And people think unions are evil

Union drives, contract battles or any dust up where workers are trying to exert their right to a democratic union tends to be contentious. Employers don't want workers with power. They like being in charge. But, weak as they are, we still have laws in the US that protect the ability to form a union. Sadly, the laws are violated all the time, often deliberately. The latest example in Vermont is at Health Care & Rehabilitation Services of Southeaster Vermont, or HCRS. HCRS co-ordinates social workers for our two southeastern counties. The employees at HCRS were frustrated by mandatory overtime and other quality of life issues. To address them, they formed a union. Since March 2006, the union has been trying to negotiate it's first contract. In other words, the employer has been stalling for almost two years now. I wonder how much money employees could cost under a new contract? For over two years now HCRS has relied on outside consultants to advise them on working with the union. To be fair, there are a lot of unique laws they have to follow. On the other hand, it's well documented that many of these law firms advise management how to break the union. And they are not afraid of skirting the law to get the job done. For instance, firing an employee who is leading the union charge is a common tactic. Sure it's illegal, but you get the pesky worker out of the way for several key months until the National Labor Relations Board catches up with you. Then you reinstate said employee, say you're sorry, possibly pay back wages and take a slap on the wrist. In the meantime, the message for other workers is clear: mess with the union at your own peril. Last month 19 members of the VT General Assembly asked Auditor Salmon to look into HCRS. Since these guys get a whole lot of public funds many of us find it disturbing to know public money has gone to union busting activity. This contract battle has turned up at least three unfair labor practices against HCRS. Furthermore, just recently HCRS replaced their VT union busting firm with an even more notorious firm from New York. Here's an excerpt from a 2004 NY Times story about these guys:
Mr. Brown, a longtime maintenance man, acknowledged that a mysterious consultant known as Mr. X had advised him on how to oust the union and had helped him write fliers that called the union's leaders names like "trailer trash," "Uncle Tom" and "dog woman." Not only that, Mr. Brown testified that envelopes filled with cash had often been sent to his home. He said he had no idea who had sent them. "I don't look a gift horse in the mouth," he said.
This article tells the story of Jackson Lewis and the kind of practice that has become the norm when workers unite. Pretty remarkable. What I can't understand, is how much damage could a place like HCRS really think they're employees would inflict on them? The company has likely spent hundreds of thousands on legal fees. Could workers really be that scary? Is this how we need to spend our limited public dollars? Shouldn't we have more respect for the democratic process in the workplace? What do you think?

Stop the Sale Update

The Public Service Department conducted its last hearing on the proposed sale of Verizon's land lines to Fairpoint last week. On October 30th, members of the coalition opposed to the sale, including the CWA and IBEW, delivered 5,000 postcards to NH Governor Lynch (through a representative) from NHers opposed to the sale. On November 12, the coalition will hold a similar event at the Vermont Statehouse, delivering a wheelbarrow-full of postcards to Lt. Gov Dubie, who will be there in place of Gov. Douglas.
Will thousands of postcards from Vermonters have more of an effect that hundreds of Vermonters showing up at the Statehouse to push for impeachment? Would Douglas have received the postcards in person if the wheelbarrow was wrapped in a red ribbon?
The Department laid out 56 conditions that should be met before the Public Service Board approves the sale.  A decision from the PSB is expected in December.  More information on the Stop the Sale coalition can be found on their web site.  The event/press conference takes place next Monday at 1pm on the Statehouse steps.
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