Category: Fight for Progress

Unions 101

by Celina della Croce

Unions have been in steady decline over the last few decades, from 20.1 percent of workers in 1983 to just 11.1 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So what are unions, anyway? Where have they gotten us so far and why do they even matter at all?

Simply put, a union is a group of workers coming together to have a voice on the job and to fight for fair wages, treatment and conditions in their workplace. While the structure of individual unions varies, all unions are accountable to their membership. Members pay dues, which fund the union, and they have the right to vote on elected offices in their union’s leadership, to pass or modify bylaws, and to ratify or vote down contracts. Unlike nonprofits, which often receive grant funding, unions’ funding comes directly from the workers that they represent. That means whether you’re a teacher or a janitor or a nurse, if you’re in a union, your union works for you. They negotiate legally binding contracts with employers based on the issues that matter to members, such as wages and working conditions, and hold the employers accountable to that agreement.

Unions are the reason that we have the standard 40-hour workweek. They are the reason we have child labor laws, safety regulations, a minimum wage, and laws that protect working people. Even if you’ve never heard of a union, or if you’ve never been in one, union members are fighting for your rights, too.

Centuries ago, it was perfectly legal for companies to employ both adults and children in unsafe working conditions and, when someone was injured on the job, to get rid of them and simply replace them with someone else. Thanks to unions, we have laws that protect working people, like the Occupational Safety and Hazard Act, which forces your employer to abide by certain safety regulations, and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that makes it illegal for your employer to discriminate against or fire you because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or age.

How did working people with no money and no power win basic protections and fair wages? One worker alone has very little power in the scheme of things. Before unions fought for and won safety regulations, if your arm was cut off on the factory floor, your boss could simply toss you aside and find someone to replace you. But if all of the workers come together and say, “We’re not willing to do this any more. We will not work in unsafe conditions. We will not continue to live in poverty. We will not allow you to profit off of us until you meet our conditions,” the power dynamic starts to shift. Even without every worker participating, if a sizeable amount of your workforce has chained themselves to the front entrance, or is dominating the news cycle and bringing negative publicity to your company, it becomes more profitable to negotiate with your workers and figure out how to get them to stop. And that is the power of unions.

Unions have the right to negotiate contracts that set working conditions and wages. Thinking about that raise you’ve been asking for but keep getting denied? Or more support for a project you’re working on? Stuck with a bad boss and worried if he or she is out to get you? Just buy a new car and you’re worried about rumors of a lay-off? Feel like your boss never listens to you? If you’re in a union, you can negotiate over wages, training, job security, and layoff procedures, among other things. If you and your coworkers come together, you’re a lot more likely to get a strong contract. And if your employer violates that contract, you and your union have the power and the legal right to enforce it.

Without a union, you can be fired for any time, with or without cause. You may think your boss likes you, and maybe they do, but if they retire or move on, you are relying on good luck and the good will of your next boss to keep your job, or for your next raise. They may give you a raise, they may not. They may follow the company handbook, they may not. Without a union, you’re relying on luck and a favorable job market, and you have no mechanism to enforce fair treatment unless it’s a violation of the law. Remember who fought for those laws that are protecting you, too?  Oh yea. Unions.

In addition to negotiating contracts, many unions also advocate for laws and policies that will benefit working people and are supported by their membership. If you are a millennial with a tech job reading this thinking, “Why do I need a union? I make a living wage, and I can always find another job,” just remember that you have unions to thank for the basic protections that you have. If you fall and break your knee on your way to work, your employer is required to grant you a medical leave of absence through the Family Medical Leave of Absence. Unlike your company handbook, FMLA is legally enforceable. Unions fought for that, too.

Unions are formed when workers come together and vote for them. Without getting into the technicalities, if you’re interested in forming a union at your job, contact a union and ask for their support. If you already have one, start showing up at meetings. And even if you don’t work, or if you aren’t able to join a union for some reason, figure out how you can show up and support the folks who are out fighting for your rights.

MCU School-to-Prison Pipeline Event Recap

Feedback Encouraged
A guest post series by Jack Seigel

Sometimes it’s hard to be a progressive in the county. Thankfully some high school friends and other community activists started the West County Community Action Network (We Can) in response to Ferguson and problematic racial relations in our backyard, through actions like weekly Black Lives Matter vigils that rotate through west county.

Another initiative of We Can is work on the school-to-prison pipeline. Members met last Saturday after the vigil to talk about a potentially problematic new statute that adds a felony class which could be applied to children who fight at school. Past experience leads us to believe that this statute would be applied in a racially discriminatory way and further strengthen the school to prison pipeline.

Given that Missouri is already the worst state for racially applied discipline, we have a lot of work to do towards a more just and equitable future — towards a world with fewer felon labels and a focus on rehabilitative justice; a world that protects children’s rights to education instead of criminalizing them; and one where we address why kids are fighting, and why people are committing crimes.

It’s time to understand that poverty and lack of opportunity are the root causes of crime. It’s time to come together and provide a world where we all can thrive, not one where people profit from locking up and exploiting the labor of fellow human beings. There is a lot to do, and right now that includes understanding and responding to the statute change.

Meeting Recap

Community response ranged from confusion to fear to outrage. In order to provide clarity on the issue and to leverage the sudden interest in reforming the school-to-prison pipeline, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) organized last week’s event, which had a huge turnout. The evening started with organizers from MCU explaining the background, followed by small group discussions about initial reactions.

Representatives from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and a former Assistant Attorney General explained that the statute was actually not changing much and that children could always be charged. Additionally, kids are always processed through the juvenile justice system before they reach the criminal justice system, except in the most extreme circumstances. This was not satisfactory to members in the audience who wondered why legislators needed to make a change if not to grab more power over an already oppressed group of people— minority children. Additionally, the timing made it seem like the community did not have a chance to respond since the change would go into effect on January 1, 2017. A final indication this was indeed a big change was that school districts had issued statements about how the statute change could criminalize kids.

As people voiced their concerns, it became clear that this passion and momentum could be channeled into something positive. Ideas for increasing involvement included contacting school board members and supporting people who protest and organize around issues of racial justice.

The meeting then broke into small groups and developed a list of possible responses:

  • Create of an app for reporting school staff and administrators at the community level.
  • Hold assemblies/public forums for parents to discuss issues in the schools.
  • Make flow charts for rights of parents and students in the educational setting.
  • Find ways to relate to voters in rural areas and the politicians that represent them.
  • Hold legislative bodies accountable by making them host open forums in their communities and keeping tabs on their legislation and voting records.
  • Organize days of action in Jefferson City, like the one organized by the ACLU.
  • Translate legislation into layman’s terms instead of 600 plus pages of legalese.
  • Eliminate suspensions.
  • Conduct professional development around anti-bias training.
  • Hire more teachers of color.
  • Opt for mediation of school conflict over immediate discipline.
  • Focus on school board elections in the spring.

The MCU facilitator then invited everyone back in a few weeks to develop task forces to act on the action steps each breakout group voted on.

And of course, as we enter the new year, with a new president, a new governor and an increase in hate crimes against minorities, we must remember that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against injustice and hate. Silence is violence and we can only progress as a society when we commit to doing so without leaving everyone behind.

For more information and to get involved please connect with MCU and We Can on Facebook.

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Fight for $15 Event Coverage

Guest blog post by Jack Seigel

I participated in the last event of a day of action organized by Fight for $15 and Jobs with Justice yesterday. The focus was economic justice, living wages, and putting people over profits. There was a strong union presence, plus many religious leaders and politicians.

A brave few decided they would engage in civil disobedience by sitting in the streets, arms linked in solidarity and prepared to be arrested for disrupting the flow of traffic. But disruption is the reason for events like this.

It is easy to get caught up in daily life, to worry about ourselves instead of others and in our daily routine, lose sight of the humanity of the service workers with whom we often interact. We forget that those people have families and struggles, and that their fair treatment is more important than our convenience.

As we assembled outside the union hall people passed out signs for living wages, reproductive rights, environmental rights, and labor rights; all important factors that play into the ability of working people to get by in life. The spectacle was impressive as people played music and danced in anticipation of the coming march. A few other marshals and I moved ahead of the group and blocked the road allowing the procession to cross.

Drivers were mad at first, but that transitioned to curiosity about what was going on as the mass crossed Hampton and went into the McDonalds parking lot. As we circled the building via the drive thru, we chanted:

“Show me 15!”
“Shut it down!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

Most workers smiled and waved, appreciating that the exploitation of their labor was the reason for our protest. We lined up on the sidewalk as the chants continued.

The police arrived in force and local news stations covered the event.  As the labor leaders led the chants, volunteers moved into the street and sat down together.

Eventually the police issued a warning that our action was illegal, that people risked arrest and that officers would use nonlethal force if necessary. Excessive force or violence was not necessary and the officers rounded up about 20 people. They then warned that they would re-open the street and arrest more people if necessary. Again, force was not needed.

At this point, people made speeches about living wages, social justice, the importance of community, and the history of labor unions becoming active in the struggle for economic justice. Speakers also mentioned how multiple faiths came together recognizing the morality implicit in demanding higher wages and better working conditions. It was refreshing to see such a large and diverse crowd recognizing we all share the burden in exposing oppression.

The protest reminded me of a Cornel West quote, “Justice is the expression of love in public.”  Together, the power of working people will triumph.

Feedback Encouraged.

Election 2016 Post-Mortem Series: How Progressives Can Take the Reins of the Missouri Democratic Party

Part 1: All is Not Lost for Progressives in Missouri

By Danny Gladden, MBA, MSW, LCSW
Community Social Worker

By now, you have had time to digest the 2016 election results. If you are a progressive living in Missouri, you are likely making your way through the stages of grief. As a social worker, I often find myself helping folks through tough moments. Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief and loss are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — I feel as though I have experienced or observed all of those over the last two weeks, including acceptance.

I have heard many of my progressive friends accept the fact that Missouri is officially a deep red state and suggest that liberal utopias such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco look inviting. But I encourage you to hold off on acceptance for just a moment.

The implications of the 2016 election on our community’s most vulnerable citizens will be catastrophic, but I am not ready to concede Missouri to the conservative majority.

We must not accept the 2016 results as the new status quo; it is neither moral nor strategic.

Missouri’s History of Shifting Political Powers

Missouri has always had a rich and fascinating political history. Only two years in our state history — 1869 and 1870 — have republicans held all statewide offices, majorities in the MO House & Senate, both United States Senate seats, a majority of United States House seats, and the White House. If Missouri progressives do not reverse course, 2018 will look like 1869.

Missouri Democrats filled the Governor’s Mansion from 1945 to 1972, taking a break in the 1980s, and resuming power from 1992 to 2016, with the exception of four years in 2000. Missouri Democrats also maintained majorities in the Missouri House and Senate from 1955 until 2001. In 2001, Republicans gained control of the Missouri Senate and in 2003, Republicans gained control of the Missouri House.  Since 2000, Senate Democrats have watched their caucus dwindle from 18 down to eight of 34 Senators, and since 2003, House Democrats watched their caucus shed 42 seats, down to a total 45 out of 163 members.

Reviving a Statewide Coalition

Missouri Republicans have done a much better job of remaining competitive in all corners of Missouri, recruiting and electing non-partisan aldermen, mayors, school board members and republican county treasurers, prosecutors, etc. These office holders served as a farm team of potential candidates that were used to pluck away at incumbent House and Senate Democrats, and fill openings when members were term limited out. Republicans have office holders in all 114 of Missouri’s counties while vast portions of the state have no Democratic office holders.

In 2016, 66 Republican House candidates and four Republican Senate candidates were unopposed. In many counties, only conservative candidates filed for local office. Despite our voting options, the state is still home to a large coalition voters, both pro-worker and anti-racist. Donald Trump’s margin in Missouri was impressive, but he did not win by changing the landscape of the Missouri electorate.

Trump’s lopsided victory in Missouri meant a death knell for close down-ballot races. For example, while Donald Trump beat Clinton by 19%, Blunt beat Kander by 3% and Greitens bested Koster by 6%. Kander’s 3% loss and Trump’s win with 129,599 fewer Missouri voters than 2008 provides a little progressive hope for the future.

To find that hope, just look back to 2008, when Missouri saw the largest voter turnout in its history with more than 2.9 million votes cast — 69.4% voter turnout. That election saw Barack Obama narrowly lose to John McCain by less than 4,000 votes statewide.  In 2012, Missouri saw 160,298 fewer voters and in 2016, 129,599 fewer voters turned out than in 2008.

Some more good news: despite Missouri’s deep red outcome on November 8, 2016, Democrats added one seat to their House caucus and one seat to their Senate caucus for a total of nine out of 34 senators and 46 out of 163 House members.  

However, if Democrats and progressives are going to dramatically increase membership in the Missouri General Assembly, candidate recruitment and development for all municipal, county and state legislative races will be essential.

Leveraging City Progressives

If progressives are to find success in Missouri, St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan area voters must be inspired to turn out. As noted above, 129,599 fewer voters cast ballots in 2016 vs. 2008; 120,360 of them or 92% of the statewide abstention came from St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County. If those additional 120,360 votes had been cast this year, it quite possibly could have pushed Jason Kander over the edge to victory.

We saw in 2008 and in 2012 that Missouri doesn’t even need to go blue in the presidential race in order to elect statewide Democrats. If we support statewide candidates who favors workers’ and civil rights over corporate interests, they can bring progressive voters to the polls.  

Forging Ahead

Mobilize Missouri is committed to working with other progressive organizations to enhance voter engagement, as well as aid in the recruitment and promotion of progressive candidates in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. St. Louis and Kansas City historically underperform in the midterms and that will need to change if we are going succeed. All is not lost. There is progressive hope for Missouri’s future but only if we thoroughly engage voters in St. Louis, Kansas City, and every corner of this great state by giving them a compelling reason to participate in this process.

Jobs with Justice Community Meeting Recap

Guest blog post by Jack Seigel

Last night, I attended a Jobs With Justice community meeting that included labor leaders, elected officials, community organizers, union members, and concerned citizens, with a spirit of checking in on people post-election and reaffirming a commitment to the work ahead.

As we sat and listened to the reactions from the group, we heard some hopeful responses. A local worker shared how joining a union changed his life and lifted him firmly into the working class, but he never forgot where he came from and was happy to help others follow a similar path.  He wondered aloud about irrational fears of corrupt union bosses.  All he sees are hardworking people who want a better life for their families.  Other members of all ages murmured in agreement.

Many organizers applauded both the amount of new faces at the meeting and the diversity of our coalition.  Inclusive dialogue is important; it starts in union hall basements, continues on the streets with our neighbors, and ends with a unified voice that politicians can’t ignore.  An organizer correctly pointed out that it would take a while to take back the levers of power politically, but organizing people into concentrated expressions of power couldn’t wait, and clearly it wouldn’t.

Some of the most inspiring news was about ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments that just passed in other states and can serve as a blueprint for getting progressive policies in front of voters for a stamp of approval.  Local labor movements also talked about ballot initiatives that have already been filed for 2018 and the work needs to be done; everything from getting signatures to launching get-out-the-vote efforts.

But before we get to that, there are actions we can join in the near future. Fast food workers will be engaging in a strike meant to demand better working conditions and higher pay.  It is important that we stand in solidarity with them, especially because it is impossible to support a family on one or even multiple part time food service jobs.  Working 40 hours a week should get people out of poverty, not keep them living check to check – at the mercy of landlords, not able to afford sickness, vacation, education or savings.  Service workers are undervalued and dehumanized in the quest for cheap food, and the worker is only a means to the end.

When treated as replaceable cogs in a machine by large companies, people get lost and society is happy to keep them lost.  The working class is out of sight and out of mind, while those who are privileged consider moving to Canada and complain about the politics of a rural America that we could not begin to understand and won’t work to reach out to.  Building a broader sense of community – a coalition of people who feel empathy to each other, who stand in solidarity and are committed to social, racial, and economic justice – is what will shield local communities from a creeping tide of national hate.

Feedback Encouraged.

Mobilize Missouri Stands with Standing Rock

All of life depends on clean water. Mobilize Missouri stands with Native American water protectors in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The pipeline’s owners plan to tunnel under the Missouri River at Standing Rock, as well as the Mississippi River further to the east.

Members of Mobilize Missouri and hundreds of our concerned fellow humans will gather for “STL Stands w/ Standing Rock Solidarity March & Solution Rally” at St. Louis Union Station Hotel, 1820 Market Street on Saturday, November 5th at 3 pm. Organized by the Patchwork Hearts Collective and Veterans for Peace, marchers are asked to bring signs, drums, noisemakers, banners and peaceful active spirits.

The militarized response at Standing Rock has persisted, despite a request to halt construction issued by the the U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior and the Army. Pipeline developers Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) have maliciously destroyed the residents’ burial grounds and sacred artifacts, violently attacked citizens with trained dogs, tasers, nightsticks and pepper spray. State and local authorities continue to target journalists attempting to document authorities’ actions, issuing arrests on trumped-up charges. Those arrested have reported being put in holding pens intended for pets and livestock.

Local awareness about the civil rights struggle of the Lakȟóta people has thankfully been growing. On September 9th, led by Alderwomen Megan-Ellyia Green and Christine Ingrassia, the City of St. Louis joined dozens of other cities across America, passing a resolution “in support of the Indigenous opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and we call on all residents of the City to raise awareness about this important struggle for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice and to support the Sacred Stone Camp efforts in any way they can.”

Join us outside Union Station on Saturday, November 5th at 3 pm as we work to expand the awareness and opposition to this epic civil liberties struggle.

Event Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/201979676874427/