News

Community and Labor Organizers Plot to Bargain for Racial Justice

130 activists from local unions, worker centers, and community groups around the country gathered last month to strategize how to use the power of labor-community partnerships to make our organizations stronger and advance racial justice. Attendees of the three-day conference converged at the old National Labor College, which has been renovated as the Tommy Douglas Conference Center. The gathering was hosted by a steering committee of representatives from labor and community organizations and convened by Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, the Rutgers School of Management Labor Relations’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, and the Action Center on Race and the Economy. The conference expanded on the Bargaining for the Common Good strategy, which is about forming long-term community-labor alignments around a common vision for the change we need to see in our schools, cities, and states – then fighting for that change both at the bargaining table and in the streets. In recent years, contingents in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Paul, Seattle, and Oregon have developed successful Common Good campaigns. This meeting was an effort to build on that work and highlight aspects that truly center racial justice in both their analysis and demands. The conference was unique in that organizations applied to attend in ‘cohorts’ with other groups from their city or region. That way when it came time to plan campaigns that center racial justice in their respective communities, attendees had a de facto coalition already present and eager to take on unjust systems that profit from racism and exploitation. We were also fortunate to have the support of national unions such...

St. Paul Teachers Bargaining for Better Schools and Stronger Communities

  Public school teachers in Saint Paul, Minnesota have prioritized improving their students’ learning conditions above all else. So much so that they’ve used their bargaining sessions with the school district, where negotiations are traditionally limited to salary and working conditions, to demand the changes that parents and teachers know are needed for St. Paul children to receive the education they deserve. Three years ago when their last contract was set to expire, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) made great strides in addressing the social injustices that prevent students from thriving. They laid out common good bargaining priorities, then mobilized teachers and parents to voice their support for these proposals. With strong community support, they won: an expansion to the preschool program, an increase in hiring for additional support staff, a reduction in standardized testing, reasonable and predictable class sizes, and less severe disciplinary measures for students, as former SPFT President Mary Cathryn Ricker recounts in Dissent Magazine. Now, as St. Paul teachers bargain for a new contract, they are once again going to the mat for better schools and a more just society. In this excellent Twin Cities interview, current SPFT President and Vice President Denise Rodriguez and Nick Faber explain why it is imperative for teachers to raise these structural issues in contract bargaining and perhaps even go on strike to ensure that St. Paul children receive the quality education they deserve. Q: You’re in contract negotiations with the district. Besides salary and working conditions, you have proposals on things like school integration, responsible banking and opting out of standardized tests. Why does the union choose to include these issues in contract negotiations?   Denise Rodriguez: As teachers, we’ve always been focused on...

How Unions Stand Up For Our Kids

Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard social scientist that famously authored Bowling Alone, recently ignited a national conversation about upward mobility with a new book titled Our Kids. He persuasively argues that growing inequality in income and wealth is leading to profound social changes that make it increasingly harder for children from low-income families to get ahead. What we found out this week at the Center of the American Progress (CAP) is an important contribution to this debate. Researchers at Harvard, Wellesley, and the CAP paired up to study the effects of union membership on social mobility. Although it is well established that unions raise wages for their members, little was known about their impact on economic opportunity for the disadvantaged. To explore this relationship, they looked at aggregate data at the city level and a second data set that pairs individuals with their parents. Their findings should come as no surprise to those of us who witness how unions lift up our communities: there is a strong relationship between union membership and intergenerational mobility. In other words, unions help low-income children move up the economic ladder. The effect is constant even as you control for other factors such as race, types of industry, and inequality. Moreover, the individual-level data reveals that children who grow up in union homes tend to have better outcomes. For instance, children of non-college-educated fathers earn 28 percent more if their father belonged to a union. The most fascinating aspect of the study relates to the work that we do in Bargaining for the Common Good. While we anticipate that unionized parents who make more...

Victory in Los Angeles

We are proud to share the news about a major victory for our movement in Los Angeles, where the Coalition of LA City Unions has reached a tentative deal with the city after more than a year of tense contract bargaining. As many of you know, unions representing LA City employees teamed up with community and faith-based groups in 2014 to form the Fix LA Coalition, which sought to restore vital City programs and services that have been cut during the Great Recession. Fix LA called attention to how severe cuts by City officials had left garbage on the streets, sewage overflows, unfilled potholes, torn-up sidewalks, and untrimmed trees to afflict Los Angeles residents. At the same time, the coalition released a groundbreaking report detailing how the LA spends $334 million per year on fees to big banks – more than its entire annual budget for street construction and maintenance. Together, workers and community partners held rallies, protested, launched petitions, released reports, and even authorized a strike to persuade Mayor Garcetti and the City Council to invest in Los Angeles communities, not Wall Street banks. By using collective bargaining to leverage positive change, the Fix LA Coalition faithfully applied the principles of Bargaining for the Common Good to its campaign. The new contract agreement between the City and its workers is a huge victory for the Fix LA Coalition and those who believe in Common Good Bargaining. It features a first-ever commitment by the City of Los Angeles to add 5,000 additional employees by fiscal year 2017-18.  The City had reduced its civilian workforce by thousands as a result of the revenue losses from the economic crisis. It establishes a Commission on Revenue Generation to...

What Is Fueling the Surge in Popularity for Unions

According to a new Gallup poll, unions have surged in popularity in recent years. Since 2008, the approval of organized labor grew by ten percentage points to 58% after reaching historic lows at the onset of the Great Recession. Remarkably, approval for unions grew 5% in the last year alone. At a time when labor laws are becoming increasingly hostile towards organizing and the number of unionized workers is declining, Americans have started to view unions more favorably. Even noted critics of labor are changing their minds. It is worth reflecting on what has spurred this shift in public opinion. One of the reasons is that people are realizing that unions play an important role in sustaining America’s middle class. A study in the American Sociological Review found that the decline in union density may account for a third of the increase in wage inequality among men and a fifth of the increased inequality among women since 1973. This chart from the Economic Policy Institute clearly demonstrates how unions redistribute wealth towards the bottom 90% of earners. Now that income inequality is a cause of concern for most Americans, unions seem more appealing. Another probable cause of the popularity boost is the conscious decision to fight for programs that benefit the common good. With fewer resources than ever, unions are succeeding in raising wages for non-unionized employees at Walmart and fast food restaurants across the country. Moreover, unions in the public sector are leveraging their collective bargaining rights to safeguard vital public services and ensure that children receive the education that they deserve. In St. Paul, teachers partnered with parents to win major improvements for a school system that predominantly serves students from low-income families of color. When labor goes to...

Illinois Carries Out Common Good Bargaining

In the midst of a staggering budget deficit and revenue crisis facing Illinois, Chicago, and Chicago Public Schools, and while facing unprecedented attacks on unions by the private equity firm Governor, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana (HCII) have entered contract negotiations with Chicago’s Board of Education and the State of Illinois respectively. Rather than putting their heads down and just focusing on averting deep cuts in pay and benefits, the CTU and SEIU HCII are joining forces with community allies such as the Grassroots Collaborative to launch bold, transformational campaigns. CTU and SEIU HCII are wedding their contract fight to a broader community-labor coalition that is demanding progressive revenue solutions at both the city and the state level. Groups across the state came together last week to hold a convening on progressive revenue solutions. There they laid out a Progressive Revenue Platform that includes reducing exorbitant bank fees, recovering money from toxic swap deals, passing a progressive income tax, closing corporate tax loopholes, and winning a LaSalle Street tax on financial transactions in Chicago’s exchanges, among other things. Together the groups have held actions at bank branches, occupied the State Capitol with the Revenue Truth Squad, and gotten the State House of Representatives to pass a resolution calling for any cuts in services to be matched by equally proportionate cuts in bank fees. Last week, when the banks that were responsible for Chicago Public Schools’ toxic swap deals came to town for a Bond Buyer conference, the CTU and allies greeted them with a picket. The coalition is also leading the charge against the concerted effort...

Fix LA Coalition Presents on the Budget That LA Needs

In Los Angeles, city workers and community allies from the Fix LA Coalition have been mobilizing to call on the Mayor to reverse cuts to vital city services that have left piles of garbage, unfilled potholes, and sewage overflows in the streets and compromised the health and safety of LA residents.  The Fix LA Coalition has questioned why public officials siphon nearly $300 million to Wall Street each year but refuse to adequately maintain the City. On Monday, May 4th, the Fix LA Coalition presented to the Budget and Finance Committee about the devastating effect of budget cuts on the wellbeing of the Los Angeles residents and proposed bold solutions that would lift up all Angelenos: Stimulate the economy by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and cracking down on wage theft Save money and enhance public safety by stopping the use of higher-paid police officers to do civilian work Aggressively work to reform Prop 13 Negotiate better deals with Wall Street Use more of LA’s record-high reserves to hire more Angelenos into good, middle-class City jobs Check out the compelling Fix LA Presentation to the Budget and Finance Committee to see how you can make the case for a fair, progressive budget in your own city or...

Los Angeles City Workers Vote to STRIKE

Los Angeles city workers from SEIU Local 721 have voted to strike as part of their efforts to fix LA. With the support of the Fix LA Coalition, they are taking a stand to restore the vital city services and the thousands of middle class jobs that were slashed after Wall Street crashed the economy. Workers and community activists are also demanding that the City reduce the $300 million it sends to big banks each year and use the savings to pay for the crossing guards, trash removal, street cleaning, and tree trimming services that make Los Angeles clean and safe for its residents. Lastly, city employees joined the nationwide movement to call for a $15 minimum wage for all workers in Los Angeles. Read more in the Los Angeles...

Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fights Toxic Swaps

In Denver last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association held a training with 200 members to educate teachers about the role that toxic swaps had played in draining hundreds of millions out of the district budget. Denver Public Schools was trapped in some of the most egregious predatory financial deals in the country and had to pay huge termination penalties to get out. One of the former school board members who voted to approve the deals in 2008 has now come forth as a whistleblower, demanding that the SEC investigate the...

Exposing Wall Street’s Predatory Behavior in Wisconsin

The Refund America Project is working to expose Wall Street’s predatory behavior in Wisconsin, where public officials are pushing for austerity cuts on vital infrastructure such as public education. In its compelling report, RAP lays out a clear choice for Wisconsin’s elected representatives: “disinvest in education and other vital services, which hurts ordinary working people; or hold Wall Street accountable for its destructive effect on our economy and take action to get taxpayer money back from...

Fix LA Fighting For What Los Angeles Deserves

In Los Angeles, city workers and community allies from the Fix LA Coalition have been mobilizing to call on the Mayor to reverse cuts to vital city services that have left piles of garbage, unfilled potholes, and sewage overflows in the streets and compromised the health and safety of LA residents. The Fix LA Coalition has questioned why public officials siphon nearly $300 million to Wall Street each year but refuse to adequately maintain the City. At the same, United Teachers of Los Angeles are boycotting faculty meetings and rallying to secure “Schools That LA Students Deserve” with lower class sizes, early childhood education funding, restorative justice, and fair pay for...

Refund America Project’s Financial Plan for Chicago

In Chicago, a coalition of labor and community groups is countering the narrative that the City is broke and needs to cut public services and government pensions. They are rallying support for a financial plan for Chicago that puts communities first by seeking revenue solutions from the city’s wealthiest residents and corporations. The plan, released by the Refund America Project (RAP), also calls on city leaders to recover millions of dollars in losses from unjust, complex financial deals and drastically reduce fees paid to Wall Street each...

#GoHedgeClippers

In New York, a bold new movement is taking on hedge fund billionaires who hijack the democratic process to expand their own wealth and power. The Hedge Clippers are crashing Hedge Fund executives’ fancy dinners, private clubs, and luxury apartments, as well as publishing damning reports that reveal the corrosive influence of hedge funds on our communities, our climate, and our economy. Check out what the New York Times said about their recent escapades and broader...

Breaking the Cycle of Financial Abuse: Communities and the Chicago Tribune Take a Stand Against Wall Street

by Alex Taliadoros The Chicago Tribune followed-up its investigation of the Chicago Public Schools’ toxic finance deals with three new articles that point to how we can start to reverse the trend of financial abuse that our communities have suffered from Wall Street. The way forward begins with cities and states promptly taking legal action to recover funds lost due to misleading or deceptive behavior from banks. In addition, the federal government needs to properly oversee the municipal finance market if it hopes to prevent other local entities from falling victim to unfair lending practices in the future. Chicago officials have thus far rejected calls to win back the money lost in predatory deals. Despite Mayor Emanuel’s insistence that his hands are tied by these costly financial deals, the Tribune found ample evidence of municipalities successfully recouping millions of taxpayer dollars after challenging the same type of problematic auction-rate debt. The article highlights cities as small as Pittsburg, California (population 63,264) that have won substantial amounts to cover their losses from auction-rate securities. Most settlements between public entities and financial institutions remain secret, but the paper cites a conservative estimate of more than $25 million in payouts to municipal issuers. Cities have recovered taxpayer money both by filing claims with the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) and by bringing banks to court. They were successful because they were willing to take action against the fraudulent lending practices that have impoverished their schools and hospitals. The Tribune also examines how the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has failed to protect local governments after banks duped them into issuing auction-rate debt....

In the News: Chicago Tribune’s Series on “Borrowing Trouble”

by Alex Taliadoros In an incredible feat of investigative journalism, the Chicago Tribune has published a three-part series exposing how Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”) gambled and lost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars though complex financial deals with Wall Street banks. The first of the Tribune articles outlines how public officials issued more than $1 billion worth of auction-rate bonds and interest-rate swaps despite the excessive risk associated with these financial products. As described by the second article, big banks designed these deals so that they could profit regardless of what happened. To persuade CPS officials to sign on to these costly long-term agreements, banks offered large sums of upfront cash to the school district and vastly misrepresented the stability of the auction-rate market. When the market collapsed in 2008, Chicago Public Schools were left with an additional $100 million in debt burden. Today, Chicago students are paying the price. The same school district that closes schools, lays off teachers, and forces its students to walk through dangerous gang territories to get to class currently pays millions of dollars to Wall Street as interest each month. The third Tribune piece reveals another troubling aspect to these financial deals: the laws that make them possible. Before 2003, the complex financial tools that CPS used would have stood on shaky legal ground, but legislation passed that year changed that. The bill was drafted by an attorney at a major Illinois bond law firm, sponsored by a Senator who admittedly didn’t understand it, and passed with little public debate. As soon as it became law, CPS began a massive borrowing spree that...

BFCG at the 2014 Labor Research and Action Network Conference

On June 16 and 17, 2014, the Labor Research and Action Network held their 4th annual conference at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. We were proud to participate and present a session entitled “Bargaining for the Common Good: The Role of Research in a Campaign to Fundamentally Alter Public-Sector Bargaining.” This symposium focused on the role research is playing in our effort to redefine public-sector collective bargaining. We explained that the goal of the campaign is to create unified community-labor campaigns about common concerns and to bring common demands to the bargaining table. Public-sector collective bargaining will be a compression point in broader community-benefit campaigns. Researchers have been involved in the conversations, grappling with the theoretical underpinnings of the campaign vision, providing research to contribute to building a common analysis of the moment and participating in strategy sessions around innovative solutions that broaden public-sector bargaining for the common good. More than these traditional roles for researchers, though, a part of the vision of Bargaining for the Common Good is to build the research capacities of community organizations and unions through increased funding for internal researchers and deepened partnerships with academic researchers. The panelists for our session were: • Joseph A. McCartin, Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, and Professor of History, Georgetown University • Saqib Bhatti, Fellow, Nathan Cummings Foundation • Connie M. Razza, Director of Strategic Research and Analytics, Center for Popular Democracy • Dan Pedrotty, Director of Pensions and Capital Strategies,...

In the News: Are Labor Unions on the Rise?

In asking the question, “Are labor unions on the rise?,” Pooja Bhatia of OZY cited Bargaining for the Common Good as one of the keys to the future success of the labor movement. She wrote: After decades of losing members, legislative defeats and a declining return on labor, American unions have stopped looking within for the answer. […] “Fixing what’s wrong with the labor movement is the responsibility of more than the labor movement and requires the involvement of more than the unions themselves,” says Joseph McCartin, a Georgetown historian who directs the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. In May, the Initiative held a conference called Bargaining for the Common Good to discuss ways to open the labor movement beyond employers and employees. Unions actively participated, says McCartin, having “seen that the future for them has to be reaching out to allies and communities, and bargaining differently and in ways that include those allies.” Read more about Bargaining for the Common Good and its role in shaping the future of unions and their community...

In the News: How Unions Should Respond to Harris v. Quinn

In the latest issue of Dissent magazine, Joseph A. McCartin, the director of Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, mentions Bargaining for the Common Good as he writes about how unions should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent Harris v. Quinn decision. The decision took away the power of a union to collect mandatory “agency fees” from the home care workers it represents in collective bargaining, which will have implications for low-wage home care and day care workers, a large proportion of whom are women and people of color, around the country. McCartin writes: Anticipating the Harris decision, representatives of these workers joined 130 labor and community activists in Washington, D.C, a month ago for a conference called Bargaining for the Common Good (hosted by the Kalmanovitz Initiative, of which I am the executive director). They vowed to break the straitjacket of old-fashioned collective bargaining and create new community-labor bargaining alliances focused on advancing the common interests of workers—public and private—and defending the communities in which they live. Read more in Dissent...

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