 1 percent. It wasn’t me, my editor explained. It was company-wide.

It’s interesting to look back at that time.

Five years earlier, in 1993, the members of the Montana Newspaper Guild at the Great Falls Tribune—scattered among pretty much the entire staff outside the press room and the drivers—had voted out to disband. The Tribune had been an open shop for about 15 years, which means that employees could get the good wages and benefits that the dues-paying union members had bargained for, but without contributing a dime. Still, the members of the Montana Guild were skilled negotiators who won decent raises when the paper made solid profits.

Decades of research has shown that union wages raise standards at non-union workplaces. It’s easy to understand why. The Billings Gazette and other Lee Enterprises papers in Montana offered pay and benefits roughly comparable to the Great Falls Tribune, owned by the Gannett Company. Why? To retain and dissuade the staff from forming unions to gain the full benefits of collective bargaining.

If you don’t believe that Lee Enterprises fears the combined clout of its employees, consider this: Anti-union training is a centerpiece for all company managers, and anti-union videos are routine for new employees. I sat through an anti-union spiel at the Gazette in the summer of 1998. I remember it well. And, as I mentioned before, my editor didn’t hesitate when it came to breaking the law when he threatened to fire me just for talking about forming a union with my coworkers.

And here’s why Lee hates unions. It’s not rocket science. The company’s leadership doesn’t want any pressure to share any of the amazing profits it reaps. After the Tribune‘s union disbanded, Lee’s managers no longer even had to keep pace with the Tribune.

It’s abundantly clear to me now that while collective bargaining offers a rising tide, the reverse is also true. Without collective bargaining, employees experience a relentless race-to-the-bottom. It’s not a fun race, like that tricycle escapade above, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

And yet there is hope. As I’ve noted many times, Montana’s media corporations are profitable. News will also be important in Montana and across the country far into the future. In fact, media spending has been on the rise, even though the share spent on newspapers has been declining.

My point is simple. Newspaper employees—all media employees—from the press room to the advertising floor to the newsroom can still form unions. It’s possible. Membership in the Newspaper Guild doesn’t mean anything more than that each paper’s employees will be able to collectively bargain with management about pay, benefits and working conditions.

There are a lot of people in Montana who remember the Guild. I’ve been talking to quite a few of them. I’ll write soon about the 1974 strike in Great Falls, in which Teamsters, teachers, postal workers and even the young newspaper carriers helped Guild members in a long struggle with that paper’s management.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could form a union without taking an enormous personal and professional risk? Wouldn’t it be an amazing show of solidarity if those same truck drivers, mail carriers, teachers, electricians and public workers came together to help start a race back up from the bottom? The time is right.

And, actually, if anyone could identify the people in this photo, or share their stories, I’d sure appreciate it. More photos soon.

Both of these photos come from the files of the Newspaper Guild here in Washington. I’d appreciate any news about the photographs or the people in them. Feel free to email.

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Don’t Blame the Rich. Make Them Pay.

It’s Superbowl Sunday. In a few moments, I’m going to light charcoal in the smoker in my backyard, and the rest of the day will be all about hanging out with my spouse and my son and daughter… while a pile of wild goose breasts covered with bacon slowly cook to perfection in the smoker….

So why do I feel compelled to toss another argument into the ether? I honestly have no idea, and I’m violating all the basic rules of blogging. I’m about to comment on something ancient—a week old—and I have no intention of turning my personal blog into a place to comment on issues of the day, so don’t come back often for more of this type of fare….

And yet, the lead opinion piece in the Washington Post last weekend was so ridiculous, so deeply and profoundly stupid, that I feel compelled to point it out.

I’ll begin with the basic premise behind the title, “Angry about inequality? Don’t blame the rich.”

Those two phrases paint a picture of petulant and lazy poor people, maybe all standing in line at the bus stop, who point an accusatory finger at a smart-looking couple driving to work in a comfortable car with leather seats.

The column says: If you were better educated, more disciplined and creative, you could have a nice car, too, you slob.

The piece then takes the reader down a narrow and illogical path, painfully avoiding honest analysis by silently re-defining the “rich” away from the truly wealthy and toward the educated middle class and repackaging a pile of old “blame the poor for poverty” yarns.

But I don’t “blame the successful.” And you shouldn’t either.

Yes, it’s true that the super-rich and corporations have rigged our nation to squeeze every possible dollar from the rest of us, both from our wages and where we spend our money. Yes, it’s true that the rich love corruption and hate a truly free democracy…. If you’ll notice, all of the “freedoms” loved by the truly rich invariably restrict the freedoms of the rest of us.

But we let them do it…. We let them pit us against each other! We let them trick us with cheap credit and the promises of the rewards of deregulation! We let them fool us into thinking that we could cut our taxes to increase our wealth, when the opposite is true! We let them target our rights and freedoms in the workplace!

That’s why the imbalance in our country has reached such severe proportions. It’s that simple. We let them off the hook, and we took on every burden ourselves.

So, no, don’t blame the rich.

We don’t have the time, really, for a bunch of finger-pointing. We need to rebuild our country, and for that we need cash. Let’s raise the money by making everyone in America pay fairly.

As our president said, it’s not a matter of blame. It’s simple math.

We’re not a bunch of lazy slobs in a bus line, pointing at the smart people and complaining.

We’re hard-working people who have been giving the lion’s share of our earnings to a bunch of over-sensitive prima donnas, and it’s time we stopped.

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