Retail goes union: Organizing victories at IKEA and H&M

On most days, it feels like these are dark times for workers’ rights, with politicians launching attacks on public unions across the country. But today, two organizing victories in the private sector showed that there can be sunshine on a cloudy day.

• Funny-sounding furniture – fishy-sounding practices. In Danville, Virginia, workers at a Swedwood factory – which makes furniture for the popular furniture chain IKEA – voted 221-69 to join the Machinists (IAM). That’s 76 percent, for those keeping score at home, a figure so high that even IAMAW representative Bill Street called it “outrageous.” In a good way, of course.

It’s been a long time coming for IKEA workers in Danville. Based in Sweden, where union density is high, IKEA outsourced some of its production to the right-to-work state of Virginia in an attempt to avoid those responsibilities. Workers injured on the job were routinely fired and denied workers compensation. The temperature on the factory floor often reached stratospheric levels, and there was no air conditioning. Wages for the American workers were less than half that of comparable workers in Sweden, and the workers who come from temp agencies pay even less. “It’s ironic that IKEA looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico,” commented Street, “In this case, we’ve become Sweden’s Mexico.”

After a two year campaign by the IAM, which brought national and international media coverage (and an attention-grabbing segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) Swedwood workers now have the ability to bargain collectively for a better workplace – and IKEA has the opportunity to practice in the United States the standards they preach in Sweden.

The NLRB plans to certify the election in the next 10 days.

• Do they carry collective bargaining in my size? The trendy H&M clothing stores may have been a model for fashion, but not necessarily a model for good labor practices. Workers wanted a more stable schedule, better job security, and the kind of wages and benefits that would enable them to turn their retail jobs into careers.

At six H&M stores in the New York City area, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) won a two-month campaign to represent 240 sales clerks. The union already represents 1,200 H&M workers in the Manhattan area.

Congratulations to the clerks, factory workers, and support staff who will now have the benefit, protection, and representation of a union. As some anti-worker, corporate-driven politicians continue their ideological drive to bust unions, workers themselves are making their voices heard – and they are saying they want more rights, not less.

The Worst Boss Is…

This year’s Bad Boss contest exposed many horrible bosses. More than 700 horrible bosses, actually. Ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking to just plain horrifying, they showed us just how bad bosses can be. Now, after thousands of votes, we’ve got our three winners.

Bad Barista garnered the most votes to win the People’s Choice Grand Prize with the story “Boss with No Heart.

My boss called me several times, threatening to fire me because I was unable to do my job. She continued to keep calling me, specifically harassing me about how my health problems were causing scheduling problems for the business, until my mother picked up my phone in the ER and told her to leave me alone. (She didn’t.)

Traumatized Tracy’s story “Please Put Your Granny Panties Away!” won the Most Shared Online Grand Prize after having the most shared story on Facebook.

Is there a polite, professional way to ask your boss to put away her undies? This is the question I have been asking myself for the past six months…

No Chairs for You!” by DownloadMe , was a standout in the eyes of the Working America staff, and took the Staff Pick Grand Prize.

The second month we doubled sales to $150K, but “it wasn’t enough”…so to “teach us a lesson” our boss took away all of our chairs…FOREVER!!!

Each of these deserving winners will get a much-needed vacation from their bad bosses, thanks to Union Plus. But while they’re the only ones who get a free vacation, if you’re a Working America member you could get a discount at any of the places our winners may be visiting. That’s because all Working America members are eligible for a wide range of Union Plus discounts and benefits, including vacation discounts.

Whether you submitted a story, voted or shared a story on Facebook, thanks for your participation in the Bad Boss contest.

Departing Maine official says LePage wanted to deny help to Portland fishermen

The abrupt departure of Norman Olsen, Maine’s Commissioner of Marine Resources, has led to claims of political payback in anti-worker Governor Paul LePage’s administration.

From the Boston Globe:

Former marine resources commissioner Norman Olsen issued a statement after resigning that spelled out his grievances with the governor and made the jolting claim that LePage was not interested in helping Portland fishermen because the governor did not enjoy political support in the city.

According to Olsen’s statement, he believed that Governor LePage was changing plans for port development because Portland did not support him politically:

Olsen said the governor declared that there will be no further collaboration with Portland officials despite work underway to lure fishing boats back to the city. He quoted the governor as saying that “Portland was against him’’ and that “we will not work with that city.’’ He also quoted LePage as saying he would explore developing another port.

Would the governor really seek political retribution against one of his state’s biggest cities? Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodnes issued a letter to Governor LePage to make sure that was not the case. It’s not a letter a local official should ever have to write to a governor.

Mary Noel Laughy of Augusta, a Working America member, has no reason to mince words. In a letter to the Kennebec Journal, she writes that, in her view, the priorities expressed by then-candidate Paul LePage last fall are not the same as his priorities as governor:

Last year, gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage shook my hand when I was eating at a local restaurant. He promised me in front of a room full of people that he was going to work to help the elderly and disabled; that he’d create jobs for them. Instead, he’s done just the opposite…

If I had known what the governor and his administration were truly planning to do, I never would have let him interrupt my meal to feed me half-truths last fall.

Maine isn’t broke, just the administration governing it.

Looks like the amateurish mural removal earlier this year was a sign of things to come.

(Please read Mary’s entire letter here – and Mary, congrats on getting published!)

New York Times finally notices discrimination against the unemployed

I’m glad The New York Times has decided to cover this disgusting practice, but it took them long enough:

The unemployed need not apply.

That is the message being broadcast by many of the nation’s employers, making it even more difficult for 14 million jobless Americans to get back to work.

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.

Part of the trouble with this type of discrimination is that under the current law, it’s perfectly acceptable:

Legal experts say that the practice probably does not violate discrimination laws because unemployment is not a protected status, like age or race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing, though, on whether discriminating against the jobless might be illegal because it disproportionately hurts older people and blacks.

The practice is common enough that New Jersey recently passed a law outlawing job ads that bar unemployed workers from applying. New York and Michigan are considering the idea, and similar legislation has been introduced in Congress. The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the labor market and helps the unemployed apply for benefits, has been reviewing the issue, and last week issued a report that has nudged more politicians to condemn these ads.

Given that the average duration of unemployment today is nine months — a record high — limiting a search to the “recently employed,” much less the currently employed, disqualifies millions.

Kudos to New Jersey for taking the initiative, and I sincerely hope similar measures pass in New York and Michigan. But the fact that all three of those states have either extracted harsh concessions from their public workers or tried to crush their representation completely sticks in my mind.

If politicians want to show that they are serious about getting Americans back to work, they could start by changing our laws to ensure that those who need work the most aren’t barred from applying in the first place.

Voter ID in Wisconsin: an Onerous Process

Check out this video from the blog defendwisconsin. A Wisconsin blogger made this video when she took her son to the DMV to get a voter ID.

This story in Businessweek is the perfect companion piece:

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is working on finalizing a plan to close as many as 10 offices where people can obtain driver’s licenses in order to expand hours elsewhere and come into compliance with new requirements that voters show photo IDs at the polls.

Some legislators think there’s some politics at play:

One Democratic lawmaker said Friday it appeared the decisions were based on politics, with the department targeting offices for closure in Democratic areas and expanding hours for those in Republican districts.


The recently enacted state budget requires that DMV driver license and ID card services be offered in all 72 counties at least 20 hours a week. Currently, only 30 counties have offices that meet that 20-hour requirement.

The DMV claims that closing these offices will ensure more office hours in the districts where the offices are kept open.

Starting next year, voters must present a valid driver’s license or other acceptable photo identification in order to vote. Critics of that new requirement have said it would be unconstitutional if courts determined voters couldn’t easily access DMV centers where they can obtain the ID cards required in order to vote.


Wisconsin’s bill, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, would cost more than $5.7 million to implement. The measure would require voters to use a driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID at the polls. Student IDs would be allowed, but would have to include a current address, birthdate, signature and expiration date. Currently no college or university ID used in the state, including UW-Madison, meets those standards.

Wisconsin is spending millions to implement a voter ID, to address non-existent voter fraud, during a time where budgets are cut, and teachers are being fired. It’s interesting that the bill specifies that Student ID’s would be allowed, but none of the colleges have student ID’s that meet the standards. That, coupled with DMV office closings could make a cynical person think that Governor Walker wants to disenfranchise certain voter groups – like students, seniors, the disabled, homeless, and those who live in traditionally Democratic districts.

Running scared from momentum, anti-worker groups drop cash in Wisconsin battle

We always knew that the Wisconsin recall elections would be expensive, but after back-to-back defeats for Scott Walker’s party, anti-worker groups are dropping boatloads of money into the races.

The Club for Growth, a national far-right organization that spent millions electing conservative Republicans in the 2010 elections, has “dumped at least $1.5 million into the recall races,” according to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

More significantly, the Club has poured about $400,000 specifically to help recall target Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). Sargent writes:

If labor and Dems can knock off Darling, it would be a major coup: She is the co-chair of the legislative committee that passed Scott Walker’s union-busting proposals. Of all the GOP state senators targeted for recall, she’s been in office the longest…if the Club is pouring massive cash into an effort to prop her up, this could mean Dems have succeeded in widening the playing field beyond the most vulnerable GOP recall targets, meaning that cash being spent on Darling could have otherwise been spent elsewhere.

Alberta Darling’s campaign raised eyebrows when it was announced that she has raised $969,168 from 7,789 people this year, an extraordinary amount for a state senator. The average donation size was $124 – 157 people donated $1,000, and 56 donated more than $1,000.

Her Democratic opponent, Sandy Pasch, raised about $440,000 in the same period, but which a very different donor composition: 11,454 separate donors with an average donation size of $39.63. Over 6,000 people gave less than $10.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to see Pasch’s support is coming from the grassroots, and that the folks who can afford to write a $1,000 are swinging to Darling. Here’s a hypothesis: Wisconsin’s wealthiest are pleased that Darling voted for tax breaks on corporations, while a much larger number of working folks are ticked off that Darling voted to eliminate their Earned Income Tax Credit and make huge cuts to their kids’ public schools.

Clearly, the defeat of Alberta Darling, whose committee passed the infamous anti-worker “budget repair” bill that set off this whole recall season, would send a strong message. The question is: will the message come from big, shadowy, out-of-state groups, or from thousands of average Wisconsin citizens?

The Great ‘Bait and Switch’ of 2010: Politicians ignore their promise to create jobs

The lack of focus on jobs in the U.S. Congress, combined with the radical agendas of the new crop of Republican governors, has given voters a sudden case of buyer’s remorse over the 2010 midterm elections.

The percentage of voters who say they are “inclined to look around for someone else” rather than elect their current representatives is at an all-time, two-decade high at 63 percent, according to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll. Only 30 percent are inclined to reelect the current crew.

Let’s be clear: these folks have been asking the same question since 1989, and the spread has never been this wide – not even in the fall of 2010, when voters booted over 60 Congressmen and Senators and almost a dozen governors from office.

You’d think after the big turnover, more voters would be satisfied, right? Not so, and here’s why: In every House race and in every statewide contest, the winner promised to focus on jobs and job creation. Since November 2010, those winners have done nothing of the sort – they have either taken no action on jobs, or have taken actions that hurt working people even further.

In Congress, instead of focusing on job creation as they promised, Republicans are making drastic cuts to public services and social safety net programs.

In many statehouses across the country, the debate isn’t over how best to help working families struggling in this economy; it’s about how quickly governors can pass a radical right-wing wish list before voters realize
what’s going on.

This isn’t what the voters want, and the numbers back it up: relative to their state’s ideology, all but one Republican governor is on the far side of the conservative spectrum among their own state’s voters. Look at the red dots:

The New York Times political data guru Nate Silver observes:

So just a year ago, there were plenty of moderate Republican governors — most of them in liberal or moderate states, where they were often quite popular. Now there are almost none, save some borderline cases like Mr. Daniels and Mr. Herbert.

The unsurprising result is that Republicans now have a group of extremely unpopular governors — particularly Mr. Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John R. Kasich of Ohio and Paul R. LePage of Maine, all of whom have disapproval ratings exceeding 50 percent. Other Republican governors in crucial swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania also have below-average ratings…

I do think it’s a significant problem for Republicans on its own terms. It suggests that the party has become uninterested in appealing to swing voters — and that the voters are starting to notice.

Retribution from the electorate is a strong possibility unless there is a change of course.

We know that politicians will say certain things to get elected – that’s nothing new. But the extent to which the 2010 election was a bait-and-switch on American working families is unprecedented.

Nate’s half right. Retribution from the electorate isn’t just a strong possibility – as we’re seeing in Wisconsin and Ohio, it’s already begun.

NH Rep Jokes About Shooting Union Members

Once again, a state legislator makes me proud to be from NH. Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker is a nurse in the Navy Reserves, and currently at Fort Dix.


A Republican New Hampshire state representative who touted her handiness with a gun and said labor unions “better not F#%k” with her is insisting that she never meant to advocate violence toward anyone.

From the email:
I am a truck commander on a hum vee for convoys. I had to learn how to drive both day and at night with night vision goggles. My vehicle has a rhino (no, not a RINO) on it to trip IEDs before my vehicle reaches it. Today I got to be the gunner which was fun. The .50cal is quite a gun! I was never ascared of the unions but they better not F#%k with me again!!! Just saying.

Naturally, she’s using the “I was just joking” defense. Nurses always joke about guns…oh, wait. No, they don’t. Most nurses aren’t all that keen on guns, because they see too many gunshot wounds.

Rep. Blankenbeker made the news earlier in the year, when she appeared on a NH television program and stated that she didn’t believe that Osama bin Laden was actually dead, because her superior officers hadn’t let her know.

From the NH Legislator’s Handbook:

Elected members shall maintain professional conduct while serving as state legislators and, at all times, shouldconductthemselves inaway that exhibits the utmost respect for their elected office, their constituents and the people of the State of New Hampshire. Members should be aware that they are constantly under public scrutiny.

It seems unlikely that Rep. Blankenbeker will be asked to resign. House Speaker O’Brien needs her vote if he’s ever going to overturn Governor Lynch’s veto of the right to work law passed this session. Besides, she was only joking. It’s okay to threaten union members with gun violence as long as it’s “joking.”

Justice for Some

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) may see their budget slashed to 1999 levels. LSC supports 126 legal aid organizations around the country. Legal Aid programs help low income folks access legal representation. At a time when more people than ever before qualify for legal assistance, under proposed budget cuts, the programs will lose 26% of their funding. These programs are already underfunded, and unable to help about half of the people who call them, because they lack resources.

From MoJo:

Already, the legal-aid nonprofits supported by the LSC are slated to lose a total of 445 staff members, including 200 lawyers, by the end of 2011, according to a survey of the groups. Last year, 63 million people—an all-time high—qualified for their help, an increase of 11 percent from the year before. “This is not the time to undercut the fundamental American commitment to equal justice for all,” says Legal Services president James Sandman.

“There is never a convenient time to make tough decisions,” counters Frank Wolf, chair of the House subcommittee responsible for the LSC’s budget. “But the longer we put off fixing the problem, the worse the medicine will be…The bill represents our best take on matching needs with scarce resources.”

Heald says she understands the need to cut spending, but explains that legal services has a “preventive effect” that actually saves money for the states. Housing a family in a homeless shelter in Maine for just two or three weeks is five to ten times more expensive than supporting a lawyer who can help keep the family in stable housing, she says. “And that’s just the cost of the shelter nights, and not the cost on all the other supportive systems a family might need.”

There’s a great deal of short sighted slashing going on in these budget cuts. If these program cuts are enacted, states will end up (as Ms. Heald points out) paying the pound of cure, when it would have been far cheaper to pay for the ounce of prevention.

Perhaps even worse is the damage this does to our national ideal of “justice for all.” This just serves to further the cynical view (already in place) that justice is only available to the wealthy.

Senate Bill 5 officially makes Ohio ballot as Kasich’s numbers fall

It’s official: the rights-stripping, anti-working families, extreme Senate Bill 5 will be put before Ohio voters for a Citizen Veto in November:

Ohio voters will have the chance this November to decide whether the state’s contentious new collective bargaining law should be repealed.

The state’s elections chief said Thursday that opponents had gathered enough valid signatures to put the question before voters. The measure is now suspended from taking effect until voters have their say.

Secretary of State John Husted certified 915,456 valid signatures, out of the 231,147 that were needed. Not only that, but these signatures came from every corner of the state:

As part of the total number of signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, petitioners also needed to collect signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and within each of those counties, to collect enough signatures equal to three percent of the total vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2010. Senate Bill 5 petitioners met this requirement in all 88 counties.

Meanwhile, Governor John Kasich is pulling ahead in the contest to be the nation’s least popular statewide executive. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows that 50 percent of Ohioans disapprove of Kasich’s performance has governor, while a measly 35 percent approve. This is down from a 49-38 spread in May 2011, and it isn’t just traditional Democrats who are turning against him:

Kasich’s job performance gets a 66 – 19 percent approval from Republicans, but disapproval is 76 – 12 percent among Democrats and 48 – 34 percent among independent voters. The depth of his problem is evidenced by his split 43 – 42 percent rating among white evangelical Christians, typically a very pro-Republican group.

As for his signature legislative achievement, voters oppose Senate Bill 5 56 percent to 32 percent. That sentiment showed up very clearly when We Are Ohio announced that they had gathered 1.3 million signatures to repeal SB 5 – that’s roughly six times the margin Kasich won by in the 2010 election.

Purely based on the numbers, things are looking up for Ohio working families, but not so good for Kasich and his corporate, radical allies.