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October, 2011 News

Last updated: October 19, 2011


Spotlight on grant recipient


Young Community Organizer
Wins First-Ever $10,000 Edna Award
For Social Justice

At age 32, Ana Maria Archila co-directs dynamic grassroots advocacy group

Photo of Archila
Archila immigrated to the U.S. when she was 17 years old & soon got active helping other immigrants.

The winner of the first-ever Berger-Marks Foundation's Edna Award for social justice was announced at a special ceremony held October 18 at the National Press Club. The Edna Award winner, Ana Maria Archila, is Co-Director of Make the Road New York (MRNY), a nonprofit organization hailed as the most dynamic grassroots advocacy organization in New York City.MRNY works to empower and bring economic justice to low-income Latino residents and other New Yorkers.

The Foundation received more than 400 nominations for the award from all over the U.S., Canada, and many other countries. The award is named for Edna Berger, first woman organizer for The Newspaper Guild and a long-time social justice activist.

Three other young women leaders also won $1000 each.

Find out more about the winners and the award.


Starting January 31, 2012

Companies must post notices explaining workers' rights to organize

The bulletin boards of most private workplaces must soon clearly display the rights that workers have to organize under labor law. That includes their rights to bargain collectively, to give out union literature and to work together to improve wages and conditions free of retaliation. If a company doesn't display such a notice by February, it's probably defying the law.

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After 44-day strike

Boathouse restaurant workers get union & great contract

Woman speaking passionately to crowd
Boathouse banquet server at rally for union supporters last Spring

It takes a courageous and determined group of workers to strike for 44 days to win a union. But this September, that's just what workers at the trendy Boathouse restaurant in New York City's Central Park did! They are now proud members of UniteHere Local 6 and the New York Hotel Trades Council, and more than a dozen workers who'd been fired for supporting the union got their jobs back. What's more, they refused to call off the strike until they'd won a first contract with tremendous gains.

Their first-ever contract immediately hikes their wages, including raises from $7.50 to $13.50 an hour for many non-tipped workers. The contract also improves work conditions and grants full family medical and dental coverage to all workers and their domestic partners.

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'Re-energized to not just say something, but to DO something'

Berger-Marks sends 3 young women to school

The three young women standing together outside
Kathryn Vanier, Ada Martinez & Megan Geerdts

Kathryn Vanier is a student of French and philosophy and never belonged to a union. So why did she get a Berger-Marks grant to attend the 2011 Northeast Regional Summer School for Union Women? She wanted to explore the link between the labor movement and ethics, she says, and she's been working as a summer intern for AFSCME in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. What Vanier learned at the school was exciting partly because it was so new to her.

"The people were phenomenal. Such smart women from such diverse backgrounds," she concluded. It stimulated her "desire to learn, grow, and connect with the working population."

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Nice try, St. Xavier University

Just because it says it's religious, doesn't exempt it from labor law

NLRB logo over St. Xavier logo

St. Xavier University insists that since it's a Catholic institution, the National Labor Relations Board has no right to protect the rights of adjunct faculty to organize a union.

Not so, says the latest ruling from the NLRB. The school, which has two Illinois campuses, hasn't met any of the religious standards that would exempt it from federal oversight.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the NLRB can't enforce labor law on parochial schools that teach religious faith without violating the First Amendment, the NLRB set up five criteria to define what a religious institution actually is.

Xavier has failed on all five counts, the NLRB ruled. Its articles of corporation make no mention of religion; 19 of 24 voting members on the board of trustees don't belong to the founding religious order; the university doesn't depend on the church financially; students don't have to take courses in Catholic theology; and professors don't have to be Catholic.

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Dissatisfaction is growing, yet fewer quit

People getting more fed up with their jobs, conditions

Poll reveals issues that make them sore

Woman on phone in office cubicle looking stressed out
Scott Griessel |

"if you don't like your job, why don't you quit?" That's a common refrain workers may get if they try to change things. But with nearly one in ten worker counted as unemployed — and millions more jobless workers below the radar screen of official numbers — it might seem like an act of near-suicide to quit in today's economy.

Most workers are staying put, but surveys show millions aren't happy about it. Could that lead to more union drives?

By January 2010, just 1 percent of workers quit their jobs — about half the rate of three years earlier, says the Labor Department; the quit rate still hasn't recovered. Yet that doesn't mean workers love their jobs. The latest Gallup survey reveals growing job dissatisfaction:

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Want an easy way to see if a company is breaking the law?

Map with pinpoints showing companies with violations

You may know that a company's workers need a union, but wouldn't it be nice to also find out if the company is doing something illegal?

Just go to the Job Tracker on Working America's web site. This newly updated tool invites you to input your zip code to see all the companies in the area (within 50 miles) that have been caught violating labor law, health and safety law or child labor rules and other legal labor standards.

You can then zero in on a specific employer by clicking on an interactive map of your area. And that's not all. You can also find out which companies are exporting jobs or laying off a lot of workers.


Young summer interns helped Transit Union mobilize

Berger-Marks granted funds after union responded to call for collaboration,

The two young women interns
Anna Simakova and Yena Kim

When our Stepping Up, Stepping Back report was published, Berger-Marks Foundation President Linda Foley sent a copy of it to all national/international union presidents, along with a letter urging them to be in touch and collaborate with us. Newly-elected Amalgamated Transit Union Pres. Larry Hanley responded and after a series of conversations, the Foundation agreed to fund three young women to be ATU interns working in the union's Field Mobilization Dept. on community transit issues.

The two summer interns were Yena Kim, a native of Korea, who is a student at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations; and Anna Simakova, a native of Russia, who is now a student at Montclair State University. The union will use the rest of the grant to fund a third young woman intern.

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Americans are feeling better about unions

For everyone who's a member, five people favor unions

People with signs- Stand up for workers rights!

Union approval rates have taken a hit over the last four years — possibly because people blamed unions when the government stepped in to help auto companies survive. That's not great news for organizers and workers who need union clout.

But if you look at the figures more carefully, the picture isn't so bleak.

Some good news

  • We're recovering popularity. Approval rates are 4% higher than they were two years ago, says an August Gallup poll.
  • The 52% of Americans who approve of unions is five times the 10% who are actually members.
  • Although union membership is aging, young people feel better about unions than old people do. Nearly three out of five (58%) of young adults between 18 and 29 years old have a positive opinion of unions, says a Pew poll.*
  • To know us is to like us. In households where at least one person belongs to a union, the approval rate shoots up to 73%. Among just members it's higher yet — 82% favor unions.

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Over 800 young workers talked union at Next Up summit called by AFL-CIO

Two young women with head scarves standing in hall with young man
Halima Said (right) with friends at the Next Up summit.
Workday Minnesota

More than 800 young workers gathered in Minneapolis the weekend of September 29 - October 2 at the invitation of the AFL-CIO to attend the second Next Up Young Workers' Summit. The summit gave young workers a chance "to network, learn new skills and prepare to take the lead in a labor movement that faces many challenges," reported Barb Kucera in Workday Minnesota.

Among the young workers she interviewed was Halima Said, one of several immigrants from Kenya and Somalia. "Unions must do more to counter the negative messages coming through much of the media, especially television," Said, a member of AFSCME Local 34 in Minneapolis, told Kucera. "Media is a big factor. The unions and the AFL-CIO should get together and have their own media...

"Before I joined my union, I had no idea what a union was," she muses. But Said now believes she and her friends are ready to take active roles in their union.

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NLRB confirms worker rights on Facebook

People fired for complaints about overwork get re-hired

NLRB logo in front of American flag

When a worker at the non-profit agency National Hispanics of Buffalo accused co-worker Mariana Cole-Rivera of not doing enough for her clients, Cole-Rivera posted the complaint in her Facebook update, and asked how other co-workers felt about it. Several leapt to her defense, posting comments like "Try doing my job. I have 5 programs." Some comments were rather strongly-worded.

The co-worker who had riled people up with her criticism of Cole-Rivera brought the exchange to the attention of her supervisor. The super decided that Cole-Rivera and four workers who typed in her defense had violated the agency's ban on cyber harassment. So last fall, the agency fired them all.

They went to the NLRB, and an NLRB judge told the company to rehire every one of them, plus pay them the wages they'd lost by being fired.

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Democratic rules for airline workers survive plot to kill them

Republican scheme meets defeat — for now

Spirited group seated with signs like 'Stop war on workers'
Protesters at Houston airport urge Rep.John Mica (R-Fla.) to stop anti-union vendetta

Congressional Republicans were so determined to make it hard for airline and rail workers to unionize that they refused to pass a routine bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unless it killed a democratic rule for union votes. The rule they targeted was passed by the Obama-appointed National Mediation Board so airline workers can finally unionize if a majority of those voting want the union.

For two weeks airline inspectors had to work without pay, and other important work screeched to a halt, while Republicans held up the funding for the FAA (along with funds for highway and mass transit programs). But an outraged public rallied to the support of the workers and the services they provide.

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Faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago get their union certified

Yet administration vows to sue

Over howls of protest from the university administration, an Illinois labor board in September certified a new faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The University threatens to sue, claiming that it shouldn't have to bargain with a union that includes both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty.

Yes you do, said the labor board. In its 3-1 ruling on certification it agreed that the two groups of professors have enough in common to justify a joint union. Both teach, do research, and take part in campus governance, and they sometimes work on the same courses and research projects.

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Confused about new media tools?

Organizing 2.0 offers helping hand

With social media and other communications tools for organizers

Group of people seated at computers in workshop
Organizing 2.0 event

Throughout September, Organizing 2.0 offered expert-level pro-bono (a.k.a. free) consultant services around communications, technology and organizing for unions and other progressive groups. Organizing 2.0 is an online collective of communicators and online organizers working for unions and social justice activists.

Organizing 2.0 says it aims "to train organizers in social media, digital strategy and other fields related to the online digital arts" and support "better integration of online and offline organizing." It even deals with the problem of "professional bias:" how to identify it and respond.

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Labor Board strengthens right to unionize

Overturns crippling rules from Bush Board
Nursing home workers okayed to organize with similar workers

Nursing home workers got a boost to their right to unionize in late August, when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that certified nursing assistants in Mobile, Ala. could organize with the Steelworkers without being forced to include 33 janitors, cooks, file clerks and other nonprofessional workers in their unit. The nursing home had tried to weaken their drive by bunching them all together into one bargaining unit, even if they didn't feel they had much in common.

With this 3-1 Specialty Healthcare decision, the Labor Board reversed a 1991 ruling by a Republican-dominated Labor Board that had had heavily favored management. The current Board says that a potential bargaining unit at non-acute health care facilities will be based on the same "community of interest" standard used at other workplaces, so that it includes workers with similar responsibilities, supervisors, skills, working conditions and pay scales.

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Logo - Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce


Workers win paid sick days in Seattle & Connecticut

Guaranteed by law

Workers are now guaranteed up to nine days of paid sick leave a year in Seattle, thanks to a bill that Mayor Mike McGinn signed on Sept. 23. The actual number of days each worker can take depends on the size of the business and number of hours worked. Seattle's Coalition for a Healthy Workplace had brought together over 75 unions and other groups to mobilize a grass-roots campaign that convinced the Seattle City Council to pass the bill overwhelmingly, with an 8-1 vote.

Last summer Connecticut became the first state in the nation to tell employers to provide paid sick days. People who work at a Connecticut business with 50 or more employees can take up to five days a year. When Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed the Connecticut bill, he explained that " Without paid sick leave, front-line service workers—people who serve us food, who care for our children, and who work in hospitals, for example—are forced to go to work sick to keep their jobs."

Where workers get paid sick days, even employers benefit

Two other cities, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., now have paid sick leave laws on the books. In Denver, the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America is teaming up with a coalition of family and community groups to build support for a paid sick days initiative for the fall election. Supporters turned in more than three times the number of signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. Efforts are also under way in New York City, Massachusetts and Georgia. Philadelphia passed a bill for paid sick days this year, but Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed it.

Granting workers paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability in San Francisco, say six in seven employers responding to a recent survey. Two out of three says they favor the law. Other studies have shown that employees are healthier and more productive when they have access to paid sick days.

More than 44 million workers have to go to work sick or lose their pay

Nationwide, more than 44 million private-sector workers in the United States — 42 percent of the private workforce — don't get paid sick days. For low-wage workers it's worse: Three of every four have no paid sick leave.

One in six workers have been fired or threatened with being fired for taking time off work to care for a personal or family illness.


Graphic- Fair Deal for all Casino Workers


When politicians speak out for union rights, they aren't cheating

Courts throw out lawsuit by Trump Plaza

Donald "You're fired" Trump no longer owns the Trump Plaza Casino, but you'd still never want to be an apprentice there. Instead of accepting the 324-149 vote of full and part-time dealers in Atlantic City to join the UAW, Trump Plaza complained to the National Labor Relations Board that politicians had unfairly interfered. When the Board told the company it had a losing hand, management took its complaint to the courts. It was finally thrown out this fall.

The dealers have struggled long and hard to get their union. They voted better than 2-1 for UAW representation back in 2007, but when the Labor Board told them to sit down at the bargaining table, the casino appealed. Donald Trump was then the chairman and largest shareholder, and personally raked in $32 million that year.

As the UAW pointed out, he left Trump Plaza casino workers "living paycheck to paycheck, some of them without health insurance coverage."

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Two young women sitting in front of camera and one shown on the TV screen

A dozen  members of 9to5's Atlanta branch practiced being interviewed on camera, seeing the tape and getting feedback from other members. They're gearing up for the Fair Eats campaign that won funding from Berger-Marks this year. The Media Skills training was led by the  Communications Consortium

Pictured are (top to bottom): Regina Holloway, Vanessa Faraj (organizer) & Jerretta Johnson.


Group shouting behind barrier
Boathouse strikers

"I’ve worked here for six years, and every day I walk in, I don’t know whether I’m going to be fired,”

Marie Agniel , waiter, on what it was like before they unionized the Boathouse restaurant

 Megan smiling
“I am so thankful to the Berger Marks Foundation...

"Encouraging young women to become involved in their unions is an incredibly important aim, and we definitely tried our best to represent our generation’s voice at this year’s summer session.”

Megan Geerdts, AAUP-AFT member at Rutgers Univ., who got a grant to attend Northeast Summer School for Union Women


Ada smiling

"The new era is all about what's trendy. I think it's time we make being Union a trend."

Ada Martinez, young member of UFCW Local 1 who attended the same Summer School


"It seems like we are at-will employees. They can do with us whatever they want.

"The workers, when they unite, they are a little bit stronger. You can't just push them around."

Robert Tapia, retired police officer who teaches philosophy at St Xavier University

"Workers who are dissatisfied with things at work — and right now there are a lot of them — may look at this notice and say, ‘Maybe we should call a union.’

"And workers who are threatened by managers may now go to the labor board for help, where most now might not know what the labor board is.”

Charles B. Craver,
labor law professor, George Washington University, talking about the notice of union rights that companies must post


Durazo rallies for justice
Photo by Chloe Osmer

"Labor on the wane? Not in L.A.!

"Roughly 16.5% of Los Angeles workers are union members, up from less than 15% five years ago.

"Organizers are beginning to target waste and recycling workers, and they are eyeing the potentially significant new force of 'green' workers...

"Those efforts are testament to the work of many people, but none more than Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

"Durazo has concentrated on organizing low-wage workers and building coalitions...

"Local labor's successes will hearten those who believe organizing can pave the way to a better future for workers in a deeply troubled economy."

Jim Newton, L.A. Times

Durazo smiling

"We're trying to change the exclusivity of the labor movement. It's not about 'Are you a member?' It's about lifting as many people as possible to a respectable standard of living."

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor


 group of participants in young workers' conference

“One reason I learned it’s important to think critically about our actions and their effects on people around the world is that we are all connected. We need to treat others the way we would want our families treated.”

Participant in Globalization workshop at a young workers’ conference led by Check Your Head, with help from a Berger-Marks grant

Young woman at podium

"The world in which we live isn’t working for the vast majority of people. The top 1 percent controls the economy, makes profits at the expense of working people, and dominates the political debate... Wall Street symbolizes this simple truth...

“Today, more than 800 Next Up participants from around the country stand with those on Wall Street who are making their voices heard. The future of our country depends on young people demanding the future we believe in. And we believe that Wall Street should pay for the damage they’ve done to our economy, our jobs, and our communities...

“We stand together in calling for a country that doesn’t just work for the top 1 percent...

“We are one.”

Mary Clinton, giving statement from Next Up Young Workers' Summit on the Occupy Wall Street movement

Kavanaough in hall at conference
"The folks who are unemployed are so hungry for a group
that understands what they are going through."

Michelle Kavanaugh, delegate at 2011 Next Up Young Workers' Summit


Rep. McCarthy testifying in passionate defense of unions

Makini Howell, who employs about 30 people at a  popular vegan eatery in Seattle,  testified in favor of guaranteeing workers paid sick days.

She stressed that she doesn’t want her employees handling food while sick.


Graphic from Contagion movie

The new movie “Contagion: Not Just a Movie, produced by Family Values @ Work, makes a strong case for the need to grant workers paid time off when they're sick.

It tells the story of a  flu outbreak where 7 million Americans caught the flu from co-workers— in part because  people without paid sick days couldn't stay home sick without being fired or losing a day’s wage.

See trailer


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