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December, 2009 News

Last updated: December 14, 2009


Time to apply for a 2010 Berger-Marks grant!

Applications accepted Jan.- Feb. for groups & academics
(Individual organizers can apply for a grant at any time)

Group of 

women at labor institute
Our 2009 grants helped U.S. and cross-border organizing
Women's Institute for Labor Development

Unions, union-friendly groups and academics are invited to apply online between January 1 and February 28 for a 2010 Berger-Marks grant. Online application forms

What kinds of projects are we looking for?

Grants for organizations

We fund groups that help women workers organize into unions, either directly or indirectly. For example, last year we helped Arise Chicago train women in leadership and organizing skills to help immigrant workers know their rights and fight wage theft, such as not getting paid the legal minimum. And we helped a dynamic new web site,, educate workers on their rights by giving visitors a wealth of information and tools geared to their specific situations.

The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the AFL-CIO's Pride at Work group also got grants to train women in leadership skills. See more group projects funded in 2009

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Spotlight on grant recipient


Berger-Marks grant helps organizer

Union for freelance journalists goes public in California

Photo of Rosen Lum
Rebecca Rosen Lum

"The workplace is changing and we are changing with it," says Rebecca Rosen Lum, who won a Berger-Marks grant to help create the first-ever freelance unit linked to a Newspaper Guild-CWA local union.

"As newsrooms are shrinking, many former journalists prefer to remain in journalism and work independently, knowing how critical this work is to a democracy," explains Rosen Lum. "That's a brave thing to do; for many, that means laboring without health coverage or financial benefits."

She knows the job shouldn’t require so much bravery. "I believe mightily in the honor of work and the right of all working people to organize," asserts Rosen Lum, who helped unionize the Contra Costa Times when she worked there.

"I often hear newly-independent journalists lament the loss of the structure, stability, camaraderie and practical support the traditional news organization provided. I know the union can fill that gap," says Rosen Lum.

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Supporters dressed up like fruit in front of store
USAS slide show


Huge union victory won by U.S. students

Russell Athletics forced to rehire 1200 fired workers, accept union

In Honduran factories

Russell Athletics, one of the nation's leading sportswear companies, thought it could get away with firing 1200 workers who had just unionized -- most of them women -- when it closed a big factory in January. After all, the factory was in Honduras, where workers have little protection.

What the company didn't count on was what the United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) proudly calls "the largest corporate campaign in the history of modern student activism." Thanks to USAS pressure on universities and across the U.S., the Workers Rights Consortium and the Honduran workers' SITRAJERZEESH union hammered out a historic agreement with the company this November.

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Short and tweet messages

Are you ready to Twitter?

Web page with recent Tweets for labour action
From Twitter page by LabourStart

"Today, United Students Against Sweatshops is going to set another first for a national student organization," announced their November email, "by systematically using Twitter to strengthen our corporate campaign against Dick's Sporting Goods."

Twitter? For the overworked organizer, signing up for the latest web gimmick to communicate with people who talk about what they had for lunch might seem a bit crazy. Is Twitter really worth the time and trouble?

One answer comes from students who pressured Dick's Sporting Goods to drop Russell Athletic products after Russell fired 1200 worker in Honduras. Twitter was a novel way to get the attention of the company, which had ignored their phone calls and letters.

"Even if you don't like Twitter that much," a USAS email told supporters. "It is actually really fun to brand-bust corporations online. For example, you can 'follow' and send messages to Dick's Sporting Goods' Chief Marketing Officer."

USAS emailed simple instructions for using Twitter to its supporters, along with some suggested "tweets." See USAS' instructions and sample tweets

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Speaking of Twitter...

'Take a ticket' from SEIU to fight health care discrimination

Shows your number, the Tweet, and ways to spread it around

Are you fed up with the fact that women pay up to 48% more than men for the same insurance policies, and are denied coverage with "pre-existing conditions" like pregnancies and c-sections?

SEIU has launched an innovative online campaign to spread the word about that discrimination against women and pressure health insurance companies to stop discriminating.

You're invited to join in -- just visit a web site that invites you to "Take a number". The virtual ticket you get, by giving your zip code and email address, puts you in line to demand equal coverage for women. When we took a number, we got this message: " I'm 8820th against discrimination by health insurers." Try it yourself and see if the line has grown since then!

The message you get is designed as a "tweet" that you can post on Twitter or Facebook or email to friends with the click of a button.


New unemployment rules benefit women

Did you know that women collect far less unemployment insurance than men? That's because they often leave jobs for reasons that are considered "voluntary." Seven out of 10 women leave jobs because they lost their child care, their spouse relocated, or other work-family conflicts. In the majority of states, such workers are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits because they are considered to have "voluntarily left the labor force."

But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Barack Obama signed in February, could change that. It provides $7 billion to help states extend jobless benefits to low-income workers, part-time workers and those with work-family conflicts.


Mediation Board dumps old, un-democratic rule for airlines

Professor cites study funded by Berger-Marks to show need to act

Photo of Pachula
Linda Puchala, former AFA-CWA union president, joined the Board last Spring

There's good news for airline and railroad workers! On November 2, the National Mediation Board took decisive action to get rid of ancient practices that have perverted union elections by, in effect, counting all non-voters as "no" votes. The NMB oversees union elections for transportation workers.

In September, shortly after the board got some fresh faces from President Obama's appointments (One of the replaced board members had been a lobbyist for Northwest Airlines), the AFL-CIO asked the board to update the election procedures. Unions noted that just because a worker does not cast a vote, it doesn't mean he or she does not want a union. It just means a worker didn't vote.

Delta Airlines, the most nonunion passenger airline in the skies, is leading the charge against changing those rules. At one point Delta flight attendants voted 40-1 for union representation, but the vote was thrown out because a majority of workers didn't fill out ballots. Now that Delta has swallowed up the unionized Northwest Airlines, the union is building for another vote..

The NMB voted 2 to 1 to change airline and rail election rules so that they mirror the rules that form the basis for every democratic election.

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School bus drivers accelerate into Teamsters

In Baumann drive, company collides with immigrants, community

Both Pam and her little dog wear union T-shirts, in front of Teamsters bus
First Student driver Pam Carlypic became a Teamster in October

"We Won! We're Teamsters Now!" cried the Baumann Organizing Committee, in a flyer distributed to 1,700 school bus workers employed by the Baumann transportation companies on Long Island. "On Friday, November 20, we voted 906-644 to join Teamsters Local 1205! The vote turnout was overwhelming!"

Victory came just a month and a half after the union had filed for the election, even after, as one driver put it, "The owners spent a lot of money trying to have us not vote for the union -- that's a fact."

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Flight attendants finally get right to take family time off

Union pushed Congress to close huge loophole

Congress just closed a huge gap in the 16-year-old Family and Medical Leave Act when the House voted on Dec. 2 to make the law cover flight attendants and pilots. The Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act breezed through both houses of Congress with voice votes and strong, bipartisan support. They were voting on the version the Senate passed in November.

Sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the new legislation makes flight crews eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees most workers the right to take unpaid time off to deal with medical emergencies and new babies. Congress had never actually intended to leave flight crews up in the air when it passed the Act 16 years ago; but the courts had narrowed the law's coverage by insisting that it only applied to workers who put in more regular hours than flight attendants do, including standard 40-hour weeks or their equivalent.

Because the new Act explicitly sets a worktime standard that aircrews can meet, "We are happy to flight attendant will be left behind when it comes to FMLA coverage anymore," said AFA-CWA President Pat Friend; she urged the government to quickly write rules to implement the law after President Obama signs it.

...And then the bad news

That's the good news. The bad news is that this may be the only piece of work-life balance legislation that makes it all the way through Congress this year.

According to Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., whether the law also covers other workers with odd schedules, such as railroaders, is unclear, and will be ironed out "case by case."


This is not your father's AFL-CIO

New study shows how unions have changed

Remember the old cartoons showing unions as a dim-witted, middle-aged man with a wrench in his back pocket? That image is more out of touch with reality than ever.

  • Twenty-five years ago, the typical union member was indeed a white man, and barely one member in three was a woman.
  • But today, unions have nearly as many women as men -- they're 45.2% women to 55.8% men. If the trends of the recent past continue, women will be in the majority by 2020. (But women are still slightly better represented in the workforce overall, where 48.3% are women.)
  • The educational achievement of union workers has also grown dramatically. In 1983, union workers were slightly less educated than the overall work force; today that's flipped, and union workers are slightly more educated than the overall work force.

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Organizing wins:
2,600 child care workers join AFSCME

In New Mexico; AAUP wins at health center in Connecticut

Logo for AFSCME Child Care Providers Together

Some 2,600 family child care providers voted in October to join Child Care Providers Together (CCPT)/New Mexico, an affiliate of AFSCME Council 18. The workers made a breakthrough in their 3-year struggle this April, when Gov. Bill Richardson (D) signed a new law allowing both registered and licensed providers to be represented by a union.

The new union members want better benefits and pay, says Sylvia Ruiz. "We're only making about $4 to $6 per day per child, but we have these kids more than the parents do. I have mothers who are nurses, so they're working 12-hour shifts."

When they were approached to join the union, said state-licensed provider Nancy Mosier, "We were interested immediately. We wanted the right to speak out on what we need as professional day care providers."

In addition to New Mexico, AFSCME now represents some 150,000 family child care providers in California, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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New alliance fights double standard for T-Mobile workers

German union gets respect, while U.S. workers harassed, underpaid, insecure

Man dressed like fuzzy cowboy whispers to Larry Cohen
Worker X whispers his answer to a reporter's question into CWA President Larry Cohen's ear
Janelle Hartmann of CWA via PAI Photo Service

In Germany, 2 million people who work for the company that owns T-Mobile enjoy all the benefits the union brings. But T-Mobile has a free hand to exploit its 38,000 workers in the U.S., and harasses those who want a union. That outrageous double standard led the Communications Workers in the U.S. (CWA) to team up with the German union ver.di to create a new alliance to help US. Worker organize. (See previous article.) The alliance, called T Union, has a website designed to reach out to T-Mobile workers.

At a forum and news conference this November, the two unions re-affirmed their determination to help U.S. workers organize. Strong words of solidarity came from CWA President Larry Cohen and Ado Wilhelm, a ver.di official representing workers at Deutsche Telekom, the German company that owns T-Mobile.

The union heads were joined by a T-Mobile worker, known only as Worker X, who wore an absurd disguise and spoke only in whispers so the company couldn't recognize and fire him (her?). If the worker had spoken aloud, T-Mobile's voice recognition equipment could have identified him.

They introduced new research that details the atmosphere of fear and repression T-Mobile has created for workers since it entered the US market in 2001. T-Mobile routinely uses illegal or unethical practices like mandatory one-on-one meetings to intimidate workers, asserts Rutgers University Professor Adrienne Eaton, who presented the report.

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Philly security officers win decade-long drive

With no national union, Jobs with Justice plays key role

Supporters march with sign: Welcoming   Change
Philadelphia Jobs with Justice

The security officers who protect the treasures at the Philadelphia Museum of Art now have a little protection of their own. This October, by a vote of 68-55, the guards agreed to be union for the first time since the mayor outsourced most of the security work 17 years ago.

When AlliedBarton, a company controlled by Philadelphia billionaire Ron Perelman, took over the security, it cost the guards a good chunk of their livelihoods. This fall they were making $10 an hour, even though museum guards had gotten $14 an hour plus benefits before the work was privatized in 1992.

"I really love the Art Museum, and most of us do," museum guard Bernardo Dickerson explained. "This victory will make our jobs worth having. It will make the museum both a better place to work and a better museum."

Captive audience meetings turned into grievance sessions

AlliedBarton had fought the decade-long drive with shady moves like making workers attend meetings where they warned that the company's contract would be canceled if the union won and that any gains would be wiped out by union dues. But the guards turned the meetings around into grievance sessions and supervisors had to retreat, reports Warren Davis, solidarity co-chair for Philadelphia Jobs with Justice.

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The Shriver Report:
A Woman's Nation Changes Everything

Attitudes changed, but the workplace didn't

"For the first time in our nation's history, working women make up nearly half of all U.S. workers, and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families." So begins the Executive Summary of a report that's gotten lots of attention from both the media and politicians.

This "dramatic shift from just a generation ago" marks a permanent cultural change, says The Shriver Report, yet employers, government and other institutions haven't caught up with the new reality. Maria Shriver's very readable report, entitled "A Woman's Nation", gives new ammo to battles to get workplaces to adapt to modern families and women workers.

Shriver is not only California's First Lady (wife to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger); she's also had an impressive career as an award-winning TV journalist and news co-anchor at both CBS Morning News and NBC. She grew up as a niece to President John F. Kennedy and his brothers, and has four children.

The Shriver Report is sprinkled with goodies from a nationwide Rockefeller-funded poll that Time magazine also published, capturing American attitudes about the role of women in today's world. It reveals that men have largely embraced the move of women into the workforce, and it takes a hard look at what still needs to happen, now that families depend so much on women workers, with a series of essays.

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Coalition of Labor Union Women

New CLUW officers vow to help organizing

On stage new 

officers raise right hand as they're sworn in
New CLUW officers sworn in

The Coalition of Labor Union Women elected a new slate of officers at its October convention, and front and center was the need to organize and recruit young members. The new president, Karen See, hails from the Postal Workers Union (APWU) and had been CLUW's membership and field organizer. She vowed to "be more active in our communities as we build partnerships with community allies, together fighting for the needs of women and families." Organizing will be a key priority of her administration, she pledged, along with helping women have a more forceful voice in their unions.

Convention delegates also elected Janet Nelson of AFSCME as executive vice president and Gloria Brimm of UAW as corresponding secretary. APWU member Judy Beard and Dolores Gorczyca of the Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) were re-elected as treasurer and recording secretary, respectively. Delegates voted to expand the national board to include members from unions not previously represented and elected 11 new vice presidents.


Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO


Asian-Pacific-Americans: Fast-growing group of workers

Workers testify about rip-offs, study confirms need for unions

What's the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. Labor force these days, next to Latinos? Workers whose families hail from Asia or a Pacific island. While many of those Asian-Pacific American (APA) workers are joining unions, many others are being blatantly ripped off.

Ricky Lau's experience is all too typical. Lau is a skilled electrician but he's also a Chinese immigrant. Before he got a union job, he was put to work 60 to 70 hours a week for a contractor that only put 16 to 20 hours on the timesheets for him and other immigrant workers. Lau and four co-workers now have union jobs and are suing their former employer for back wages.

Stories like his came to light at the first-ever national workers' rights hearing for Asian Pacific American workers (APA) at AFL-CIO headquarters on November 13. The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the AFL-CIO and 18 other organizations co-sponsored the hearing.

Asian Pacific American workers are likely targets for exploitation because they can be vulnerable and isolated, said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). They may be less informed about labor laws, may not speak English and come to the United States with a distrust of the government and fear of retaliation, Chu said.

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Ding dong --

The Bush Personnel System is dead!

Civil service rules restored for civilian defense workers

On Jan. 1, 2012, the anti-union National Security Personnel System George Bush had rammed down the throats of civilian Defense Department workers will be dead, thanks to the 2010 Defense Authorization Act that President Obama signed Oct. 29. And the unions who'd been fighting the "nightmare" scheme since 2003 are ecstatic.

Under the pretense of beefing up security, disgraced former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had cooked up the system to strip 700,000 civilian defense workers of the right to organize or bargain or even have a fair grievance procedure and pay standards. A coalition of 31 unions representing defense department workers battled the scheme in the courts, and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.

Finally Congress restored many collective bargaining rights in the 2008 defense Authorization bill, and the lawsuit was dropped. But it wasn't until this year that the Personnel System was overturned and traditional civil service pay, protection and collective bargaining rights were restored to DOD civilian workers.

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Grants awarded
Spring, 2009

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All-new facts on women workers


Woman with sign: Russell, Basta de Mentiras picketer

"We should take strength and inspiration from the example of the workers of Jerzees de Honduras. We can fight back — and WIN — against policies that benefit a privileged few and hurt our communities.”

United Students against Sweatshops


Each time a person stands up for an ideal,
or acts to improve the lot of others…
he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,
and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring,
those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

–Robert F. Kennedy
quoted by a student
on the USAS website


USAS picketer

 “We are impressed by the social conscience of the students in the United States."

Moises Alvarado
Honduran union president,
quoted in the New York Times


"How can we justify imposing higher turnout standards on airline and railroad union elections than we do in elections for the highest office of our land? We can’t.”

Edward Wytkind
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department


Group of women at labor institute
Teamsters organizing rally

"Does your CEO have a golden parachute? Yes, he does. Does your CEO have a contract? Yes, he does. You need a pay raise, and you need a contract!"

Jimmy Hoffa
Teamsters President,
at rally with Continental Airline workers who signed union cards


“The second step on the road to good health is taking action... While the medical community can conduct research, and provide recommendations and guidelines on health-promoting behaviors, the ultimate responsibility for embarking on the road to a healthier and more hopeful life rests with you."

The Women's Complete Health book, featured on the Women’s Health Task Force web site



"There's been so much harassment and no respect. The company tries to punish you whenever you question what they do. I thank God we won! I'm crying, I'm so happy. Power is now is our hands! “

Maria Romero
Driver’s assistant at Baumann Transportation Co.,  which went union Nov. 20


"It is outrageous that your employer is presenting [Teamsters] Local 1205 as in any way hurtful to you. It is an ugly, desperate attempt to keep you unrepresented, and therefore underpaid...

“Labor unions have been the number one cause of immigrants’ improving their and their families’ economic lives.”

Long Island Immigrant Alliance from letter to school bus drivers at Baumann Transportation Co.


“I told that union buster he was wasting his time. I said, 'If you were trapped in a coal mine for 15 years and you saw light at the end of the tunnel, wouldn't you go for it? Well, that's what the workers here feel.' And … we won!"

Julie Assabi
Baumann school bus driver


“Women living in [New York] city's poorest neighborhoods live an average of five years less than their high income counterparts.”

Irasema Garza,
President of Legal Momentum
Huffington Post article


President Obama and Michelle looking at each other on TV
MsNBC special report

“I’m constantly thinking about how can we strengthen families, how can we provide more resources, greater flexibility, so that women can thrive, because I think that if women are thriving, everybody’s going to be thriving.”

President Barack Obama
speaking to NBC reporter about Shriver Report


“Americans — as the Shriver Report brought home — have embraced many aspects of women’s 'liberation.' They approve of the movement of women into the work force. They have adjusted to the changes in power dynamics that this move has brought into modern marriages."

The New York Times,
Nov. 12, 2009


“It is especially poor and low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women who are driven into the most hazardous and low-status jobs, who are given the least amount of flexibility in their schedules and who are least likely to receive employer-provided benefits such as health care, sick leave, or family leave."

The Shriver Report


“Well, I’m pretty sure it took two people to make each one of those kids. It’s interesting to me to hear all this progress we’ve made and yet child care remains a uniquely female issue."

Heidi in Silicon Valley
Quoted in the Shriver report


Arlene Holt Baker with women wearing Working America T-shirts

“I deeply believe that our mission today in a woman’s nation is to help our sisters and daughters achieve economic security and find a place in the middle class. And I know that the best way to do that is to enable millions more women to join the union movement and win a better life for themselves and their co-workers.””

Arlene Holt Baker,
Essay in the Shriver Report


Photo of Maria Shriver

“I’m hoping policymakers, armed with our surveys and analysis, can develop updated policies and practices that address and support the needs of today’s American women, men and families.”

Maria Shriver


“Most employers fail to acknowledge or accommodate the daily juggling act their workers perform, they are oblivious to the fact that their employees are now more likely to be women, and they ignore the fact that men now share in domestic duties.”

John D. Podesta
President, Center for American Progress, a co-sponsor of the Shriver Report


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