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 GOING ON OFFENSE DURING CHALLENGING TIMES  
[https://portside.org/2018-02-06/going-offense-during-challenging-times]


 

 Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione 
 December 1, 2017
New Labor Forum
[http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2017/12/05/going-on-offense-during-challenging-times/]


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 _ Bargaining for the common good campaigns are when union and
community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader,
shared gains. _ 

 , 

 

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and
spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons
on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community
groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The
upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the
membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all
the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and
community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader,
shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential
elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception.
The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869)
acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the
organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have
been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years.
Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to
the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis
sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support
that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision
of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign
for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing
attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO
through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities
strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine
labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included
mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an
infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership
and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in
local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too
many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature:
“Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some
way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and
needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is
generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely,
organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for
broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and
labor by building lasting _alignments _between unions and community
groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

When unions and their community allies develop strategy, demands, and
actions together from the beginning of a campaign, the results can be
impressive. Consider some recent examples that illustrate the
potential:

	* _The Fix LA campaign_: Prior to going into bargaining  with  Los
 Angeles  in 2014, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Local 721 and AFSCME locals joined with community  allies  to
 craft  demands  that would push back against an austerity agenda
that was hurting both municipal workers and the people they served.
Under the banner “Fix LA,” city workers and community and racial
justice groups documented how exorbitant Wall Street fees were
draining the municipal budget and starving city The campaign won a
commitment from the city of Los Angeles to hire five thousand workers
from disadvantaged communities into a range of jobs in Public Works,
General Services, Recreation and Parks, the Airport, and a
city-financed revenue commission to identify alternatives to high-fee
Wall Street loans, closing a variety of local tax loopholes to raise
revenue and avoid dependence on predatory Wall Street loans. The
campaign’s narrative and power successfully fought off concession
demands from the city.
 	* With an almost 60-person bargaining team and an agenda created
with community input, the National Education Association (NEA)
affiliate, Sacramento City Teachers Association won a considerable
decrease in testing, salary increases, lower class sizes and an
agreement to work with the mayor on a ballot initiative to fund arts,
music and restorative practices.
 	* _AFSCM__E 3299_: AFSCME Local 3299, which represents workers in
the University of California (UC) system, joined with students and
other coalition partners to document and expose how the university’s
endowments were invested in hedge funds that had poor returns, high
fees, and socially irresponsible investments. They have now  built
 into  their  bargaining demands a proposal to create local-hire
and training programs for disadvantaged workers and to ensure that UC
follows “fair-chance” hiring procedures. They are also proposing
expanding their existing immigrant rights language. In a past con-
tract campaign, they won non-discrimination provisions that restrict
UC’s ability to use government-initiated immigration-document
re-verification against Now, in 2017, they are demanding that UC make
stronger commitments not to collaborate with immigration enforcement.
 	* _Chicago Teachers Union_: In their 2017 contract negotiations,
Chicago teachers, who have been  pioneering  common good bargaining
since their successful2012 strike, won contract language around a
series of creative demands that had strong community support, such as
funding community schools, limiting charters, preventing school
closings, and mutually supporting progressive revenue solutions at the
state level.
 	* _Ban__k workers and Wells Fargo_: The common good approach to
labor–community alignment is not confined to public-sector settings.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Committee for Better
Banks have been organizing bank workers with the twin goals of winning
better wages and benefits for workers and challenging a business model
that forces workers to sell predatory financial products as a
condition of employment. Bank workers from the organizing committee
were the early whistle-blowers on Wells Fargo’s fake account
cheating scandal demonstrating that worker and consumer rights are
intertwined—you can’t win one without the other.

Bank workers from the [CWA] organizing committee were the early
whistle-blowers on Wells Fargo’s fake account cheating scandal
demonstrating that worker and consumer rights are intertwined . . .

WHAT DO THE VARIOUS CAMPAIGNS HAVE IN COMMON?

While campaigns using this approach vary according to scope, sector,
and geography, they draw from a menu of nine key elements.

1._ Expanding the scope of bargaining_: Central to the attack on
unions, and on public-sector unions in particular, is the claim that
unions and their members are selfish and greedy; their sole goal is to
protect wages, benefits, and pensions, at the expense of local
community Unionized public workers are caught in a trap: On one hand,
they are called selfish for defending existing benefits and, on the
other hand, traditional bargaining is limited to negotiations over
those very same economic issues. Only by breaking out of the narrow
confines of traditional bargaining can we avoid this trap. BCG
radically repositions the union by fundamentally and publicly
redefining who we are through what we and our partners are demanding
in bar- gaining. Instead of being a defense of the status quo,
bargaining becomes a primary vehicle to lift up and popularize a
common vision embraced by both the community and union members about
what kind of schools and public services we need.

2. _Unifying   identities_:   Union   members wear multiple
hats—they are union members (or potential members); they are
parents, homeowners or renters, tax- payers, neighbors, human beings
with their own gender, racial, and class identities. BCG campaigns
engage all those identities and their attendant hopes and dreams for a
better future. BCG takes both community and labor struggles and
centers them in the heart of union work—the bargaining table—and
uses bargaining to connect traditional worker issues and broader
community issues.

3._ Community at the  table_:  How  many times have you and/or your
organization been called on to send bodies to a rally or sign on to
someone else’s letter or petition? Maybe too many to count? We have
all been there. What sets BCG apart from other strategies is that
community members and union members are asked to pull up chairs to the
decision- making table from the very beginning. They are both present
as the vision and issue platform are being crafted. And they are
together to negotiate wins.

4. _Strengthening internal organizing and member engagement_: Union
members are rarely more engaged with their organizations than during
bargaining. BCG campaigns approach bargaining in ways that further
deepen and expand member engagement. Union members involved in BCG
campaigns often report feeling energized and prouder than ever to be
union because they know that they are not only fighting for themselves
and their coworkers but also for their neighbors and the broader
community they often serve.

5. _Confronting  systemic/racial  injustice_: Traditional collective
bargaining has proven to be an inadequate instrument with which to
confront systemic injustices like institutionalized racism, the roots
of which invariably extend beyond the confines of the workplace and
are deeply embedded in the structure of communities and reinforced by
a broad range of policies. By breaking out of the box of traditional
bargaining, BCG campaigns have been able to identify and attack
systemic injustices. For example, teachers unions embracing BCG have
attempted to break the school-to-prison pipeline by calling for an end
to disciplinary policies that tend to criminalize students and
demanding wraparound services that can better serve vulnerable
populations.

6._ Identifying, exposing, and calling to account those who are really
calling the shots_: In the public sector, BCG campaigns work on
researching and naming those who are profiting from the austerity
agenda. Long before bargaining begins, BCG campaigns do deep research
to map the corporate power structure that dominates the setting of
government priorities. They identify the corporate actors who claim
there is not enough money to fund public services, while profiting
from tax cuts and generous public subsidies. Exposing the facts and
forces behind lucrative privatization schemes, and showing who
benefits from cuts to public services and taxes, reframes the dominant
narrative and undercuts the calls for austerity. In private-sector
fights, this same approach helps uncover the role that hedge funds,
private equity, and what Teddy Roosevelt once called “malefactors of
great wealth” are playing in shaping corporate priorities that favor
downsizing, outsourcing, and deunionizing work.

7. _Challenging wealth inequality_: BCG campaigns call attention to
one of the greatest injustices of our time—the fact that the public
sector is being starved for funds as a small sliver of Americans
wallow in unprecedented wealth, paying taxes at a rate that is but a
fraction of what the wealthy paid in the post–World War II era. We
need progressive revenue solutions. To win them, we need to show how
wealth has been increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small
elite. Building this into our campaigns helps create the public
environment that allows us to eliminate tax loopholes and raise the
revenue needed to fund good schools and public services. For example,
closing the carried interest loophole (that benefits primarily
private-equity and hedge-fund managers) would by some estimates lead
to $3.5 billion dollars in additional tax revenue in New York State
alone.

8._ Putting capital to work for the common good_: Many union pension
funds have been hurt not just by inadequate funding and skipped
contributions but also by investing in high-fee hedge and private-
equity funds that often provide mediocre returns. Many of  the
 funds  invest  in companies that damage society (e.g., private
prisons), and many fund managers use their mega-earnings to fund
candidates and organizations that advocate privatizing public services
and schools. BCG campaigns can demand that pension funds invest in
projects that provide good returns and benefits to the community,
putting billions of dollars of workers’ capital to use benefiting
underserved communities.

9._ Building a positive perception of organized labor_: In recent
years, labor has been struggling with negative press— losses have
bred defensiveness; defensiveness has led to more losses. BCG tries to
turn this around. BCG campaigns recognize that unions cannot reverse
the damage to the public perception of unions on their own. When
unions and communities stand together for the common good, it has a
transformational impact on workers and communities. BCG seeks to
ensure that everyone succeeds and wins, especially those who need us
most.

CASE STUDY IN GOING ON OFFENSE

The National Education Association represents more than three million
public school educators, making it the largest professional
organization and labor union in the country. At a time of
extraordinary challenges facing public education across the country,
and incessant attacks on teacher unions as “part of the problem,”
NEA chooses to proactively focus on ensuring every student has the
support, tools, and time to learn that lead to success. Educators
partnering with parents and community leaders understand quality
public schools in every neighborhood impact the broader success or
failure of a com- munity, including the devastating impacts of
institutional racism. Since participating in the initial BCG gathering
in 2014, NEA and its affiliates across the country—in cities like
St. Paul, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Seattle, Washington; and
more—are making BCG a cornerstone of their organizing for economic
and racial justice.

Public schools are a part of the social fabric of every community.
From kindergarten through higher education, students, parents,
educators, and community partners strive to make the world a better
place through education. When resources are drained from public
education, students and communities suffer; students do not have the
textbooks or equipment to advance their learning, educators do not
have the tools they need to be most effective, crime rates rise when
extracurricular programs and activities are cut, and sometimes
students do not have access to the nutritious food they need to power
their brains to learn. Those results can have devastating impacts on
communities.

Also, research shows that when schools are declared “failing” or
subject to state takeover— which disproportionately happens in
communities of color—wholesale community disenfranchisement takes
place. Civic engagement declines when there are not compelling local
elections like school board races. Opportunities for community leader-
ship and voice disappear. This impact of education policy steeped in
institutional racism hurts too many urban and also rural communities.

When public education is defunded, the impact is collective, so it is
in the best interest of whole communities to band together in a
collective fight for the quality schools that all stu- dents deserve.
BCG is a natural fit.

GROUNDBREAKING WORK IN ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA

In their 2013 and 2015 contract campaigns, the Saint Paul Federation
of Teachers (SPFT), an affiliate of both American Federation of
Teachers (AFT) and NEA, won a set of demands that went far beyond
those normally considered within the scope of bargaining. SPFT
bargained for reduced class sizes; increased the number of school
nurses, counselors, social workers, and librarians in the district;
took on standardized testing; and expanded parent-led family
engagement programs. They also won funding for restorative practices
and mechanisms to address institutional racism.

Restorative practices represent a radical shift in the way members of
a school community relate to each other, focusing on intentional
relationship building and shared problem solving. SPFT began looking
at  bringing  restorative practices to Saint Paul Public Schools as
an alternative to punitive discipline policies that were pushing
students of color out of the class- room and into the school-to-prison
pipeline. Now embarking in their second year of the restorative
practice program, restorative practices have transformed the way our
pilot schools function because when restorative practices are
successful, students, educators, and parents build deep, lasting
relationships within their communities. These kinds of alternative
policies can be won through a bargaining for common good approach that
brings parent and family voices together with educators at the
bargaining table—leverage that most parents do not have absent the
partnership with the union.

Saint Paul’s contract negotiations in 2015 also resulted in an
agreement to form a task force, including SPFT members, district
officials, and parents to examine the financial institutions with
which the school district does business. This task force was created
in response to the predatory lending practices of banks like Wells
Fargo and US Bank, which have a major presence in the Twin Cities.
SPFT also proposed that the school district stop doing business with
any financial institution that forecloses on students while the school
year is in progress.

As part of their 2017 negotiations, SPFT is targeting large
corporations and nonprofits— specifically private colleges and
medical institutions—to repair the harm they have done in Saint Paul
by avoiding taxes or taking corporate welfare. Every year, the school
district faces budget shortfalls and inadequate funding for public
schools. This happens in spite of Minnesota being an economically
healthy state. SPFT has embarked on a popular education campaign,
bringing in both members and parents as trainers, to educate the
community about who stole the money that rightfully belongs in our
public schools. The TIGER (Teaching and Inquiring about Greed, Equity,
and Racism) explores tax avoidance by large corporations, wealthy
non-profits that refuse to help their community by funding public
schools, and law- makers that are complicit in defunding our pub- lic
education system. The next step for the TIGER team is to directly
negotiate with corporations and large non-profits to find a sustain-
able way to fund public education in Saint Paul.

How did they achieve such significant victories? First, the SPFT
opened up their bargaining process, intentionally inviting additional
members and community partners into the process. Parent engagement was
especially critical to these successes, with parents having a voice in
identifying priorities for bargaining and coming to negotiations and
campaign actions. SPFT also empowers its rank-and-file members,
equipping them with the tools to be organizers. Finally, bold
leadership by Presidents Mary Cathryn Ricker, Denise Rodriguez, and
Nick Faber was also key to SPFT making a cultural shift within the
union.

These successes also led to the creation of a special training
institute—the Saint Paul Institute (SPI)—in 2016, which now offers
training for other locals on BCG. In 2016 to 2017, twenty-six teams of
130 educators over- all from locals in seventeen different states
participated in SPI. These teams were comprised of both member leaders
and staff.

SPREADING BCG

The relentless legal, political, and economic attacks on the public
sector and the broader movement for social justice will grow worse in
the years ahead. To fully realize the potential of BCG requires both
expanding and sharpening its application. A community of those who
have been involved in this work is now seeking to refine and expand
BCG in ways that create easier on-ramps for involvement, using
reproducible tools, educational materials, and contract language,
while creating vehicles that make it possible to connect and support
BCG campaigns in multiple locations. BCG activists are now exploring
how to link multiple contracts with common expiration dates by
creating common timelines, targets, messaging, and actions that span
affiliate unions, cities, and states.

Three developments in BCG work are especially promising. These are the
efforts of BCG activists to deepen and expand their focus on racial
justice and immigrant rights as a necessary component of
anti-austerity campaigns, to develop regional convenings, and to map
out sectoral networks capable of advancing the work.

1. _Deepening the focus on Racial Justice_: In March 2017, a major
conference sponsored by the Center for Innovation in Worker
Organization at Rutgers University, the Kalmanovitz Initiative at
Georgetown, and the Action Center for Race and the Economy drew 150
key activists and leaders from racial jus- tice groups and unions to
Silver Spring, Maryland  to  explore how  BCG  can open new
avenues to confront racism and white supremacy. The conference
planning committee included  key unions (the SEIU, AFT, and NEA) and
racial justice community organizing groups such as Black Youth Project
100 (BYP 100) in Chicago, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) of
Minnesota, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
(ACCE).

Conference participants worked on developing bargaining demands and
campaigns that address structural racism in the workplace and how
structural racism impacts the quality and types of services provided
by schools and the public sector. By directly challenging racism and
highlighting this as part of the analysis of how the public sector is
being defunded, they created openings that will allow unions and
racial justice groups to connect more strategically.

The BargainingfortheCommonGood.org website already has collected
sample bargaining demands and campaign stories from across
unions/geographies for those   interested   in engaging this
crucial piece of the struggle.

2._ Inaugurating city and regional convenings_: BCG activists have
become increasingly aware that they can no longer rely on national
convenings to advance their work. Attending such gatherings is
expensive and requires a bigger time commitment than many local
activists can make. This has tended to limit the network’s ability
to train new campaigners. But plans are now in the works to change
this. Organizers have begun creating a simple half-day curriculum that
can be hosted by university labor centers, central labor councils, or
community groups as an introduction to BCG. This introductory
curriculum would include examples of specific campaigns, contract
language, and other organizing materials. As the introduction to BCG
becomes more accessible, it will allow groups to hold smaller, more
focused meetings. Such meetings could in turn lead to geographically
based BCG campaigns founded on common expiration dates and issues.

3_. Developing sectoral strategies_: Initial BCG work has combined
unions and community groups from all different sectors of the economy.
The next phase of BCG will be creating a sectoral approach to the
work. Two sectors have already witnessed enough BCG activism to
sustain the development of a coordinated sectoral strategy:

	* _K-12 public schools_: This is where there is currently the most
BCG activity. Focusing on this as a specific slice of BCG will allow
us to identify common expiration dates, research common corporate
targets that support school privatization, and dig deeper into revenue
sources and other solutions needed to create public schools that
children and communities need and deserve.

For example, more NEA Locals are bargaining in partnership with
communities for student-centered issues, like more recess time, and
less standardized testing.  In September 2017,  a strike was settled
in Burlington, Vermont when community members led the way for an
improved school-day schedule, even though the union had already won on
a health insurance issue that was important to its members.

	* _Public sector_: In light of the blow unions anticipate in _Janus
v. AFSCME_, it will be especially important to expand BCG into other
parts of the public sector that have not been as focused as public
school unions on the community-based issues related to their work. For
example, the SEIU’s San Diego local has built much of its BCG
campaign around issues of understaffing leads to: unnecessary
extensions in incarceration time between arrest and trial; inability
to assess all potentially eligible pre-trial arrestees who could be
released without bail are instead left in jail; massive
under-enrollments of immigrants, refugees, and low-income residents in
social service programs they are eligible for; failure to adequately
meet health needs of low-income families, foster youth, homeless, and
indigent populations; inability to respond as quickly and
comprehensively to health outbreaks like current Hepatitis A because
of ongoing nurse shortages.

Two other sectors might soon also give rise to coordinated strategies:

	* _Higher education_:  On  the  labor  front, some of the most
significant organizing victories in recent years are happening in
higher education—ranging from faculty organizing to adjunct,
graduate students, and  various  service  and  maintenance units
(both in-house and outsourced). Higher education  also  encompasses
issues of college affordability, tuition-free college, student debt,
outsourcing, academic freedom, and the financialization of higher
 education.  Since the fall  of 2017, regional BCG in higher
education convenings/conferences has begun to bring unions, organizing
groups, students, and groups focused on debt and affordability
together to plan a series of campaigns.
 	* _Private sector_: To date, there has been relatively little BCG
activity in the private sector. CWA’s bank worker organizing
campaign has focused on two sets of demands: better wages and benefits
for bank workers and the demand that workers not be forced to sell
predatory products as a condition of employment. BCG could be as
powerful in the private sector as the public sector if unions join
together with community partners to expand the scope of organizing and
bar- gaining to include critical issues such as food safety, selling
dangerous and predatory products, and so on.
 	* Sectoral strategizing can go hand in hand with issue-centered
strategy networks. Some BCG activists are currently dis- cussing the
prospects of developing issue-based affinity groups around issues such
as climate justice, just transition, and immigrant rights.

BCG as a strategy for going on offense during a time of great
challenge for working people in our communities is still in its
infancy. The very term “Bargaining for the Common Good” is still
only a few years old.  Nonetheless, the lessons learned from these
campaigns are spreading quickly, and as they do they are encouraging
us to rethink collective bargaining for the twenty-first century. This
process is leading us to reconceptualize bargaining in ways that
confront the economic forces that have been ravaging the lives of
working people.

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