Monday, June 23, 2008
Workers at the newest hotel in Minneapolis, Hotel Ivy, have signed union cards and organized as part of UNITE HERE Local 17.Now I'm not defending Hotel Ivy here, because if you take the dime of TIF, you do the time of dealing with card-check. But understand how a union card works, versus a private ballot. Let's hear it from a former organizer for UNITE HERE, in testimony before Congress.
The employer was bound to a card-check agreement under the terms of financing provided by the City of Minneapolis to help build the hotel. The City provided $6 million in tax increment financing for the $100 million development, which renovated a historic 1930 Moorish-style tower as part of a larger project that includes 136 hotel rooms, 92 condos, and a 17,000 square foot health club.
The new bargaining unit will include about 50 workers, reported Martin Goff, director of organization for UNITE HERE Local 17. ...
"It took about two weeks to organize," Goff said. "We had some people we knew inside from our other hotels." Once Local 17 recruited an organizing committee, Goff reported, "the committee signed up virtually everyone." Goff said 86 percent of the workers signed union cards.
A �card check� campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called �housecalling,� with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards. Called a �blitz� by the unions, it entails teams of two or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers� personal information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates and other sources that were used to create a master list.Coercion in voting should offend us all; we watch Zimbabwe this week where an opposition party that won a plurality of the votes in a primary has chosen to withdraw rather than risk violence against its supporters by the Mugabe government. But we hear very, very little about the legitimate threats made to workers -- not violence, but getting workers fired so that you could pass a unionization effort -- in order to support the L of DFL. That's what the city council in Minneapolis did to those workers at the Hotel Ivy. Do they care?
In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get �into the door.� They are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won�t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card.
...From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends organizers out to workers� homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand. The time allocated for the election to go forward allows the worker a chance to think through his or her own issues without undue influence�thus avoiding an immediate, impulsive decision based on little or no fact. After all, the decision to join a union is often life-changing, and workers should be afforded the time to debate, discuss and research all of the options available to them.
As an organizer working under a �card check� system versus an election system, I knew that �card check� gave me the ability to quickly agitate a set of workers into signing cards. I did not have to prove the union�s case, answer more informed questions from workers or be held accountable for the service record of my union.
...In addition to the �housecall,� the union frequently employs other tactics to manipulate the card numbers and add legitimacy to their organizing drive. One strategy is to manipulate unit size. One of the most common ways that we ensured the union could claim that we had reached a majority was to change the size of the group of workers we were going to organize after the drive was finished. During the blitz, workers in every department would be �housecalled,� but if need be, certain groups of workers would be removed from the final unit, regardless of their level of union support. In doing so, the union reduced the number of cards needed to reach a majority. Another such strategy is that organizers are told to train workers to �provoke� unfair labor practices on the part of the company in an attempt to create campaign legitimacy and coerce a �card check� agreement.
One egregious example was when Ernest Bennett, the Director of Organizing for UNITE at the time, told a room full of organizers during a training meeting for the Cintas campaign that if three workers weren�t fired by the end of the first week of organizing, UNITE would not win the campaign. Another strategy is that organizers are told not to file any unfair labor practice charges because it would slow the �card check� process and make time for the workers to question their decisions.
The AFL-CIO reports that Barack Obama has said he would sign the bill that creates card-check for all workplaces, not just those that take government money. They are hoping for change that reduces employee freedom.
UPDATE (6/24): Andy reports that CD6 DFL and Independence Party candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg is also in favor of removing voting rights from the workplace. Funny, I don't see that on the IP platform.
These are our core values:
1) A democratic process with integrity and broad citizen participation