December 2012

2012 Organizing Summit a Success

In September 2012, organizers from the United States and Canada convened at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore, Md., to attend the 7th Annual Organizing Summit. In these harsh economic times, workers have increasingly been subjected to injustices by their employers. It is now a common practice in the construction industry for many workers to be forced to work overtime and receive no compensation. Union organizers contend daily with the scare tactics employers use, such as threats and intimidation. The Summit offers a forum for organizers to exchange ideas on how to address these complex problems.

Politics play a significant role in organizing, and in Canada and the U.S., the party in power can dramatically impact labor laws and enforcement. In recent years, some candidates even campaigned on the promise of dismantling labor unions and labor laws. In parts of Canada, changes to the law have eliminated the union hiring hall, with hiring now done by the provincial government.

General Vice President and Executive Director of Canadian Affairs Darrell LaBoucan informed the organizers about unions of convenience. Due to new legislation in Canada, companies can sign with a union of convenience to avoid dealing with traditional trade unions where workers have a voice. Members of a union of convenience do not have the right to vote on union leadership or working conditions. General Organizer Eric Bohne and Campaign Coordinator Lash Ray described the effects the laws are having on our members and local unions who are fighting for market share against these employer unions.

Legislative and Political Director Dave Kolbe invited members of the U.S House of Representatives to speak on proposed legislation that would weaken workers' rights. Congressmen George Miller (D-CA) and James Clyburn (D-SC) remarked on the continued attacks on the Davis-Bacon Act. Congressmen Steve Lynch (D-MA), a member of Local-7 (Boston), addressed the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal government construction projects and its positive effects.

Brother Kolbe also detailed the ways in which our union specifically benefits from a robust political strategy. He described how the Davis-Bacon Act and project labor agreements are under fire from the Republican Party and highlighted the importance of maintaining relationships with politicians who support our issues.

Appearing with the District Council President of the Mid-Atlantic States, John "Buddy" Cefalu, was Maryland's Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. While addressing the organizers, Lieutenant Governor Brown described his strong pro-labor stances on issues to protect workers' rights to form or join a union, and the importance of maintaining the Davis-Bacon Act and Maryland's own prevailing wage law.

Andy Banks, the director of the Strategic Research and Campaigns Department of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, addressed the Summit as well. Banks described how the Teamsters are focused on organizing. Their campaigns emphasize improving working conditions and growing their membership. He outlined several campaigns where local involvement and coordination with the international were key elements of the campaign's success. Each year, thousands of workers vote to be represented by the Teamsters. Banks credits the local unions' commitment to organizing for their success.

Chloe Osmer, an AFL-CIO organizer, gave a talk on the challenges she has faced organizing immigrant workers in the California Car Wash Campaign. Chloe described the struggles immigrant workers face in the workplace and in forming unions. Further, she offered insights into how to best meet the needs of these workers and effectively empower them to fight for social justice in their communities and a union in their workplaces through an enhanced understanding of immigration law.

General President Walter Wise, General Secretary Eric Dean, and General Treasurer McHugh presented Chad Rink the first ever "Organizer of the Year" award. Brother Rink is a member from Local 3 (Pittsburgh) and serves as an organizer for the District Council of Northern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and Northern West Virginia. The award recognizes Chad's ability to overcome adverse circumstances in successful organizing campaigns. It has been said that, "Organizing is the most difficult job in the labor movement." This award is meant to highlight the International's commitment to organizing by taking time to recognize success.

The 2012 Organizers' Summit proved to be a great success. Whether the organizers gained new insights or had an opportunity to teach and share the benefits of each other's experiences, those attending found the topics informative and extremely useful.