Friday, December 31, 2010

Broadcast Union News Responds To The Ritual Annual Stagehand Bashing

By Bob Daraio
Broadcast Union News

In Mark Hemingway's December 27, 2010, Washington Examiner article, The Power of Unions he quotes a November 1, 2009 Bergen Record column by James Ahearn, For Backstage Labor, Rich Rewards , that suggests that stagehands represented by IATSE Local One, working 80 to 100 grueling hours a week during the Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center seasons, are over paid.

They are wrong.

These articles imply that stagehand work is unskilled and that the compensation package for the IATSE Local One represented department heads at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center are typical for stagehands in NYC.

Both these inferences could not be further from the truth.

Having been a stagehand working in theater, film, and television since 1977, I am offended that people are under the misguided impression that our work is "unskilled". Like most stagehands, I have a BFA in Theater Technology. Many of my brothers and sisters have MA or MFA degrees in our field. I am currently studying industrial labor relations in order to earn an MA in Labor Studies. A number of my union brothers and sisters have earned MBAs and law degrees in order to be better prepared to function effectively in the business of entertainment.

Stagehands in NYC have to pass a difficult entrance examination and serve an apprenticeship prior to earning their IATSE Local One union card. In addition, stagehands are required to be licensed for many special skills such as pyrotechnics and rigging, as well as having to keep current on the latest computer assisted design (CAD) techniques, computerized lighting systems, automation and robotics, a wide range of audio, video, and other multimedia technology.

I think the average stagehand in New York City earns somewhere between $60 and $70 thousand dollars a year. My best year in TV, I earned $96,000 in 260 long work days.  My average annual pay over a 30 year career was about $70K. A good living, but hardly a king's ransom. Yes, there are always exceptions at both ends of the earning scale.

Many stagehands have seen a drop in income due to the closing of TV studios, canceling of long running soap operas, and shrinking crews on Broadway as more automation, smaller shows, and limited runs take their toll on employment.

People who don't work in the entertainment industry don't realize that the theatrical schedule is six days a week, including all weekends and holidays. TV stations are on the air 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year to provide you with news, sports, and entertainment. Shouldn't there be compensation for missing Thanksgiving dinner with our families, Christmas and birthdays with our children, year after year?

Department heads at large shops like Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and Lincoln Center have to manage multimillion dollar budgets; use advanced computerized payroll, employee scheduling, and inventory reporting systems; understand complicated pension and welfare plans to advise their crews on health insurance and retirement issues; and be experts at management/labor relations.

There is a very good reason these well educated, highly skilled, accomplished stagehands earn six figure incomes. The level of responsibility they assume, the intellectual abilities required, and the hours they put in demand a commensurate level of compensation.

It is interesting to note that neither Hemingway nor Ahearn have any issue with Carnegie Hall's CEO, Clive Gillinson's $946,581.00 annual salary, but are offended by the earnings of highly skilled department heads that receive between one third to half of Gillinson's wages for two to three times the hours worked.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Defending Workers Against Discipline

Defending Workers Against Discipline

By Robert Schwartz
Labore Notes Editor's note: The author is working on a new handbook on defending workers against discipline. Here are some excerpts.

Forced Resignation

Q. Can we submit a grievance for a nurse’s aide who resigned from work after her supervisor falsely accused her of patient abuse, threatened to discharge her, and suggested that she quit?

A. Yes. Under a theory called “constructive discharge,” a resignation extracted by duress or coercion is considered equivalent to a discharge.

Retracting a Resignation

Q. When a supervisor demoted a worker, the worker lost it and declared, “If that’s how you feel about me, I quit.” That night she called the union and said she had made a big mistake. Management says a quit is a quit. Can we grieve under the just cause standard?

A. Yes. An employee who quits her position because of emotional stress can retract the resignation if she gives prompt notice by telephone, fax, or email and if the employer will suffer no significant harm by permitting the employee to return.

Applying Rules Off-Duty

Q. Does a work rule prohibiting the use, sale, or possession of controlled drugs apply when an employee is off-duty?

A. Generally, no. Company rules do not apply to off-duty conduct unless expressly stated. Even if the rule says it applies off-duty, the union can challenge the rule as unreasonable if the prohibited conduct does not have a demonstrably adverse impact on the workplace.

Drug Test

Q. A worker failed a drug test. Can the employer fire him without an interview?

A. No. Under due process principles, the employer must give the employee a chance to explain why he was taking the banned substance and why he should not be punished.

Double Jeopardy

Q. An employee threatened another worker. Two hours later, his supervisor said, “If you do that again, you will be in a bag of trouble.” The next day, human relations called the worker in and suspended him for a week. Can we defend on the grounds of double jeopardy?

A. Yes. A worker cannot be disciplined twice for the same conduct. The first notice was a verbal reprimand. The worker viewed it as final and continued working. The matter should have ended there.

Anonymous Complaint

Q. Personnel fired a driver after an anonymous customer sent a letter containing graphic descriptions of sexual misconduct. Do we have a chance at arbitration?

A. Yes. An employer cannot justify a discharge solely on the basis of hearsay. If the driver consistently denies the charges, and the complainant does not appear to testify, an arbitrator is likely to order reinstatement.

Snake in the Truck

Q. A driver drove his truck into a guard rail. He claimed he saw a large snake on the passenger seat and grabbed it with both hands to avoid being bitten. Impossible case?

A. No. When a discharge is based on circumstantial evidence (no witnesses), the evidence must eliminate reasonable explanations advanced by the employee. If the driver gave the snake explanation from the get-go, and stayed with it consistently, he should prevail at arbitration.

Lie Detector Test

Q. An employee suspected of theft declined to take a polygraph test. Can the employer cite her refusal as evidence of guilt?

A. No. Arbitrators disfavor polygraph tests. They almost never hold refusals against employees.

Disparate Treatment

Q. The company discharged a five-year worker for sleeping on the job. Two years ago, a worker with 20 years’ seniority was given a one-day suspension for the same offense. Does the difference in service time justify the difference in penalties?

A. No. Differences in seniority do not justify wide divergences in penalties.

Dog Ate It

Q. Management says it lost the paperwork that explains why it issued a lenient penalty two years ago. Is this sufficient to avoid a finding of disparate treatment?

A. No. An employer cannot escape a finding of disparate treatment by asserting that paperwork has been lost or misplaced.

Pick Your Poison

Q. The company fired a worker who was seen smoking marijuana in her car. Six months earlier a worker who drank beer on the job was given a five-day suspension. Isn’t this disparate treatment?

A. Yes. There is no acceptable basis for imposing substantially harsher penalties on employees who commit drug offenses than on employees who commit similar alcohol offenses.

Erasing Disparate Treatment

Q. If an employer suspends an employee for sleeping on the job, is it barred from firing future offenders?

A. No. An employer can erase past leniency by making a clear and unequivocal announcement to the workforce that it intends to discharge employees for all such offenses in the future.

Progressive Discipline

Q. Our contract has a four-step progressive discipline policy. An employee with 20 years’ service committed four offenses and was discharged. But in an earlier case, management gave a 22-year worker with four offenses another chance. Can we raise disparate treatment?

A. Yes. The employer surrendered its right to insist on a lockstep application of the progressive discipline provision. If mitigating circumstances are considered for one employee, they must be considered for all.

Zero Tolerance

Q. The company manual says any violations of safety policies “shall result in termination.” Is this penalty binding in arbitration?

A. No. Arbitrators frequently rule that zero-tolerance policies are trumped by contractual just-cause clauses.

Robert Schwartz is the author of several labor law handbooks published by Work Rights Press and available from Labor Notes, including The Legal Rights of Union Stewards.

About Labor Notes

Labor Notes is a media and organizing project that has been the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back in the labor movement since 1979.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Isolation Is Torture - End The Inhumane Conditions of Private Bradley Manning's Detention

Isolation Is Torture - End The Inhumane Conditions of Private Bradley Manning's Detention

Hi Everyone,

I just signed a letter to the Commanding Officer at Quantico Brig to end the inhumane conditions of Private Bradley Manning's detention as he awaits trial.

Bradley Manning spent his 23rd birthday on Friday completely isolated, just as he has every day for the last 5 months months in his cell at the Quantico Marine Base.
Manning is the Marine Private accused of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. Since July, he has been held in cruel and inhumane conditions like violent, dangerous criminals in a Supermax prison. He spends each day completely isolated, with severe restrictions placed on basic activities like sleep and exercise. Yet he has not been convicted of any crime.

Please join me in signing this important letter, and pass it on to your friends and family when you're done:


Bob D

Robert R. Daraio 
914-774-2646 cell

Stop the Inhumane Treatment of Bradley Manning


Add your name to our letter urging the humane treatment of Bradley Manning by lifting unnecessary restrictions on his sleep, exercise, and communication.



» Read the whole letter and add your name





More on this from Firedoglake activist, Michael Whitney.

The extreme isolation in which Manning has spent every day of the last 5 months is grueling. It's already taking its toll: Bradley Manning's physical and mental health are suffering, according to his attorney and friend who have seen him in prison.

Bradley Manning deserves humane treatment while he awaits trial. Can you please add your name to our letter urging Commanding Officer of Quantico Marine Corp Base to lift the heavy restrictions of Manning's detention?

Bradley's friend, David House, will deliver your letter to the Commanding Officer at the Quantico Marine Base brig when he visits Bradley next month.

While Manning is held in "maximum custody," the military's most severe detention policy, he is also under a longstanding "Prevention of Injury" (POI) order that adds additional restrictions beyond those of other prisoners. While POI orders typically last a week or two, Manning has been held under a POI order for more than five months.

A day in the life of Bradley Manning is isolating, lonely, and frustrating.

- Manning stays in his cell for 23 hours a day

- Guards must check on him every 5 minutes, and he must respond each time

- He is not allowed to sleep between 5am and 8pm

- Substantive exercise is not allowed beyond walking, potentially in chains
- Communication with other people in the brig is banned, and he cannot write to people outside beyond the few a list approved by the brig commander; any unapproved letters he receives are destroyed.

- He has not been allowed to read newspapers or watch international news

- Comfortable sleep is impossible; he must surrender his clothes each night, has only a heavy "suicide blanket" akin to an x-ray vest, and guards must be able to see his face at all times.

- A psychologist has said Manning isn't a danger to himself or others, and the POI order is unnecessary.

- His lawyer has also been unable to remove the POI order. But it is clear that Bradley Manning has been subjected to undue, inhumane, and unnecessary punishment, and it must stop now.

Stop the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning. Please add your name to our letter urging the Marine Commander in charge of Manning lift the unnecessary POI order.

No matter what you think of Manning's alleged acts, there is no reason to subject him to these extreme conditions. Thank you for standing up for human rights.

Michael Whitney


Good Press: 6 Steps to Writing Killer Op-Eds and Commentaries

Chris Birk
Wise Bread

 Media commentators have pronounced the press release dead more times than Mel Gibson’s career.

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media avenues have no doubt altered the way business owners and entrepreneurs approach public relations and building buzz. There’s certainly increasing value in social media releases, Facebook groups and other evolving tactics.

But that doesn’t mean it’s lights out for more traditional media plays like basic press releases. The problem is those standard announcements become the static, default option. And that’s why business owners should give serious consideration to the power of the op-ed.

Developing top-notch opinion pieces and commentaries for traditional news outlets and online information hubs is a great way to boost your credibility, your brand and potentially conversions.

The phrase “op-ed” refers to the page opposite a newspaper’s editorial page. Traditionally, the op-ed page has served as a public forum for various viewpoints and opinions on the news of the day, from political and social commentators to community members at large. Online publications may not have tangible editorial pages, but high-level sites certainly embrace compelling and timely commentary.

Either way, this is prime real estate, which means it’s tough to land a slot, especially at larger news outlets. Generating compelling and truly newsworthy opinion pieces that enhance your reputation and instill authority take significant time, investment, and nuance.

But the rewards are usually handsome. Getting a guest commentary in a mainstream newspaper or on a high-traffic website can snowball into future gigs, steamrolling link love and more.

For example, I put together a Veterans Day op-ed as part of my work for a national mortgage company that specializes in VA loans. The piece focused on how these loans and veterans themselves can serve as a model for redefining sustainable homeownership in America. It was published in newspapers across the country, including three in the top 45.

For us, timing was obviously everything. It’s a bit more difficult to push a commentary about veterans and VA home loans in the middle of June. And that strikes at the heart of this -- strategy is a major key to success when it comes to op-eds and commentaries.

Whether you’re looking for business exposure or you’re simply a regular Joe trying to get your voice heard, there are some steps you can take to boost your chances of op-ed success. Here are six big ones.

1. Be Timely

This is the single most important aspect. There are some evergreen issues (health care, taxes, etc.), but having a solid time peg makes you instantly more attractive. News is, well, new. Business owners should look for ways to inject their opinion, product, or expertise into a current hot-button issue. Media outlets don’t care about your latest innovation or a new product line -- seek to latch onto a more generalized issue or trend.

2. Find a "Nut Graf"

This is a journalism phrase, one that undergraduates nationwide tend to abhor. The nut graf is basically the “So what?” paragraph. You need to show readers (not to mention editors) why they should care. What’s the point? The impact? How will this affect their wallets, their grandchildren, or their future plans? Make sure this paragraph is up high in the piece. Once you finish writing, ask yourself: What’s the point? If you can’t provide a simple, one-sentence answer, you’re not ready to start pitching.

3. Write Tight

Conciseness is especially key to a guest commentary. Most outlets have a ceiling around 800 words, but that doesn’t mean you should aim for it. Editors love writers who can make the same point in a lean 500 words. Get to the point immediately and use short sentences with active verbs. Embrace economy of language.

4. Stick to One Issue

Reforming the welfare system or addressing prison recidivism are complex issues. Drill down into a core aspect of your topic and focus on that. You can’t effectively cover an expansive current event or lingering social ailment in 750 words. Focus on clearly and concisely making a single point by using examples, anecdotes, and data.

6. Offer Specific Solutions

It’s incredibly easy to sit back, take pot shots, and call for further research or an immediate halt to whatever police action you’re protesting. That’s not likely to inspire an opinion editor or readers. Instead, offer specific solutions to the problems or issues you’ve raised.

7. Finish Strong

This is true for anything you write. Leave readers with an emotion, whether it’s awe, hate, or indigestion. Avoid snarky and cliched finishing strokes. Consider circling back to your opening paragraph and bringing the piece full circle with a tie-back paragraph.

Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university.

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Comcast Says NBCU Deal Won't Close This Year

Comcast and NBC/Universal Logos

Comcast Corp. acknowledged Wednesday that the regulatory approval process for its deal to acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal will continue into January, delaying the cable giant's plan to close the controversial transaction by the end of 2010.

Various media outlets have already reported that the regulatory process in Washington, D.C., was unlikely to conclude this year, but until now, the companies involved in the deal stuck to their forecast that the transaction would close on schedule.

Critics of the deal have argued that a merger of the nation's largest cable company and a major media conglomerate would wield too much power in an industry that's already highly consolidated. Comcast and NBCU have argued that the deal would promote competition and benefit consumers.

"We have notified our transition teams that there will not be a December 31 closing," said Comcast in an emailed statement. "We believe the regulatory review puts us on track for a closing in January 2011."

NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker, who will step down from his post when the transaction is completed, echoed Comcast's statement in a memo to employees, saying the companies have made "substantial progress" with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, both of which have to sign off on the deal for it to move forward.

He also said he expects the companies to get a "green light" in January.

"The official close of the transaction would happen shortly after government approval. Until then, of course, business continues as normal," said Zucker.

Comcast reached an agreement with NBCU's majority owner, General Electric Corp., to take control of the media company over a year ago. While a lengthy and difficult regulatory process was widely expected, the investment community has widely anticipated that the deal would close—possibly with some limitations on the merged companies imposed by the federal government aimed at guarding the public's interest.

A number of lawmakers, companies and interest groups have opposed the deal, however, and U.S. President Barack Obama made campaign promises to halt media consolidation, leading some of his supporters to urge against regulatory approval of the deal.

Write to Nat Worden at

Can Labor—Or Anyone— Stop the Foreclosure Mess That’s Wrecking the Economy?

From In These Times and Art Levine

While heading home for the holidays or looking forward to a Christmas meal, it's worth remembering  those who are being forced out or are at risk of being evicted as the foreclosure mess continues unabated. Also please consider posting to social media, linking to the article or forwarding this piece.

The article sums up what many of you know, but offers useful links, analysis and some synthesis of what's been happening:

Those seeking to take action to stop these abuses -- or save their own homes -- can learn more at the activism and resource pages of SEIU, the Showdown in America coalition and the Center for Responsible Lending's mortgage resources for consumers. Among the most useful tools is the"Where's the Note" campaign that aims to block illegal foreclosures and help  determine which institution has your mortgage. As SEIU points out:

When Wall Street banks securitized, packaged, sold, and resold our mortgages, they created a system where it is often impossible to figure out who actually owns mortgage notes and therefore has the authority to foreclose on properties. But the big banks are getting tangled up in their own web.
Recent events have exposed a handful of banks that are throwing families out of their homes even though they don’t have the mortgage note that proves they actually have a legal right to do so. 
Whether you are facing foreclosure, have an underwater mortgage, or are just a concerned homeowner, it’s important that you contact your bank and demand to see the original note on your mortgage. It only takes a few minutes using our free online tool.
Here's the full article:

Can Labor—Or Anyone— Stop the Foreclosure Mess That’s Wrecking the Economy?
      In the same week that President Obama was showered with well-deserved hosannas for his lame-duck legislative feats, reports surfaced that the Bank of America was accused in recent lawsuits of wrongfully foreclosing on homeowners and breaking in to throw out  their property. It's part of  a pattern of broader failures in the foreclosure racket and housing market that could cause another $1 trillion in losses to the banking industry, according to economist Nouriel Roubini (a.k.a. "Dr. Doom") who predicted the first meltdown of 2008.
      At the same time, while a network of state attorneys general are vowing to prosecute a wave of foreclosure fraud involving fabricated documents and ruses designed to force people out of their homes, there's been only a smattering of grass-roots actions designed to protest needless or unfair evictions caused by the Wall Street-driven economic collapse in the first place. Yet these protests last week -- such as a theatrical "citizens' arrest"at the New York Stock Exchange over inflated bonuses that could be used instead to salvage homeowners and a sit-in outside a Los Angeles Chase bank -- are  among the few signs of life in the relatively moribund progressive movement's response to this growing crisis.
      At a national level, SEIU is taking a leading role in documenting the pay, foreclosure and lending abuses in its vital new reportBig Banks Bonanza,which shows that just half of the $143 billion going to pay the executives at the top six banks could be used to write down homeowners' mortgages to their fair market value. As progressive strategist Mike Lux argues, this is the "sleeper" issue that, if left unadressed,  could significantly harm the economy and a progressive agenda over the next two years. He says, "Taking that money out of the bankers' hands and putting it in the hands of the hard pressed middle class would do more to stimulate the economy than any other thing the President could do right now."
      But, so far, there's been no  high-impact national efforts backed by strong political pressure, lobbying, messaging and TV ads to do anything about it, but perhaps that might change in the year ahead. On top of that, the Obama administration has flubbed various mortgage relief efforts and, until recently, faced virtually no major political pressure to clean up its inept and bungled mortgage relief programs.
      Yet there has been mounting concern reflected in some criticism in the progressive media, a letter from over 50 influential economists and investors, and by a few Democratic committee chairmen, such as Rep. Barney Frank, to toughen standards and regulations in the Wild West world of the mortgage servicing field. As the industry's own trade paper reported this week on the experts' letter:
The call for federal officials to establish industry-wide mortgage servicing and foreclosure standards is getting louder. A group of more than 50 senior economists, academic leaders, and influential investors sent a letter to reasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the heads of five federal regulatory agencies Tuesday, urging them to take the lead in setting national standards for mortgage loan servicers.
“Widely reported servicer fraud, whether in the foreclosure process or in the systematic assessment of illegal fees against homeowners, is…a serious problem,” the group said in the letter. “Fraud is also a symptom of the disease affecting our broader financial system, namely the lack of accountability in the loan servicing industry and the resulting impairment of the value of securities sold to investors.”
The group demanded that new standards “be adopted now,” and put forth the argument that provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act relating to disclosure and risk retention for mortgage securitizations gives regulators the authority to undertake a coordinated rule-making effort to map out guidelines for the proper origination, sale, and servicing of mortgage loans.
      What's important here, some advocates believe, is that these calls for reform have to be focused on regulatory agencies and the White House, because the GOP, scheduled to take over the House of Representative, will block any actions that could limit the financial industry and its minions. That's why groups such as National People's Action, recently honored by the Nation magazine as the most effective grass-roots group for its efforts to confront predatory lenders and "Make Wall Street Pay," also promote sound new mortgage strategies the Obama administration could adopt without necessarily needing legislative approval. These include such common-sense measures as freezing foreclosures -- especially given the widespread fraud -- while borrowers are being evaluated for the federally supported loan modifications.
      Unfortunately, there's been little effective pressure so far on the Obama administration to clean up its mortgage relief programs. The Treasury Department has spent only a fraction of the $50 billion allotted to it  for mortgage write-downs,  over half of enrollees in a key Obama mortgage relief program have dropped out, and a Congressional oversight panel reported last week that less than a fourth of the four million distressed homeownerssupposed to be helped by the federal program will get any assistance at all.
      The Federal Reserve is also resisting calls to strengthen its oversight over the mortgage field. Many homeowners are also stuck in a limbo where they get preliminary three-month write-downs, and then little else happens for as long as a year as they face eviction and further modifications never occur. 
      It's all such a mess that just scrolling down handful of recent New York Times headlines can give a flavor of the hydra-headed foreclosure monster that's destroying the lives of million of homeowners and squeezing the economy into another potential collapse -- even as joblessness remains stubbornly high.  The alarming reports range  from "Banks Accused of Illegally Breaking into Homes" to "Trying to Overcome the Stubborn Blight of Vacancies."
      That's why the protests at Wall Street last week were so important, even if national progressive and labor groups haven't coalesced around a pragmatic strategy to fight this downward economic spiral in a Washington fueled by deficit-slashing mania and anti-government Tea Party rage.  But those voices should be heard if the Democrats have a chance of showing the public that they're willing to stand for the needs of average citizens against Wall Street. From the Showdown in America coalition:
Community Leaders Stage Citizen’s Arrest Over Bank Bonuses While Foreclosure, Unemployment & State Revenue Crises Grow
Mock Crime Scene Created Outside New York Stock Exchange
New York – A diverse coalition of community leaders created a mock crime scene outside the New York Stock Exchange today, drawing attention to record bonuses on Wall Street during this holiday season. 
Today, SEIU released a report showing that Wall Street is on track for another year of record bonuses, with total compensation at the six largest Banks projected at $143 billion, just below 2007 levels at the height of the financial bubble, while Americans struggle to keep their homes, find work and hold onto essential government services.
During today’s action, advocates zeroed in how record bonuses and compensation could be used to rebuild our economy. Just half the money could be used to halt foreclosures by resetting principals and interest rates on underwater mortgages while at the same time injecting $73 billion into the national economy. The total amount would more than balance the budget in every state facing a revenue shortfall in 2011. 
During today’s demonstration community leaders singing holiday carols like “oh stockbroker, oh stockbroker why are you so greedy?” created a crime scene by stretching out yellow crime scene tape across the front of the NY Stock exchange. They carried signs reading “143 billion in bonuses is a crime” and had a giant pair of handcuffs as well as cardboard chalk body outlines of people symbolizing homeowners being foreclosed, jobless Americans, and people living in poverty.
“After crashing our economy and getting bailed out by taxpayers, Wall Street Bankers are rewarding themselves and celebrating like nothing ever happened,” said Loretta Manning from Community Voices Heard. “While they’re buying fancy cars and jewelry, I’m looking for work and trying to afford my home,” Loretta added. “Wall Street needs to accept their responsibility and help pay to fix the mess they made. Why can’t Wall Street take a bonus cut?”.
“We need to make sure these Big Banks fix the foreclosure crisis and modify loans to keep people in their homes and get our economy moving again,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, whose 81 year old mother has been threatened with foreclosure. 
      But who in Washington is really listening to them as the Congressional session ends with new praise by pundits for the spirit of bipartisanship and Obama's legislative prowess?  

UPDATE: Those seeking to take action to stop these abuses -- or save their own homes -- can learn more at the action and resource pages of SEIU, theShowdown in America coalition and the Center for Responsible Lending's mortgage resources for consumers. 
     Among the most useful tools is the"Where's the Note" campaign that aims to block illegal foreclosures and help  determine which institution has your mortgage. As SEIU points out:
When Wall Street banks securitized, packaged, sold, and resold our mortgages, they created a system where it is often impossible to figure out who actually owns mortgage notes and therefore has the authority to foreclose on properties. But the big banks are getting tangled up in their own web. Recent events have exposed a handful of banks that are throwing families out of their homes even though they don’t have the mortgage note that proves they actually have a legal right to do so. 
Whether you are facing foreclosure, have an underwater mortgage, or are just a concerned homeowner, it’s important that you contact your bank and demand to see the original note on your mortgage. It only takes a few minutes using our free online tool.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

FCC Net Neutrality Vote is Bad News

This is Writers Guild of America East's statement regarding the FCC’s vote on Net Neutrality:

“A compromise means the parties to a dispute reach agreement. Here, no one has agreed to anything. These tepid rules will be challenged in court and in Congress, and they fail in the most fundamental ways - permitting paid prioritization and all manner of discrimination in wireless."

"Our members write most of what people watch on television and in the movie theaters and increasingly, online. Today’s FCC vote will diminish our members’ ability to create and distribute innovative content and audiences’ ability to watch the content of their choice.”

"The Guild remains dedicated to the open internet fight and other policy initiatives that are vital to our members."

For now, consider sending Net Neutrality champion (and WGAE member), Senator Al Franken a message via our friends at Credo Action.

Sen. Al Franken has been a true champion in our fight for a free and open Internet. Even as the FCC has failed to seize their historic opportunity and implement real net neutrality rules, Sen. Franken's advocacy deserves special recognition.

Julius Genachowski, Chair of the Federal Communication Commission and appointed by President Obama, worked closely with big telecommunication corporations to put in place fake net neutrality rules that heavily favor industry and are bad for consumers.

The new rules are actually worse than doing nothing to protect net neutrality as they allow mobile networks to block lawful content and allow "paid prioritization." Even worse, the FCC failed to reclassify broadband under Title II, so even meager protections are sure to be thrown out by the courts.

Sen. Franken has consistently championed net neutrality as the greatest free speech issue of our generation. He has been a vocal advocate taking on big corporations, the FCC and even President Obama. When elected officials like Sen. Franken stand up for what is right -- even when we lose a battle like this one -- they deserve our thanks.

Send Sen. Franken a quick thank you note for standing up for a free and open internet and tell him we'll continue to fight with him until real net neutrality is achieved.

Click here to thank him for keeping up the fight.

Keep in touch in the new year.


Lowell Peterson

Become a PR Expert -- Intro to Public Relations starts Jan. 10 -interesting?

Hi All,

Perhaps we should have some Labor folks take this Public Relations course below or one like it. We all need to better understand public relations and marketing, take industry's best practices to heart, and learn to use them without sacrificing integrity in support of the vision and goals of the Labor Movement.

Maybe we could use some of the info for an Organizing 2.0 workshop. It would be great if we could develop a vocabulary for the labor and political activist community to replace words like "marketing" which make progressives cringe in much the same way "socialism" does to conservatives. Comments?

Merry Christmas everyone,

Bob D

Become a PR Expert -- and Save 20% at Mediabistro

Make 2011 the year you become a real PR pro. Break into the field with Intro to Public Relations and learn how to produce fabulous promotions from the former event planner at Vogue in Intro to Event Planning. Sign up for both courses together and save 20%.

Intro to Public Relations - Starts Jan. 10 online - $350
Click here for more information.

WHEN - 4 weeks, January 10 - February 7Mediabistro Public Relations Certificate.

Online Chats Mondays, 9-10 pm ET

WHERE - Online.

LEVEL - Intro

CERTIFICATE CREDIT - This course counts towards the

In this class, you will learn how to:
  • Develop a targeted, dynamic tactical PR plan that generates key results
  • Painlessly develop and write polished PR materials
  • Develop powerfully dynamic biographies for yourself, your clients, and your associates
  • Create a targeted media outreach program geared to the needs of your client
  • Write clear media advisories
  • Develop attention-getting media pitch letters
  • Create and format the all-important news release plus insider's tips on how to get it noticed
The online classroom has several interactive components:
  • Instructors post lectures once a week. You can read them online, print them, or download them at your convenience.
  • Students post completed assignments for feedback and discussion by the instructor and class.
  • Weekly chats allow your class to get together via instant message. Transcripts are available for review if you can't attend.
  • Technical support is available from staff.
Course Syllabus PDF:
Instructor Bio:

S.j Sebellin-Ross is a senior independent marketing and public relations consultant and writer with twenty years of experience. She manages and writes marketing and pr communications for IBM, Visa, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and Ronald McDonald Children's Charities. S.j also writes feature articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and She is the author of a top-selling marketing book and delivers executive training seminars to organizations including The Association of Journalists.

Related Classes:

Public Relations Certificate Program – ONLINE
Speechwriting – ONLINE (Class starts February 9)

Monday, December 20, 2010

3D Robotics Play Pivotal Role for ESPN NBA Coverage

Sports Video Group

ESPN’s first NBA 3D telecast last Friday night at Madison Square Garden for a game between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat embraced some new technologies that solve one of the major dilemmas facing 3D sports coverage in sold out arenas: producing the game effectively without killing seats.

The key? Six robotic 3D camera systems built with Sony HDC-P1 cameras that were located over each basket, on a Flycam, on a pole over the entrance to center court, and in the slash positions. ESPN worked alongside Pace and Sony, modified existing Sony camera systems to reduce the footprint of both the robotic and handheld rigs (with the latter now at under 35 pounds).

“We were able to have 3D robotic systems in spaces where we don’t need to kill any seats,” says Anthony Bailey, ESPN, vice president of emerging technology. “And in the next year the rigs will get even smaller.”

That development is important for getting the buy-in of teams and leagues. A constant challenge in the early 3D efforts has been negotiating camera positions with team season ticket executives who, logically, are concerned first and foremost with the needs of their clients.

“This arena is sold out and we couldn’t come here and kill 100 seats held by loyal patrons,” says Steve Hellmuth, NBA Entertainment, SVP of Operations and Technology. “ESPN did a great job to make this work.”

There were a number of important technology milestones at the event. The 3D Flycam flew about four rows out over the crowd and was used by both the 3D and 2D production teams. The robotic camera located over the center court vomitory was able to capture low angle court coverage from a premium seat location. Those two cameras provided the majority of game coverage.

Without those robotic systems the only realistic option would be mounting 3D cameras on top of the 2D rigs, similar to what CBS Sports did for the US Open tennis tournament.

“But then the 2D show would control the 3D show and the 3D effect would not be as good,” adds Bailey.

Phil Orlins, ESPN 3D coordinating producer, says that the Flycam shot is very effective but, ideally, it would be located a little bit lower (and likewise, the camera over the vomitory would be a little bit higher).

Despite those tweaks he was more than happy with the positions, especially considering that there were three other network broadcasts being done in the arena: MSG and Sun Networks on the regional side and ESPN’s 2D team.

“There are four teams in here with full camera coverage and there is nothing more important than to be where we want to be and have our cameras at the right proximity for 3D,” he adds.

The only downside of the robotic systems is that, as Jed Drake, ESPN, Executive Producer and SVP of Event Production describes it, the systems are like operating cameras through a periscope. For example, a camera person operating a hard camera while often be looking at both the viewfinder and the rest of the field of play so they can more easily anticipate the action. But with a robotic camera that wider view of what is happening outside of the viewfinder is currently unavailable.

Bringing the show together was a Sony MVX-8000X production switcher in the NEP 3D production trailer. The broadcast itself was a solid mix of smooth tracking shots from the Flycam coupled with the robotic camera at center court and the POV cameras on top of the backboard. For Hellmuth and the team at the NBA, a team that has been at the forefront of 3D productions for more than five years, the move heralded a new day in NBA coverage.

“This represents a tremendous advancement for the state of the art because the cameras are in ideal positions, something we have never been able to do before,” says Hellmuth. “This is an optimal production.”

Labor Picketing Doesn't Cut It Anymore: Taking Back Worker's Rights In The Era of Globalization

By CartoonDiablo
Dailey Kos

The 80s presented one of the most dramatic economic shifts in human history: a shift towards profits and corporate globalization at the expense of the workers.

With a technological shift in how we communicate and the elaborate forms of modern union busting, new steps need to be taken to take back worker's rights.

The Illegal Attack on Unions

One of the things which characterized the Reagan years, is the massive corporate attack on union organizing which nobody in the government cared to stop. It was also a matter of media silence since nobody mentioned the story until BusinessWeek covered it in a 1994 article, explaining that "Unlawful firings occurred in one-third of all representation elections in the late '80s, vs. 8% in the late '60s,".

The chart goes as such:

In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor published a study on union representation elections overseen by the National Labor Relations board between 1997 and 2009. It was found that over this period, the number of elections won in favor of union representation decreased by 48 percent, and the total number of employees eligible to vote for union representation decreased by 69 percent.

It's important to note that this is all illegal under the Wagner Act, with even the threat of firing and plant closing to disrupt a union election falling under this offense. In this context, Clinton played his part as well; the signing of NAFTA resulted in many companies threatening to move their plants to Mexico during union elections.

The red represents all the elections threatened with a plant closing.

Effect on Wages

Deunionization is also partially responsible for the loss in wages. As the business week article points out, "If unions had represented one-third of the workforce in 1990, as they did in 1950, the bottom 80% of families...would have received 61% of the nation's income...Instead, they got 56%". It's also unfortunate that real wages have not surpassed what they were in 1974 despite obvious productivity increases.
Right To Work

Good wages and benefits are key to quality of life - both to support families and to provide a reliable tax base for education, infrastructure and public services. Yet the annual median income in so called "right-to-work" states is $6,185 less than in other states, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data.

What's more, these anti-union states tend to have higher poverty rates, less access to health care and lower-performing schools. In the Annie E. Casey Foundation's well-respected "Kids Count" survey, the three worst states for children are in right-to-work states and the three best all allow workers to form strong unions.

Would you prefer to raise a family in "right to work" Mississippi, where the 2009 child poverty rate was 31%, or in Wisconsin, where it was 16.7%?

• Strong unions build a strong middle class.
During the New Deal, federal laws not only permitted but encouraged collective bargaining. After World War II, such policies built a foundation for shared prosperity and a thriving middle class. With the rise of deregulation and attacks on unionization in recent decades, income inequality has skyrocketed as the rich have grown richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class has shrunk.

As The New York Times editorialized Dec. 14, "the drive for more jobs must coincide with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity - Social Security, Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action, regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws."

• So-called right-to-work laws undermine workplace democracy and foster a freeloader mentality.

Right-to-work laws promote freeloading and are a backhanded way of de-funding unions. The union, by law, negotiates wages and benefits that all workers receive whether or not they are union members. The union, by law, represents workers in disputes that arise - whether or not they are a union member. Under current Wisconsin law, all represented employees share in the cost of union representation. Vos' scheme would allow workers to escape paying their fair share while still receiving all benefits.

That's not the way democracy works. Contributing to the common good is an essential component of democracy.

What Kind of Organizing Can Be Done?

The first thing to remember is that economic globalization (and government policies) are causing this decline, so fighting it head on is the only way to stop it. For instance, the big push against labor has been coming from Wallmart and specifically the "Union hotline" which parachutes union busters anywhere organizing takes place.

Well, why not organize a campaign to call this number and have unions "report" on their activity? Its very existence is borderline illegal so tying it down would stall Wallmart in its tracks. (The number being (877) 545-2267 hint, hint, wink)

Other ideas are to have unions advertise just like other products, and not just for strikes, but for joining and starting unions. People are more isolated now then ever so it helps to reach them better.

What Can Be Done At The Government Level?

Pass EFCA! As obvious as it sounds, it's really long overdue but there are other methods.

You can join the government, try passing EFCA-like reforms at the local level and then go for national. It's important to remember that things start at the grassroots level, and are never a gift from above.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Simple Guide For Talking Union This Holiday Season

A Simple Guide For Talking Union This Holiday Season
It’s no secret: Not everyone sees unions as key to rebuilding America and the middle class. It’s easy to tune out the misinformation about unions and the workers who make them strong when you hear it on the news, but what should you do when the same misinformation comes from your friends and family? We’re here to help with some simple facts so you can speak up the next time you encounter someone attacking unions.
The sad truth is that fewer and fewer people have had direct experience with a union. But this holiday season, you can help shed light on what unions are really all about!
MYTH: Unions are run by big, overpaid bosses.
FACT: Unions are run by workers.
  • A union is simply a group of employees who join together to address workplace issues, so they can improve their working conditions and have a fair shot at a better life for themselves and their families. 
  • Unions are democratic institutions. At the local, state, and national level, all union leadership is elected by majority votes—just like elections for public office.
MYTH: Unions only care about their members.
FACT: Unions are fighting to improve the lives of all workers.
  • It’s easy to forget that we have unions to thank for a lot of things we take for granted today in today’s workplaces: the minimum wage, the 8-hour work day, child labor laws, health and safety standards, and even the weekend.
  • Today, unions across the country are on the frontlines advocating for basic workplace reforms like increases in the minimum wage, and pushing lawmakers to require paid sick leave.  
  • Studies show that a large union presence in an industry or region can raise wages even for non-union workers. That means more consumer spending, and a stronger economy for us all.
  • So it’s no wonder that most Americans (61%) believe that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” according to Pew’s most recent values survey. (
MYTH: Union workers are lazy, and unions are bad for business.
FACT: Unions and profitability go hand in hand.
  • Actually, unions make the workplace more efficient – despite the stereotype that we all hear. 
  • Unions raise productivity on average by up to 24% in manufacturing, 16% in hospitals, and 38% in the construction. Union workers have higher professional standards because unions increase opportunities for worker training. Many even offer their own training programs.
  • Union workers are employed in some of the most respected professions. They’re nurses, firefighters, teachers, day care providers, engineers, and NASA scientists. Union members are responsible for building nuclear subs, the space shuttle, The Smithsonian, the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge , and even the American flag.  
  • Even small business owners think that unions are good for workers—and the economy. In fact, over 80% agree “strong unions make the free market system stronger.” They’re right. Unions exist at some of the most successful companies out there, including AT&T, Costco, UPS, and Southwest.
MYTH: Unions ask for too much. In this economy, people should be thankful for any job.
FACT: Good jobs mean a stronger economy, and that means more jobs.
  • This idea is coming straight from the same corporations that ran our economy into the ground. Now they’re taking advantage of our financial worries to grab an even bigger slice of the pie.  
  • It’s just plain wrong to make working Americans foot the bill for Wall Street’s party. And it’s also bad for the economy. Because when workers can’t afford the products they produce, consumer spending takes a serious hit, and the economy does, too.
  • But when workers can bargain for family-sustaining pay and benefits, consumer spending increases. The result is a stronger economy—one that creates jobs and enables people to work their way into the middle class.
MYTH: Public employees are to blame for our budget woes.
FACT: Public employees earn less than private-sector workers in similar jobs.
  • You’re going to hear this a lot more soon. But we can’t afford to have extremist policymakers get away with scapegoating civil servants like teachers, fire fighters, and police officers.
  • Private-sector workers should be angry about the inadequate benefits they receive, but the solution isn’t to take hope away from the public sector workers who keep our communities strong.  We have to make the economy work for everyone.
  • Recent studies show that public employees make significantly less than private-sector workers with comparable education and experience, even when you factor in benefits. And according to Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, state and local employees’ pensions make up only 6 percent of non-federal public sector spending.
  • Still not convinced? It turns out that what’s bad for public workers is bad for the economy, too. The Center for Economic Policy Research reports that freezing federal workers’ pay will mean a loss of $2.5 billion in consumption by 2012—18,000 private sector workers stand to lose their jobs as a result.
  • And don’t forget, it was Wall Street’s recklessness that caused budget shortfalls in states across the country—not public service workers. Making public service workers pay for Wall Street’s wrongdoing won’t create jobs, and it won’t save the public services we all depend on.
Zoe Bridges-Curry
Press Secretary
American Rights at Work
(202) 822-2127 x122