Local unions mail their members in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, a state decided by less than 1 percent in the past two presidential elections, local union mail is heading to members in advance of the Oct. 5 start of early and absentee voting, reports Sue Ledbetter, the Labor 2008 state director. IAM Local 873, made up of workers at John Deere in Horicon, Wis., and UAW Local 469, whose members work at Master Lock, are just two of the many locals whose presidents are sending letters to their membership in support of Obama.

UAW Local 469 President Tony Rainey already has sent out one letter with more on the way. All UAW locals in Wisconsin will mail four letters to their members about why Obama is the right choice to turn around America.

Alex Hoekstra, president of IAM Local Lodge 873, also has mailed a letter to 1,600 members, active and retired, about Obama's pro-working families stance. The plan is to send out two or three more letters in the weeks to come.

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Meet Ethan Berkowitz, Alaska U.S. House Candidate

This election is about change for working people, and Alaska is a state that hangs in the balance.  

Many people across the country are paying attention to Alaska's U.S. Senate race, as AFL-CIO endorsed Democrat Mark Begich attempts to unseat indicted 40-year incumbent Ted Stevens.  But that isn't the only race that could signal substantial change in Alaska.

Democrat Ethan Berkowitz is posing a serious threat to 35-year incumbent Don Young in the race for Alaska's only U.S. House seat.

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Cleveland Postal Workers Send Local Union Mail to Educate Fellow Members About Barack Obama

On September 19, APWU 72 activists mailed 2,100 mailings to active and retired members of APWU 72, which covers the Cleveland, Ohio area.  The mailing included a letter from APWU 72 President Danny Pride and a flyer about Sen. Barack Obama's policies on working families' issues.  

Mr. Pride said, "The active members' main concern right now is really the economy, because it is in such a tailspin that it affects the wages and how far you can stretch a dollar.  And with the collapse of these major institutions here lately, I'm sure it's going to create some more anxiety.  Fortunately for us, we have a very good collective bargaining agreement which kind of buffers us from some of that," but because even union workers must consider their economic foundation shaky these days, it's important to make sure they have the information they need to make educated decisions on Election Day.  

Beverly Shealy, President of APWU 72 Retirees' Chapter, said that for member education, local union mail is ideal, especially for reaching retired workers.  "All of them aren't able to come down to our retiree meetings, so if we keep them informed by a mailing then it keeps them abreast upon what's going on," she said.  

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Closed for Renovation: the National Labor Relations Board

Written by National AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff

During the week of November 15, thousands of union members and their allies marched, rallied, handbilled, phoned in, did street theater, and otherwise raised hell at the offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in more than 20 cities across the the United States.

One thousand people rallied at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC on November 15 and marched to the National Labor headquarters of the NLRB where they rallied again and demanded that the Labor Board be closed for renovations until a new governing board could be appointed by a new President.

That demand was echoed vigorously from Albuquerque to Albany and from Nashville to Denver.

What caused the uproar?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is charged with administering the National Labor Relations Act.  That act, passed in 1935, regulates workers' rights and labor relations in most of America's private sector.

According to its preamble, the act was passed to encourage collective bargaining, freedom of association, and worker organization.
Yet during the last half of September and the first half of October, the NLRB handed down 61 decisions that further restrict and weaken already shamefully weak and ineffective workers' rights in America.
First, the decisions make it harder for workers to form a union through a majority sign up.  Most workers who form a union in this country these days do so through a majority sign up process.  That is because the NLRB elections system is so broken that workers avoid it when they can.  The Chamber of Commerce and Big Business are at war against workers' freedom to form unions through majority sign up - and it looks like they have successfully enlisted the Board on their side. Second, the decisions make it harder for workers who are illegally fired to recover back pay. Third, for workers who come to a job intending to try to form a union, these decisions have created a legalized form of job discrimination.  Union supporters who are illegally denied employment are treated as second-class workers.

Finally, Justice delayed is justice denied. The language used by this Labor Board in the Dana decision will be used by the corrupt corporate and radical right-wing forces as arguments against passage of the fair and urgently needed Employee Free Choice Act.

But this is not the first time the Bush Labor Board has gone out of its way to weaken workers' rights, especially the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.  Since Bush was inaugurated, his board has acted regularly to deny collective bargaining and organizing protection to millions of workers across our country and throughout our economy.  They took away Labor Board coverage from many disabled workers, university and graduate employees, and others.  Then last year in the infamous Kentucky River and Oakwood cases they caused as many as eight million non-supervisory, non-management workers to be inaccurately labeled as supervisors so that they would be denied collective bargaining coverage and any opportunity to form a union - and so that many who had already organized could have their union busted.

It is now obvious what the Bush Board has done and is doing.  It is an open and naked power grab.

Knowing that unions, the labor movement, and organized workers are the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power, they are determined to weaken that counterweight as much as possible - even as the American people are more distrustful of right-wing than ever.
Knowing that union members regardless of race, gender, region or ethnicity are amongst the most active and loyal voters for progressive politicians, this Bush Labor Board is determined to deny union membership to as many workers as possible.

They realize that absent the union vote the 2006 Congressional landslide would have been dead even.

This Labor Board has consistently reversed 70 years of precedent and established law to make a joke and a mockery of the National Labor Relations Act.

It should not be a surprise to any of us.  Radical right-wing Republicans stole the 2000 election.  They stole votes from African-Americans in 2004 and they attempted to steal votes in 2006.  In tax breaks, single-source contracts, and defense spending they have stolen the Nation's Treasury to give to the wealthy all over the world.

America needs a strong and vibrant Labor Movement.  Workers forming unions in the 20 years after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act from 1935 to 1955 that created the broad and deep middle class that is America's greatest strength.

It is our Labor Movement that is the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power.

It is this Labor Movement and the Labor Movement around the world that is the most vigorous and effective opponent of right-wing ideology and its logical end of fascism.

For the United States to have a strong Labor Movement, average workers must be free to join it and to establish new unions in workplaces without unions.  

That is not the case today.  Though the Bush Labor Board has greatly accelerated the assault, workers' rights in America have been weakened steadily since the Reagan Administration.  For at least 25 years workers in America have been routinely fired and retaliated against for trying to form unions and bargain collectively.  Human Rights Watch has documented the assault.  Dr. Kate Brofenbrenner has documented the assault.  American Rights at Work have documented it.

All this is why our country so desperately needs the worker protection that will be provided by the Employee Free Choice Act.  During both House and Senate votes in March and June of this year, the legislation won majority support.  But we need a Senate that can win 60 votes to break a corrupt corporate backed Republican filibuster and a Democratic President who will sign it - and use some political capital to pass it in the Senate.

So with December 10, International Human Rights Day, approaching, please remember that they key to our prosperity lies in our most fundamental right -- the right to freely associate, to speak out, and to organize.

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Day Three on the Bluegrass Express Highlights Civil Rights, Labor History

As the Bluegrass Express bus tour continued to roll through Kentucky on Tuesday, a quick change of plans relocated our afternoon leaflet stops from Madisonville to Paducah, in far-western Kentucky. Although western Kentucky often is seen as an area that's less than friendly toward unions, bus volunteer Jeff Wiggins, who is president of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, treated me, Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan and AFL-CIO Field Representative Don Slaiman to a very different glimpse of the rich history of the area's labor movement.

The city of Paducah has a mile-long mural painted along a flood wall next to the Ohio River. In 2004, artist Herb Roe added a panel depicting the city's annual Labor Day parade, which was first held in 1892. The mural depicts a parade in the mid 1970s with a massive crowd of local labor activists, including W.C. Young carrying a giant "Solidarity" banner through the city's streets.

Young, who hailed from Paducah, and died in 1996, was a nationally known labor and civil rights leader. He began as a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks in 1941, when Jim Crow racial segregation and discrimination were the law and the social order in western Kentucky. Throughout his life, Young worked tirelessly to change this state of affairs, dedicating himself to the common causes of organized labor and the civil rights. He was a leader in the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education and journeyed to South Africa in the 1990s to protest apartheid.

I was very moved to see the mural, a beautiful testament to the incredible transformational effect Young and others in the labor movement have had on the American society in the past decades. That evening, while we distributed leaflets at the massive Gerdau Ameristeel plant in nearby Calvert City, I made a special effort to reach out and have conversations with the steelworkers coming in and out of the plant, rather than simply hand them the leaflets as they walked by. I wanted to hear their stories and to learn more about how union members in western Kentucky continue to change their society for the better to this very day.  

I felt sure that the workers I spoke to were keeping Young's wise and simple words alive:

You are supposed to love your brother and sister. That's the way it is with the union movement.

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Harold Johnson Knows the Connection Between Politics and Organizing

Cross Post from AFL-CIO NOW: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/10/24/harold -johnson-knows-the-connection-between-po litics-and-organizing/

Bernard Pollack, AFL-CIO field coordinator, is working on the union movement's campaign to elect a working family-friendly governor in Kentucky. Last week, he joined AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff and 153 union members and allies in a labor luncheon with workers at Ohio Valley Aluminum Co. who are seeking to form a union with the United Steelworkers. Nurses on strike at Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals also took part.

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Elvis, Weather, and Kentucky Elections

Kentucky rain keeps pourin' down, and up ahead's another town, that I'll go walkin' thru, with the rain in my shoes...searchin' for you, in the cold Kentucky rain.

So sang Elvis Presley about the harsh weather that, unfortunately for the first few stops of the Bluegrass Express union-member mobilization tour, Kentucky occasionally experiences.

Last night's worksite leaflet stop at the Commonwealth Aluminum plant in Hawesville and this morning's stop at the massive Century Aluminum plant in Lewisport would have been rained out if it weren't for the absolute dedication of the volunteers who spent hours handing out leaflets to steelworkers leaving and arriving at the plants.

Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan, Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council President Jeff Wiggins, UAW Local 2370 President Tim Smith, AFL-CIO field representative Don Slaiman, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9443 President Richard Hass and yours truly stood outside the plant gates in the dark, amidst the wind and rain, rain and even more rain, to distribute information on incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher's disastrous history of hurting working families.

All told, the leaflets were a success. We distributed hundreds of fliers, and almost all the workers we spoke to were receptive and friendly. But, ironically, many of them remarked on our dedication to stand out in the rain. The subtext to their comments seemed to be an unanswered question: "Why go through so much bother?"

An answer came easily to Smith. A big grin on his face, he said:

I love doing this! The reason we're out here is to reach out to our members.  Reach out to our members and let them know how important it is to get out and vote November the 6.  

To Tim Smith, it's just that simple. Communication among members is the only way unions can effect positive change in the political arena.  If we want the government's policies to address our concerns--health care, good jobs, retirement security and the dozens of others--then we have to make sure that union members are informed and elect good candidates to positions of power. And if it takes a sopping-wet leaflet or two, or 200,000, that's no trouble at all.

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Paid for by AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education Treasury Fund.

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Bluegrass Express Sets Off Across Kentucky Today (Yesterday)

Toot! Toot! Look out, Kentucky, the Bluegrass Express is coming through!  

Starting today, the "It's Our Time" Bluegrass Express tour is taking off to mobilize union members to elect working family-friendly candidates in the upcoming statewide elections. The Bluegrass Express bus will travel hundreds of miles, criss-crossing the state and stopping several times a day at worksites in Ashland, Calvert City, Elizabethtown, Hazard, Lexington, Madisonville and dozens of other Kentucky towns.

I'll be on the bus, along with Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan, Mine Workers political coordinator Steve Earle, UAW Labor 2007 coordinator Danny Ernestes, AFL-CIO field representative Don Slaiman and many other elected officials, labor leaders and union volunteers along the way. We will stop at worksites ranging from steel mills to call centers, auto plants to hospitals, coal mines to colleges, not to mention rail yards, power plants and fire stations, to pass out leaflets and talk to union members about what's at stake--vital issues, including health care, good jobs and the freedom to form and join unions.

We won't be getting much sleep, for sure, but we will be energizing union members in the final few weeks before the election to steer Kentucky away from the middle-class disaster course that Gov. Ernie Fletcher put them on!

Says Londrigan:  

This is our time. We're doing whatever it takes to make sure that on Nov. 6, elected officials will hear the voice of Kentucky working families loud and clear.

I'll be sending in daily blog reports from the road, look for them here. Toot, toot!  

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Paid for by AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education Treasury Fund.

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167 Union Volunteers in Action Across Kentucky

167 Union Volunteers in Action Across Kentucky [BLOG.AFLCIO.ORG]   

In one of the largest statewide labor walks ever held in Kentucky, 167 union activists walked door to door Saturday to talk with union members about the upcoming election in which Steve Beshear is challenging anti-worker Gov. Ernie Fletcher for office.  

Despite Beshear's 20-point lead in the polls, union members in Kentucky are not sitting back. Fletcher has canceled bargaining rights for state employees, privatized Kentucky's Medicaid program and pushed to repeal the prevailing wage law and implement anti-union "right to work" for less legislation. Beshear opposes so-called "right to work" legislation and has affirmed his support of safeguards for the prevailing wage, employee bargaining, the need for affordable health care and good jobs.

After our state kickoff walk last week in which more than 400 volunteers went door to door in Jefferson County, we continue to knock on thousands of union doors across the state, with walks this weekend in Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Paducah and Pikeville.

In Paducah, where 34 volunteers turned out, Jeff Wiggins, Northern Kentucky AFL-CIO Labor Council president, notes:
"I've been the Northern Kentucky Central Labor Council President since 2000, this is the largest labor walk we've ever held in Paducah."

Union members taking part in the Paducah walk include: AFSCME, AFT, Alliance for Retired Americans, Fire Fighters (IAFF), IronWorkers, Operating Engineers, Painters and Allied Trades, UAW and United Steelworkers (USW).

Tim Smith, coordinator of the area that includes Owensboro, said the walk there was "larger than any Labor 2004 or Labor 2006 labor walk--and it is only the first one so far this year."
Members from the Electrical Workers (IBEW), Operating Engineers (IUOE), the Kentucky Education Association, Mine Workers (UMWA), Sprinkler Fitters, Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA), UAW and USW took part.  

Donnie Colston, coordinator for the area that includes Louisville, said, "Despite more than 400 walkers last week for our kickoff, nearly 60 more union volunteers showed up this week to walk with us again." Colston concludes:
Union members refuse to take anything for granted.  
Those union members are part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), IBEW, Laborers (LIUNA), Machinists (IAM), UAW, USW, Working America and more.

Meanwhile in Lexington, where 42 volunteers turned out, area coordinator Mike Donta said:
"This is the one of the largest walks we've ever had in Lexington."

Members of AFT, Carpenters, CWA, IAFF, IBEW, Iron Workers, LIUNA, Office and Professional Employees, UAW, USW and Utility Workers (UWUA) all took part.

Pikeville's 10 volunteers were part of history, said coordinator Eddie Bowling:
"This is first time we've ever held a labor walk in all Eastern Kentucky. "

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Kentucky Labor Kicks Off 2007 Campaign

Kentucky Labor Kicks Off 2007 Campaign

Bernard Pollack, AFL-CIO field coordinator, sends us this report on the campaign to elect a working family-friendly governor in Kentucky.

The excitement across the Kentucky Labor Movement is palpable. Unions in the Louisville area are gearing up for Saturday where several hundred volunteers are expected to walk door to door talking with union members and their families.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka will join with volunteers, along with UAW International Vice-President Terry Thurman, UAW Region 3 Dir. Maurice 'Mo' Davison, UAW Local 862 President Rocky Comito, Kentucky State Building Trades Executive Director Larry Roberts and many more leaders across the State.

Rallying around the theme, "Kentucky Labor 2007: It's Our Time," workers will kick-off a walk program in support of Beshear that will continue weekdays and weekends through Election Day. The goal: talk with more than 300,000 union members, householders, retirees and Working America members so that on Election Day, one-in-four of all votes cast will be from a union household.

Key to the Kentucky AFL-CIO's unprecedented 2007 campaign are  union members, who will discuss the issues important to working families--healthcare,  good jobs, education and a secure retirement. Working families deserve better than what they've been put through by current Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who repealed collective bargaining for state workers, tried to roll back prevailing wage laws, and privatized the state Medicaid operation. Fletcher has been a top spokesman for so-called right to work legislation, pushing for anti-union, anti-worker bills in Kentucky and nationwide.

Bolstering  the largest walk program ever mounted by the Kentucky union movement is a massive communication outreach effort. Union members already have distributed 180,000 worksite leaflets to members across the state and local unions have sent scores of  letters sent to tens of thousands of members Statewide phone banks will start Oct. 3.

Says Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan:

In 2007, AFL-CIO Kentucky union members and working families will turn out the vote and walk this weekend to reject Gov. Fletcher's anti-working families agenda. His corporate crony agenda has been built on the backs of working Kentuckians, and this November, working families will make their voices heard, rejecting Gov. Fletcher's so-called leadership once and for all.

Union members will speak with colleagues, families, neighbors and other Kentuckians, making sure every working family in the state knows what's at stake in this election.

The Kentucky labor movement has expanded greatly in recent months through outreach by  the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America. Working America is an organization for people who don't have a union at their workplace but have the same concerns about the economy as union members. Some 40,000 Kentuckians are members of  Working America members, part of 1.6 million members nationwide.

Take a minute to watch this video in which Rep. John Yarmuth, Beshear and six labor leaders from Kentucky talk about their commitment to the labor political program.

Congressman Yarmuth summed it up this way:

I never would have been elected without the help of the labor movement.

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