Last updated: October 17, 2012
|Photo by Isaac Silver|
Veronica Avila, the daughter of immigrants who rose out of Chicago's poor meatpacking yards neighborhood, went on to college and then returned to her community to organize restaurant workers, has been named winner of the 2012 Edna Award.
The Edna, which carries a $10,000 prize, honors women age 35 or younger who already have distinguished themselves as leaders of the social justice movement. It is named after Edna Berger, the first woman organizer of The Newspaper Guild and the inspiration behind the Berger-Marks Foundation.
Avila founded the Chicago chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), building on her experience as an organizer for Unite HERE Local 1 to recruit more than 700 Chicago restaurant workers. ROC is a national restaurant worker advocacy organization created in 2001 to help survivors of the Windows of the World restaurant at the World Trade Center. It now has chapters in eight cities.
Besides organizing training programs and helping to place restaurant workers — mostly minorities with limited opportunities — Avila has spearheaded the Chicago campaign for fair treatment of employees of the Darden Group, which owns Chicago's Capital Grille, as well as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other chain stores.
"She has moved from being an organizer solely responsible for developing the consciousness of restaurant workers and activating them in the fight to raise the restaurant industry's standards, to now being the Executive Director in charge of managing staff, overseeing all programs, and along with ROC leaders developing strategy and guiding work in the fight to change what it means to be a restaurant worker," wrote ROC Executive Director Saru Jayaraman in nominating Avila.
Avila will receive the Edna at an awards reception Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the National Press Club. Also honored will be three young women who will receive Awards of Distinction, featuring $1,000 prizes. They are:
Nusrat (Jerin) Arifa, National Organization for Women board member and chair of the National Young Feminist Task Force;
Lydia Edwards, director of Legal Services for the Brazilian Immigration Center;
Viridiana Martinez, who is leading the fight for immigrant rights as founder of the North Carolina Dream Team and now as a prisoner in Florida, where she was detained after declaring her undocumented status.
Register now for Edna Awards Reception at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Nov. 14: http://ednaaward.eventbrite.com
"It's truly inspiring to see what these young women are doing to lead the fight for social and economic justice in their communities," said Linda K. Foley, president of the Berger-Marks Foundation. "Our judges had their hands full settling on one top prize winner, and we congratulate Veronica Avila for her amazing work. All of our 10 finalists are outstanding young women, and we're very proud of them."
Other finalists for the award were Natalie Foster, CEO of Rebuild the Dream, a grassroots organization that uses sophisticated electronic tools to advocate for the 99 percent; Rachel Goble, who fights human trafficking as president of the SOLD Project; Prerna Lal, a law student who cofounded DreamActivist.org, which provides resources for undocumented students; Lauren Melodia, who founded Milk Not Jails, an organization that provides a positive alternative to mass incarceration; Jovana Renteria, who helped develop neighborhood Barrio Defense Committees in the fight for Arizona migrant rights; and Morgan Weinberg, a Canadian who coordinates a program to aid victims of Haiti's earthquake.
Judging the contest this year were: Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women; Carol Rothman, secretary-treasurer of The Newspaper Guild-CWA; and Valerie Ervin, a former union organizer and Montgomery County (Md.) Councilwoman.
View & download October 16 news release.
|Making Change at Walmart|
Walmart workers startled the nation when many walked defiantly out of stores across the country in mid-October, declaring they were on strike. On October 10, Walmart workers in Dallas and Maryland joined walkouts at Miami, Orlando, Seattle, Chicago, Missouri, Minnesota, Maryland, Kentucky, San Diego and Los Angeles.
That same day, hundreds of striking Walmart workers and their supporters converged before Walmart's Arkansas headquarters to demand an end to harassment and often-illegal attempts to silence protesters. Dallas worker Colby Harris said one of his co-workers was fired for supposedly “stealing time" right after managers overheard their lunch-break conversation about getting involved in the organizing group, OUR Walmart.
As the walkouts gathered steam, suddenly the nation started paying attention to the need for justice at Walmart.
For five decades Walmart workers have had no control over their low pay, irregular work hours, out of-reach health benefits, and mistreatment at the hands of managers. Colby Harris said he was fed up with making just $8.90 an hour after three years of working in Walmart's, and that workers at his store faced “constant retaliation" for speaking up.
ABC News recently told the story of a 73-year-old Walmart greeter who was fired after 22 years of giving her work-life to Walmart — for touching a customer to keep from falling after the customer shoved her and pushed through the door she was guarding.
On September 26, 1,800 EMS professionals working for American Medical Response (AMR) in more than a dozen counties across California voted decisively to join AFSCME Local 4911 as part of the union's new unit for Emergency Medical workers — United EMS Workers. The vote wasn't even close —more than three out of four chose the union.
That marked the fourth time this year that California EMS workers have enthusiastically voted to join AFSCME's EMS branch. The previous month, EMS workers at Rural/Metro of Northern California, delivered a decisive 2-1 victory for unionizing into the same local union. And it didn't stop there.
At the end of the week, another 500 EMS professionals in New England voted to jump onto the union bandwagon. A staggering 9-to-1 vote brought the New England group, who are also employed by American Medical Response, into AFSCME.
|National Nurses United|
A new Bloomberg BNA special report, "Union Organizing in the Health Care Industry," has unearthed fascinating facts taken from the last seven years of labor relations. Here are highlights that struck Bloomberg blogger Robert Combs:
|Delegates at Y.O.U.N.G. conference|
|AFGE Flickr page|
"The Y.O.U.N.G. summit was awesome. It was attended by 200-plus young and seasoned union activists," reported Deborah Toussant, who is Chief Shop Steward for AFGE Local 1667. She was talking about the weekend Training Summit hosted by the American Federation of Government Employees in mid-August, which Berger-Marks helped her attend. Y.O.U.N.G. stands for Young Organizing Unionists for the Next Generation.
The summit didn't shy away from tough issues. Just listen to this comment from Shannon Harvey, who also attended by virtue of a Berger-Marks grant:
“For me, Y.O.U.N.G. AFGE is the first union to have a transgender speak on LGBTQ issues. Hearing this young man's testimony from when he began his transition to now gave me goose bumps. He gave an emotional and detailed account of his struggles in the workplace, in his home, and with his healthcare coverage.
“A quote that stuck with me from his speech was 'What we all have in common is where the conversation needs to be focused.' In today's society, we like to draw conclusions, or focus too much attention, on what makes us different from each other. Young workers should refocus our attention on how we are all alike; and fight those similar battles together."
You can't eat prestige — and adjunct professors at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University know that better than anyone. Nearly half the teaching faculty at the liberal arts college are adjunct professors. And there's no wonder they just voted to unionize. Last year adjuncts who taught four college courses — the biggest course-load possible — made just $10,000 a year. And with no health coverage, they lived in dread of a medical emergency. Since the University claims the right to cancel courses at any time for any reason, those professors never know from one semester to the next if they still have work.
“We have people who have been teaching here 25 years and never know if they have a job next semester," explains Robin J. Sowards, an adjunct who teaches writing, literature and linguistics.
There were no multiple choices — the only answer to their dilemma was to organize. So they got together and chose the United Steelworkers to help them. Most signed the union cards they submitted to the National Labor Relations Board on May 14, when they asked for an election. So far so good: within two weeks the university agreed to a union election run by the NLRB.
They work for some of the biggest security firms in the world — Securitas, ABM, G4S (Wackenhut), and AlliedBarton. When the 500 Portland-area security guards decided they needed some security for themselves, they turned to SEIU Local 49 and signed union cards.
After a 2-year campaign all four companies voluntarily agreed to recognize the union on July 31, and the union is now bargaining with them for first contracts — or possibly for an area master agreement protecting all the new members.
It was the second big victory in a row for SEIU's Stand for Security campaign, which is modeled on its dynamic Justice for Janitors campaign. Earlier this year 2,500 security guards in Philadelphia joined the union, and contract talks were launched on July 16. “The unionization of the 2,500 security officers amounts to the largest private-sector organizing win in Philadelphia in two decades," SEIU proudly announced.
|Dr. Maggie Cohen|
Maggie Cohen has a Ph.D. degree and is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland University College, where about 85% of the teaching faculty are also adjuncts. What does that mean?
“Adjuncts labor under conditions of isolation, opaque rules governing evaluation and reappointment, no effective method for challenging improper employment decisions, no retirement or health care benefits, no sick leave, no vacation, no COLA, no representation," laments Maggie.
It distresses her that adjuncts “have had virtually no input in academic and curriculum changes that have swept through the institution over the past few years… without regard to academic quality." For example, most of their classes at UMUC must now be offered online, where they can be monitored and standardized, and she believes that poses a real threat to Academic Freedom.
This August, a Berger-Marks grant helped Dr. Cohen go to a Mexico City conference hosted by Mexican faculty unions, where she met with adjuncts from across North America and even Korea, and discovered how much they share her grievances. The conference, COCAL X, was the tenth to be sponsored by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a cross-border network of activists; the 23,000-member California Faculty Association (affiliated with SEIU Local 1983), applied for the grant that helped women delegates like Maggie attend.
"If unions are so good, why aren't they growing?"
“Unions are corrupt and mobbed up."
These are a couple of the myths Bill Fletcher tackles head-on in his new book. “These myths aren't heard just by those of us knocking on doors for a union," says Michelle Crentsilin in a Labor Notes review of "'They're Bankrupting Us!': And 20 Other Myths about Unions." “They permeate popular culture. I told a friend I was a union organizer once and he asked me if I was out breaking people's legs. He was joking, but he got the idea from somewhere. And he certainly wasn't able to tell me what I actually do."
“Drawing on his experiences as a longtime labor activist and organizer, Fletcher traces the historical roots of these myths and provides an honest assessment of the missteps of the labor movement," says the publisher. "And he reveals many of labor's significant contributions, such as establishing the forty-hour work week and minimum wage, guaranteeing safe workplaces, and fighting for equity within the workforce. This timely, accessible, 'warts and all' book argues, ultimately, that unions are necessary for democracy and ensure economic and social justice for all people."
|Freelance screenwriters unionized & just won an excellent contract|
If you're one of the over 9,000 people working for Coverall, a Florida-based cleaning-services company, you're not considered a cleaning worker but a “franchisee." So when it comes to labor rights, you're on your own.
And it gets worse. You might actually have to pay the company up to $10,000 to get the job, and that “investment" comes out of your wages, explains Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project. You might even have to work the first month on “spec," getting paid only if Coverall decides you're right for the job. And of course you have to buy your cleaning equipment and supplies from the company. But since Coverall brings in the work, you can't set your own rate or drum up more business on your own.
This is just one of the marvelous ways that we are being transformed into a nation of temporary workers, reports Steven Wishnia in a valuable expose of temporary work published by both Alternet and Salon. As he puts it, the economy has “been vampirizing workers' rights and incomes for a generation."
|Thanks to Gillian Laub|
Could one of “the 100 most influential people in the world" in 2012 be a woman who organizes workers? Yup, absolutely, said Time magazine, as it spotlighted 38-year-old Ai-jen Poo in its influential-people list for this year. A few months earlier, the New York Times had featured the same organizer as “The Nannies' Norma Rae."
Gloria Steinem founder of Ms. Magazine, says when she met Ai-jen, "she was already trusted by thousands of women who had been treated as unskilled and expendable, yet who were responsible for raising children, caring for the ill and elderly and facilitating the daily lives of millions of families.
“Ai-jen's gift for creating worker-led groups and empathetic tactics has made the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NWDA) into an umbrella organization with 35 satellites around the U.S," she added. "Ai-jen Poo has done this by showing the humanity of a long devalued kind of work. This goes beyond organizing to transforming."
|Apprentice Marquisha Page|
It was an impressive feat for the three young women to graduate from New York's Nontraditional Employment for Women's (NEW) Blue Collar Prep program and then enroll in apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades.
Why did Berger-Marks help them attend The Women Building California and the Nation Conference that was held in California this Spring? With women still a minority in what are often macho jobs, we knew many of them feel isolated.
The conference workshops could “help to reinforce the idea… that they can influence their job, colleagues, and the tradeswomen community far beyond any given task they are assigned at work," explained Yael Jekogian, NEW's Director of Development who applied for the grant. And they picked up skills that could be crucial for getting involved in their unions.
After the conference, here's what the young apprentices had to say:
Anyone who planned to grab a bite at the Hot-and-Crusty cafe on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in early September was in for a shock. The 24-hour cafe, part of a chain owned by investor Mark Samson, was chained shut. But in front of its closed doors, fired workers and their supporters had set up a Worker Justice Cafe serving coffee, bagels, and other pastries in exchange for donations to their fight for union rights.
The previous fall the cafe workers had gotten fed up with being underpaid — many didn't even get the legal minimum — and harassed by management, so they reached out to labor groups and Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Occupy and the Laundry Workers Center, a volunteer organizing group, helped them unite into an independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, the following Spring. Once they were organized, they won thousands of dollars in back-pay and safer workplace conditions.
Samson wasn't pleased. “Workers say management used their immigration status to threaten them, and spent more than $500,000 on a union-busting consultant and lawyers," reported villagevoice.com.
Between 2000-2005, when U.S. payrolls grew by just 2.4%, the number of self-employed workers grew ten times faster — by 23.6%. Does that mean small business is thriving? Not quite. “This disparity in growth rates likely reflects increasing misclassification," cautions American Rights at Work.
The Internal Revenue Service says that someone is an independent contractor if the person hiring her or him has “the right to control or direct only the result of the work." But, says the IRS, “You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done)."
Try telling that to the 15,000 drivers that FedEx Ground employs as “independent contractors;" the company assigns their routes, and decides when each package must be delivered. Their vans must carry the FedEx logo and color scheme, and they can't drive them around for personal errands.
|Young women that grant helped send to union summer school|
"The power of having over 100 women in the labor movement together to talk about ways to increase the involvement of rank-and-file union women in leadership positions, end cronyism, and ultimately create a more progressive labor movement, was a truly monumental experience," Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, told us.
She had never before been to a conference “ composed entirely of women in the social justice movement" until Berger-Marks helped her attend the Northeast Regional Summer School for Union Women.
Thanks to the grant the group had won from Berger-Marks this year, Charlene co-taught a class about “how and why to create partnerships with community organizations." She came back “excited to continue working with the Long Island Federation of Labor in building up our Women's Committee to address women's empowerment in the labor movement."
"After fighting 15 years for a union voice, American passenger service agents will at last get to vote," announced CWA, the union that will be on the ballot.
On October 3, an appeals court in New Orleans ruled that a Texas judge was dead wrong when he stripped nearly 10,000 workers at American Airlines of their right to vote on whether they want to unionize. Finally, the National Mediation Board (NMB) can go forward with the long-delayed election.
|TUC Gen. Secretary Frances O'Grady (left) & Pres. Lesley Mercer|
This summer the first woman ever was elected to be chief executive of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Great Britain's biggest labor federation. Frances O'Grady is now General Secretary of the 6.2 million-member fed. Grady had not only led organizing drives in call centers, supermarkets and in new media, but she had also led campaigns for equal rights for part-time workers.
O'Grady had launched TUC's Organizing Academy, which “set out to attract a generation of new 'young guns' into the trade union movement and shift the 'male, pale and stale' stereotype to a profile that better fits a 6-million plus membership that is now 50-50 men and women," TUC said in announcing her win.
Within two months, another milestone was struck for women when Lesley Mercer was elected President of the TUC.
|Lynn tells how she and her son were homeless for months|
Back in the day, violence against women was often kept quiet, as a dirty secret. Today, the violence of a system that keeps women in dire poverty still isn't recognized and confronted. The Women's Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) took a big step to change that with its first-ever US Courts of Women conference, partly subsidized by a Berger-Marks grant.
People representing over 60 groups across the nation gathered in Oakland, CA this Spring — from Philadelphia's Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, food banks and Hip Hop Congress, to SEIU Local 1021 and UFCW Local 5. Their goal was “calling out, bearing witness and talking to the broken system that perpetuates violence and normalizes poverty in the U.S."
For four days, they shared heart-wrenching testimonies about how poverty, homelessness and the healthcare crisis are hammering women and families. They also focused on “a future better than the one promised by present-day capitalism, a future without poverty and with all human rights being fulfilled."
If you are a student, or know one, who is fed up with “university administrators, politicians, and the corporations and billionaires" who think they aren't accountable to anyone and “fund political attacks on the 99%," then make sure to pass along this invitation.
Four students who are standing up for worker rights in groups like United Students Against Sweatshops have sent out an email asking, “Are YOU ready to FIGHT BACK!?"
The groups they represent (including the University of Southern California's Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán) joined forces to invite other students to weekend Organizer Boot Camps to be held on each coast and in the Midwest this November.
|Veronica Avila organizing for restaurant workers|
"By walking off the job together, [Walmart workers] sent a signal about their deep discontent, and their capacity for collective action, that no rally or press conference could.”
– Chris Rhomberg, Sociology professor, Fordham University
"In America, workers should not be forced to go on strike to protect their most basic rights to free speech and to come together with a collective voice. Our country needs big profitable corporations like Walmart and billionaires like the Waltons to stop squeezing the middle class to the breaking point.”
– Sally Greenberg, executive director, National Consumers League
"As the largest employer in the country – and the largest employer of women, African American, and Latino workers – Walmart has a huge impact on the finances of workers, families and our entire economy.
"Walmart must take responsibility for building a better America, starting with the jobs in its backyard.”
–Terry O’Neill, president, National Organization of Women
"It’s unprecedented. This shows you don’t have to go through a card drive and recognition and negotiate a contract before you can take action.”
– Phil Bailey, striker who marched triumphantly back into warehouse supplying Walmart
"Today we won what I’d have to say is a landslide victory in an election we’ve been working on for over 2 ½ years.”
– EMS professional who helped organize union at Emergency Medical Response in California
"This is a day I probably will remember for the rest of my life.”
– Paramedic worker for EMR,
after she and 1,800 co-workers voted to join the AFSCME union
"Collective bargaining protects nurses, and that protects the patients.”
– Maryann Beauchamp-Sayraf, nurse, Ann Arbor MI
|Shannon Harvey, (l.) attended AFGE Y.O.U.N.G. conference with Berger-Marks support|
|AFGE Flickr page|
"In my opinion, our history is what molds us as people. A lot of the pace-makers were women. Women that were told they can’t do this or that…
"Yet years later here we are talking about the change that these women made happen, despite all adversity. As a predominately black female (I’m still researching and trying to figure out my entire heritage), learning this was very important to me.”
—Erika Townes, AFGE Local 1401 leader and Y.OU.N.G. Coordinator, on the value of the Y.O.U.N.G. training summit Berger-Marks helped her attend
"We didn't just win. Frankly, we triumphed by a landslide"
– Robin Sowards, English instructor at Duquesne University who helped lead the union drive
“Union busting is a mortal sin.”
– Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, 2010 statement on the indispensable role of unions
– New York Times,
June 22, 2012
"I work hard and I take pride in my job. At the end of the day, I just want to be able to provide for my family and contribute to my community."
– Kobra Oden, security officer who works to protect Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, where she helped win a union
"Participating in the [COCAL] conference was an eye - opening experience. Since I returned to Korea, I am participating in the more aggressive organization, which works toward the issue of the contingent workers. I am also trying to organize a union for foreign faculty members at the university.
“We all have the same problem all around the world, and we are all fighting for one thing: better education.”
–Kyung-Ae Oh, university instructor in South Korea who felt “liberated” after a Berger-Marks grant helped her meet lecturers in North America at the COCAL X conference.
“In unions, when dissent is crushed, growth is prevented.”
– Bill Fletcher, AFGE Director of Field Services & author of "They're Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions.“
“What stinks is that the Temp agencies are making TONS of money while the workers are making little to nothing...
“I hear people complain about Labor Unions between their boss and the employee, but at least the Unions actually DO something to earn your dues. The Temp agencies are just Sharks.”
– Katie, temp worker, Minnesota Public Radio web site
"If you have 30 percent of the workforce being exploited, that lowers standards for everybody.”
– Erin Johansson, research director, American Rights at Work
"I hate when I hear people referring to a temp as 'the temp.' It's that title that just never escapes you - people forget you have a name! I do feel that many employers are taking advantage of temps… Once a temp always a temp.”
–EM, temp worker, Minnesota Public Radio web site
"We’re in the fight of our lives for the soul of this country…
“ It’s really important we ... improve the quality of all jobs so every job out there is one you can take pride in and support your family on and you can do it with dignity.”
– Ai-Jen Poo, Domestic Worker organizer, Feministing.com
"The reality is this country has never really accounted for the work it takes to raise families and has always devalued that work which we call ‘the work that makes all other work possible.’”
–Ai-Jen Poo, interview in Feministing.com
“It’s the most intimate class divide in human civilization. On the one side, there is the professional couple bringing in six figures a year; on the other, the nanny or maid...
“To my knowledge anyway, there has never been a successful career woman — or man, for that matter — who’s responded to being praised for ‘doing it all’ by saying, ‘Actually, Manuela (or Angelica or Harriet) does most of it.’”
– Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times article on domestic worker organizing
“This is a victory for all immigrant workers. We did this together, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the community support. When workers come together, anything is possible. The union gives us power.”
– Mahoma Lopez, employee at Hot & Crusty bakery for over seven years who helped organize the union
“Given the weak public perception of unions, this is an incredible victory… This is Occupy Wall Street’s support at its best: supporting a worker-led struggle to fight Wall Street where it attacks our communities the most.”
– Diego Ibanez, Occupy Wall Street activist
“To revive itself, labor must rediscover its roots as an early civil rights movement for workers...
“Labor has a good case to make: When union wages increase, nonunion employers respond by raising pay, too, to attract workers. And each percentage-point decline in the U.S. unionization rate has been accompanied by a comparable fall in the proportion of income going to the middle class.”
– Richard D. Kahlenberg, Century Foundation, & Moshe Z. Marvit, labor lawyer, co-authors of “Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice.”
|Amy Ullo attended Northeast Summer School with help from Berger-Marks grant|
|American Airlines agents eager to vote union|
|CWA union video|
“If it wasn't for the union,
I don't know what could have happened to me. This is a good union that continues to stand by me."
– Juan Salguero, industrial laundry worker at JVK Operations in N.Y., where workers voted overwhelming for Workers United/ SEIU on August 13
“To focus on the experiences of women is not to exclude others, but to shine a light on the most glaring manifestations of poverty.
"The first step of healing is to bring out these stories, not separately from one another, but connected in our common cause.”
– Statement of Purpose of the first-ever US Courts of Women conference