Monday, August 2, 2010

Thoughts on Netroots Nation 2010

Congratulations to everyone on the Neteoots Nation 2010 Team for a fantastic conference, this was an extremely well planned and executed event. What a great conference! It was wonderful getting to spend time with like minded individuals, in this case, about 2,200 of them!
The agenda of the events can be found here.

In a couple of the labor related workshops I suggested that we have to take notice of the changes in how work works today. In the past it was easier to organize and provide services to workers because they usually worked 40 hours a week for one employer, in one location. In the 21st century, work is short term, involves many employers and many locations.

In 1980 IBEW Local 1212 had 100% full-time workers as members. In 2010 more than half of the members of this 2,200 member broadcast engineering local are freelancers, working for many different TV stations and production companies.

To address the changes in the way work works today, this union, like so many others, needs to create multi-employer trusts for health and retirement plan contributions to be made for these members.

There needs to be a greater percentage of union resources allotted for training to keep up with the rapid technological change that is the new norm in all industries. Small firms with few full time employees that staff up on a project by project basis must be targeted for organizing and will require new, more flexible contract language, such as promulgated short term project deal memos and letters of agreement as used by IATSE in the film production industry.

Expanding jurisdiction to include all workers not currently represented by another union in any workplace where a union already has a bargaining unit is key to maintaining union density as innovation causes the combining of multiple job functions.

We need to educate people on the value of union membership. The Wisconsin law that requires the contribution of organized labor to American life and culture be taught in all middle and high schools in that state is a good start. We need 49 more bills passed in that regard and a say in the curriculum provided. This will help create a positive perception of the labor movement for the next generation of workers.

Today's workers, particularly young workers, need to see union members being active in their communities, at food banks, Habitat for Humanities projects, running sports and craft programs at community centers, boy and girl scout leadership, church group activities, and supporting any human, social and political rights activities that will raise the profile of members of the labor movement. We must be helping the community if we expect their support in return.

I also spent a lot of time talking with social and political activists attending Netroots Nation 2010 about media consolidation issues, the dangers of Local News Services and their threat, not only to employment in broadcasting, but to the free, diverse, independent news coverage that is vital to our democracy. The two interviews on the subject done at Netroots Nation 2010 are posted below.

A huge thank you goes out to Elana Levin and Charlie Lenchner from Organizing 2.0 for getting me to the Netroots Nation 2010 conference, they are an inspiration.


Bob Daraio

About Netroots Nation
Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Within that campus, we strengthen community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for progressive ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.

Netroots Nation 2011 is scheduled for July 16-19, 2011 in Minneapolis. Netroots Nation 2011 will include panels led by national and international experts; identity, issue and regional caucuses; prominent political, issue and policy-oriented speakers; a progressive film screening series; and the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers to date.

click here to reserve your ticket.

Netroots Nation '11
Thursday, June 16, 2011 9:00 AM - Sunday, June 19, 2011 3:00 PM (Central Time)
Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 Second Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota
55403 United States

Snail Mail:
Netroots Nation
5758 Geary Blvd #303
San Francisco, CA 94121

SumOfChange interview at Netroots Nation 2010

UpTakeVideo interview at Netroots Nation 2010

Organizing Financial Services and other Administrative Employees

By Bob Daraio
July 30, 2010

U.S. workers employed in the financial sector have never been successfully unionized. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Communication Workers of America (CWA) met in July 2010 to look at how the UNI Global Union organized Santander’s Sovereign Bank workers, and explore the possibility of cooperation with international union federations to organize the industry here as well. See Too Big Not to Organize – SEIU-International Coalition Try to Unionize the Banks for details on this effort.

The ability of unions to negotiate higher wages and better benefits has not resonated with financial services employees in past attempts to organize this sector. Perhaps shifting the focus to the difference a union makes regarding "at will" verses ""just cause" in termination and other disciplinary cases that would bring a collective bargaining agreement's grievance and arbitration clause into play could generate more interest.

The recent Supreme Court case 09-497 Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson (06/21/10) provides additional leverage to support the benefits of union representation for the financial services and other administrative workers in the United States that have been resistant to union organizing in the past.

As a result of the Rent-A-Center decision, workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement can be forced to sign away their right to access to the courts to redress issues of discrimination formerly protected by court enforcement of legistation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

The Supreme Court ruled in Rent-A-Center that it is legal for employers to require employees, as a condition of employment, agree to have all such issues settled solely through "company arbitration", where the company picks the arbitrator, the company sets the arbitration fees, and the employee must pay half the cost. If a worker wants to contest the fairness of a company arbitrator or their fees, the worker's only recourse an appeal to that same abitrator.

Going forward, only those employees covered by collective bargaining agreements will have the ability to have grievances heard through a fair and impartial arbitration procedure, not be forced to pay exhobitant fees for access, and retain the ability to avail themselves of the rights and protections given to workers through Federal and State statutes and adjudicated through the courts.

This, combined with the "just cause" protections offered through collective bargaining make union membership far more attractive to administraive workers.

We need to use this opportunity to increase union density and help the labor movement become more effective in protecting the rights of working people and continuing the never ending battle for social change.

Why the Supreme Court's Decision in Rent-a-Center v. Jackson Matters

On Monday, June 21, 2010, in a 5-to-4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Rent-A-Center management in an decision that is a win for employers who want to resolve disputes with employees through the use of a company arbitrator, and not a court.

The Court ruled against the employee, Antonio Jackson, on the enforceability of an arbitration agreement between the company and the employee, who had filed an employment discrimination suit. Jackson argued that the binding arbitration provision was unconscionable because he would not have been hired without signing the agreement.

Antonio Jackson alleged race discrimination and retaliation on the part of his former employer, Rent-a-Center West, Inc. (RAC). RAC said the complaint must be resolved via forced arbitration, per the arbitration contract Jackson signed when hired. Jackson argued that the forced arbitration clause was unconscionable, and that the issue of unconscionablity must be decided by a court, rather than an arbitrator. He says the agreement is unconscionable because:
It contains one-sided coverage and discovery provisions.

It mandates that the arbitrator’s fee is to be equally shared by the parties (with no fee cap, meaning RAC could drag the arbitration out indefinitely and make it prohibitively expensive for the plaintiff).

The form contract was presented to him as a non-negotiable condition of his employment.
In holding against Jackson, the five-justice majority reinstated a ruling from a Nevada federal court judge that had been reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia reasoned that so long as an arbitration agreement delegates the decision regarding unfairness to the arbitrator, it should be the arbitrator rather than the court who decides whether an arbitration clause is unconscionable.
The case was argued before the Court for Rent-A-Center by Rob Friedman of the Littler law firm. "We are pleased with the Court's decision," said Dwight Dumler, Rent-A-Center senior vice president of public affairs. "The decision is consistent with the holdings of the majority of the circuit courts that have addressed the question. The Court's ruling keeps arbitration the efficient and cost effective process it was intended to be."

Jackson was defended by the Hardy Law Group of Reno, Nevada, and Public Justice of Washington, D.C. Oral argument was presented by Ian Silverberg of the Hardy Law Group.
Dissenting Justice Stevens wrote that the result made no sense. If the arbitration agreement is “so one-sided and the process of its making so unfair” then it was unreasonable to assume Jackson truly assented to put that very question to the arbitrator", Stevens wrote.

The decision is already drawing flak from liberal groups and lawmakers, who contend it will stack the scales in favor of corporations. In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said, “five members of the Supreme Court struck a blow to our nation’s civil rights laws and the protections that American workers have long enjoyed under those laws.”Until this Supreme Court decision, consumers and employees had the right, under Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, to go to court and ask a judge to find an arbitration agreement unconscionable or unfair and therefore unenforceable. Although most arbitration agreements are enforceable, court review weeded out the very worst abuses—like imposing exorbitant fees, forcing consumers or employees to travel great distances to arbitrate, or allowing a corporation to pick an arbitrator that is clearly biased in its favor.

This Supreme Court decision will leave many challenges to the fairness of a corporate arbitration system entirely in the hands of corporate arbitrators themselves. Nothing will stop companies from inserting clauses like the kind approved by today’s decision into standard-form arbitration agreements. Companies would then be free to impose one-sided terms or select clearly biased arbitrators with close ties to the company, secure in the knowledge that any challenge to the fairness of arbitration will be decided by the arbitrator whose very authority comes from the challenged arbitration agreement.

This decision will spur efforts in Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R. 1020, S. 931), a measure that would ensure that any decision to arbitrate in a consumer, employment, or franchise dispute is made voluntarily and after a dispute has arisen, so that corporations cannot take advantage of their unfair bargaining power to force individuals into arbitration.

American Association for Justice (AAJ) President Anthony Tarricone commented; “The Supreme Court today gave corporations yet another free pass to submit employees and consumers to abusive forced arbitration proceedings. Corporations now have nearly unchecked authority to write, enforce and judge the fairness of their own forced arbitration clauses. The fox is guarding the hen house – at the expense of citizens’ access to the civil justice system. It is imperative that Congress pass the Arbitration Fairness Act (S. 931 / H.R. 1020), which would protect consumers and employees from these abusive practices.”

Here are three examples of unconscionability challenges that AAJ says could be adversely affected by this ruling:

If an individual wants to challenge that the arbitrator chosen by the company is unfairly biased toward that company, this ruling could mean the same arbitrators would decide whether they are biased.

If an individual wants to challenge the fairness of having to fly across the country for the arbitration, this ruling could dictate that he fly across the country to challenge whether it’s unfair to have to fly across the country.

If an individual wants to challenge the fairness of having to pay excessive costs for the arbitration, this ruling could require her to pay for the arbitration to ask the arbitrators whether the fee is unfair.

As the world's largest trial bar, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) works to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others—even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations.


3 comments: said...

Thanks Bob;

"We need to educate people on the value of union membership. The Wisconsin law that requires the contribution of organized labor to American life and culture be taught in all middle and high schools in that state is a good start. We need 49 more bills passed in that regard and a say in the curriculum provided."

Good luck getting THAT through the Texas legislature. Or Georgia, for that matter.

Just Sayin' ------ I agree, educating the public about the contributions and value of Labor is important. It could be a start to wresting control of the country from the greedy bastards that now own the legislatures and are turning our country into a corporate entity. Did I say "greedy bastards"? I'm sorry, I meant to say captains of industry and finance.

Best Regards
Danny Littwin, director
New York Digital

Elana Levin said...

Love this blog post. I quoted you at length in the piece I wrote for the AFL.

Stanley Aronowitz said...


Thanks for this. I'm glad someone is trying again to unionize bank employees. But the word "never" is inaccurate. From 1945-47 the United Office and Professional Workers(CIO) organized twelve Wall Street Banks and won contracts.

When theTaft hartley amendments required non-communist affidavits, the union refused to sign and immediately the banks sought and obtained decertification.

A few years later the United Financial Employees(AFL) tried again and failed. They were sponsored by among other unons, the Seafarers Int'l union. But since about 1950 no further serious efforts were made.

Stanley Aronowitz