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Web Letter

As a labor union member, it was with great interest that I read this article. But I was immediately sidetracked by the Google ads which were for anti-union companies. For example, www.proemployer.net (specializing in union avoidance and preventative labor relations) or www.modernstaffingandsecurity.com (strike replacements). And there were more advertised on the page. So what gives, Nation? Are you really the progressive magazine I thought you were and if so, why the heck are these ads on the page? Read up on these companies; they are all about how unions are detrimental to workers etc. but I can tell you, this worker is happy to be a union member!

Dirk Beaulieu

Eugene, OR

May 25 2007 - 1:20am

Web Letter

For Unions to Regain Their Strength, They Must Bring Back the Mafia

In 2001, my fellow employees, made up of social workers and other social services employees, decided to organize for better wages, working conditions etc. A fairly small group of people invited the Pennsylvania Social Services Union (PSSU) under the Services Employee International Union (SEIU) who then sent a very good Organizer (now retired John Toland) to help put things together. When I heard about the movement to organize the social services workers I quickly joined.

Spearheaded by Mr. Toland and one of his assistants, things got going and sparks started flying. About a year later, after many wounds and divisions amongst colleagues (our shop totals between 180 to 190 potential members) and between colleagues and administrators, we had done the impossible and by nearly a 60/40 margin, had established the first outside union within Chester County Government. (Chester County is the sixth-largest Republican County in Pennsylvania and historically, one did not work in government unless registered as a Republican.)

What we had to endure organizing a union is criminal, or at least it should be, but under this administration, unionizing is seen as a criminal activity. In a blatant attempt to cripple us, two Republican Commissioners went so far as to file suit against the only Democratic Commissioner (now State Senator of the 19th Senatorial District in PA, Andy Dinniman), claiming he violated some law by encouraging us to unionize, yet these same two Republicans put fake dollar bills in our paycheck, claiming we'd lose money if we unionized. These same two Republican Commissioners met with us and openly discouraged us to unionize. (It appears being anti-union is legal.) And it was suspected that these same Republican Commissioners worked closely with a small group of anti-union social service employees to decertify the union. (Note: Former Commissioner Dinniman won his case, but that was just the beginning of the Republican assault on us.)

Over the past six years, I've been suspended three times for a total of fourteen days without pay. I've filed about fifteen grievances personally, winning only one. I've filed three harassment charges against my agency and or staff within my agency through Human Resources, (an arm of management that does not care very much for me) and I've proven two of my cases, both of which were confirmed in writing by HR. I'm currently awaiting two arbitrations on my previous two suspensions, suspensions that cost me about $1,600.00. And where has PSSU been you ask? For five of the previous six years, they've been lying to us, losing arbitration after arbitration, reducing supportive staff and acting as if they are on the County payroll.

PSSU Local 668, under the mighty arm of the SEIU, pulled Mr. Toland and his assistant before our first contract was negotiated, cutting our strength and forcing us to do battle against a hostile employer without his voice and leadership. Oh sure, we could strike, but you're talking about social workers, not teachers, and social workers are much less likely to unify behind a strike than almost any other profession. Besides, we never had the numbers to strike and our business agent made sure this would continue by caving early in the negotiation process on the issue of mandatory dues for all those who fall under the bargaining unit. You see, many of us believe that our union leaders cut our legs out from under us in several ways simply to get a contract under their belt.

It was argued by PSSU and our business agent at the time that the reason for muzzling Mr. Toland was because he was an organizer and not a negotiator. But we all knew the truth, which was that John was an aggressive, take-no-prisoners, old-style Organizer that could stand face to face with the government elite and make them tremble. The county feared Mr. Toland because of his ability to find and then state facts, embarrassing facts about how we were being treated to the media. However, our agent, weak, soft, pocket-lining hypocrite that he is, did not appreciate Mr. Toland's success. Instead, many of us believe he simply wanted to cut deals, which is what he seems to have done in order to get the contract signed, and move on. (Our multiple complaints and meetings with top brass at PSSU Local 668 to discuss the anti-bargaining unit actions of or business agent went nowhere.)

Let's jump forward. Six years later, we have about thirteen card-carrying members and one active member (me) and appear to be headed for a decertification. And where is PSSU, you ask? Taking care of workers in less hostile counties, of course, after having all but deserted us. (In fairness to our new business agent, he has been quite responsive to me but has received no support from our Local in trying to get us back on our feet.)

After an internal protest against our business agent led to a second mass exodus of members two years ago, an action that, for maximum affect I'm sure, took place just days prior to the signing of our second four-year contract, my agency was left with me and only me to run things. Besides the miracle of pulling off another four-year deal with just three negotiators at the table, there has been little progress these past two years, as I have had to go it alone. Feeling like I was deserted but not taking my anger out on my colleagues (I understand their anger at PSSU), I continued to fight, and although it looks, right now anyway, like we may not have a union in another two years, I haven't given up on unions or my shop. Call me stupid or naïve or insane but I'm still hopeful we can turn things around, however, I'm not so confident we can do so without the help of the mafia.

No one wants to say it, so I will. The mafia's involvement in organized labor and the incredible sacrifices made by millions of working class citizens are the only reasons labor (and therefore the middle class) grew as it did during the early and middle parts of the last century. Without the resources and support that can be provided by a strong mafia, anti-union forces will continue to influence Congress to their side and to erode the advances our fathers and mothers sacrificed so hard to attain. So, in the famous words of many old time preachers, I say with fist punching the sky, "Let's Get Back to the Good Ole Days" where labor was strong and the middle class was vibrant and growing.

In conclusion I will add that Labor's upper management must change from its "we're satisfied" elitist attitude, stop cutting deals with business and government and fight like they used to so we can send the message to these corporate and legislative thugs that their tactics will be met head on by an equal and equally justifiable force.

John LeVan

Thorndale, PA

May 22 2007 - 12:08pm