Working America canvassers are pounding the pavement every day to fight for jobs and democracy. But according to Washington Post inside-the-Beltway columnist Dana Milbank, the labor and progressive movement is “in the fetal position.” “The failed gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin showed that momentum is against Democrats and their allies,” he writes.
Since June 5th, we’ve lost count of the number of Very Serious opinion pieces about the demise of the labor movement. Outside the DC bubble, however, it’s a different story. Using new tactics and old-fashioned gumption, workers are standing up all over the country, putting their jobs on the line, and advocating for a better life.
Here are three such instances that you didn’t hear anything about:
• 1,200 Poultry Workers Win Union Representation in Alabama. Bet you didn’t think we’d start in Alabama! But in the traditionally anti-union Deep South, workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Russellville voted overwhelmingly on June 12 to join the RWDSU, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. “The workers at Pilgrim’s Pride know they deserve better and have proven there is a better way,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, “This resounding vote will be heard by poultry workers throughout the South as a message of hope.”
The key issue at Pilgrim’s Pride weren’t wages and benefits, but perhaps the more deep-seeded issue of respect: the right to redress grievances and have input into the operation of the plant. “We had no respect from management, and absolutely no voice in anything that affected us,” said sanitation worker Cheryl Kowalski.
The folks at Pilgrim’s Pride didn’t take kindly to the unionization attempts. According to RWDSU, . The company held weeks of captive audience meetings where they threatened massive layoffs and hinted at the possibility of plant closure if the workers voted for the union. Desperate to cut off dialogue between workers, the company booked conference rooms at nearby hotels to try to deprive the workers of a meeting space. But after a month of this, says poultry production worker Sharon Hill, “I knew we were going to win – I could see it in the employees’ eyes…We finally had hope in the plant that someone would help us.” The final vote was 706 to 292.
Workers’ rights – 1. Desperate anti-union tactics – Zero.
• Kaplan ESL Teachers in New York Join the Newspaper Guild. The education company Kaplan, Inc. made $2.5 billion in revenues last year, yet their employees were having trouble getting paid time off for sickness and navigating the complex compensation system. Professional tutors, many with masters degrees, were getting paid “at an assortment of illogical hourly rates as low as the $7.25 minimum wage,” said Newspaper Guild President Bill O’Meara.
Teachers at three Manhattan Kaplan centers voted 2-to-1 to join the Newspaper Guild of New York, Local 31003, CWA. “This is, of course, a great day for teachers at Kaplan,” said Kaplan teacher Danny Valdes. “But I hope that this shows teachers that we can increase standards industry-wide by coming together to organize.”
• Striking Pizza Workers Undeterred in Post-Recall Wisconsin. Thousands of Wisconsinites volunteered in the fight to recall Gov. Scott Walker. But for workers at Milwaukee’s Palermo’s Pizza, the dedication was two-fold – they were going door to door while on strike.
Recently management has come down hard on the workers, using the threat of immigration audits to intimidate the mostly Latino workforce. “The company has used the issue of an ICE audit and the process involved in that as a means to bust the union organizing drive,” says Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Neumann-Ortiz, “in addition to other forms of retaliation.” Palermo’s is also allegedly firing workers who participate in the strike, which is illegal.
60 to 80 percent of Palermo’s workforce is on strike, and a diverse coalition of Wisconsinites who just put their governor up for recall is standing with them. On Tuesday, the Catholic social justice advocates “Nuns on a Bus” rallied with the striking workers, and Riverwest Cooperative Grocery Store just announced a boycott of Palermo’s products. The national pressure on Palermo’s to act is building.