Tag Archives: right to work

missouri map

Missouri Voters Reject Right to Work Laws

Yesterday, August 7, voters in Missouri rejected the state’s new “right-to-work” law by a margin of two to one. Proposition A asked voters whether or not they would like to enact the right-to-work statute that the state legislature passed and former Governor Eric Greitens (R) signed last year. The law would have made it illegal for unions to charge agency fees to workers they represent who choose not to join the union. Agency fees, lower than union dues, are designated to help cover the costs of negotiating employment contracts.

Sympathetic workers and union workers fought the law by gathering about 300,000 signatures (more than double what was required) to put a freeze on the law and let voters decide. Construction workers, ironworkers, and steelworkers knocked on more than 800,000 doors to create awareness and draw voters to the polls.

They even enlisted the help of actor and Missouri native John Goodman who created a radio ad. “The bill will not give you the right to work. It’s being sold as a way to help Missouri workers, but look a little deeper and you’ll see it’s all about corporate greed,” he says.

Though similar right to work laws have passed in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states, this is the first time such legislation has been overturned by ballot referendum. It is also the first attempt in recent years. Currently, only 8.7% of workers in Missouri are union members, below the national average, but polls show rising support for unions and an uptick in membership.

“Missouri is the latest sign of a true groundswell, and working people are just getting started,” says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The defeat of this poisonous anti-worker legislation is a victory for all workers across the country. The message sent by every single person who worked to defeat Prop. A is clear: When we see an opportunity to use our political voice to give workers a more level playing field, we will seize it with overwhelming passion and determination. Tonight is the latest act of working people changing a rigged system that for decades has been favoring corporations, the mega wealthy, and the privileged few.”

Back to Basics

It’s Back to Basics to Maintain Our Rights as Workers

Todd Jelen, Negotiator, Organizer & Educator, AFM Symphonic Services Divisionby Todd Jelen, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator

During a recent AFM local officer training session, in the question session at the end of my presentation on “right to work” laws, a new officer raised her hand and stated: “It looks like we have to get back to basics.” Not coincidentally, this is also the current strategy that many unions, including the AFM, have adopted.

Over the past 50 years, laws that were fought for and won by workers using their voices in the public forum have been quietly eroded behind closed doors in our courtrooms and legislatures. If we become complacent, we risk losing the rights that we think are commonplace in our 21st Century workplaces. These rights were fought for and won by average workers in previous generations who did something about the injustice and inequality that surrounded them. We must get back to the basics of unionism, if workers are to survive and thrive in our uncertain future.

People working in a union has proven to be the number one check against inequality. The greatest victories in history were earned when people joined together for a common purpose. During the early 20th century, when work was often performed in dangerous and unregulated conditions and many jobs paid substandard wages, employers routinely exploited workers by finding loopholes in the law or breaking laws outright in order to maximize profits.

This was all overseen by a minority of wealthy individuals who wielded almost complete power to keep a system of inequity in place for their personal benefit. You would be correct in thinking that what I described sounds a lot like today, because our current level of inequality is about the same as it was 100 years ago. We must get back to basics, if we are to survive as workers.

There have been many challenges to our right to organize over the past 40 years. By the time this article is published, the Supreme Court may have decided the Janus vs. AFSCME case. If they rule against AFSCME (which looked certain when writing this article), then you are reading this in a world where every public sector job is right to work, regardless of the state. This decision and the overt attack on workers is a culmination of 100 years of effort by corporate America, through their think tanks, lobbyists, and legal teams, to destroy the rights earned by working people acting in union.   

The first part of this effort is right to work legislation. After right to work’s recent expansion to 28 states, the percentage of organized workplaces in the US private sector has dwindled to 6% in 2018. Janus focuses on public sector workplaces, which currently have a much higher density of 35%. We can only fight against power like this if all workers get back to basics.

When we get back to basics and work together, we can realize our incredible power as workers. When members are the driving influence in everything that we do, everyone develops ownership in the process. History has shown that we can use this power to both maintain and further our interests in our workplaces and communities. Many of our orchestras are currently using this model to organize and build power internally, even in off contract years. You too can begin to change your world, but only if you are active in doing so. There is no better time to start than now! 

Missouri Workers to Decide Right to Work

The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office certified 250,327 signatures of registered voters, 78% more than what was required to put the question of “right to work” on the ballot in November 2018.

The measure proposed aims to ban the collection of union dues as a condition of employment. With less than 10% of Missouri wage earners in a union, the law would hurt nonunion workers far more than union members.

“Just the name ‘right to work’ is a lie,” says Western Missouri and Kansas Laborers District Council Business Manager Tim Bell. “Federal law already protects workers from being forced to join a union. This is just a cash-grab, trying to take money out of the pockets of working people in Missouri.”

In 1978, when the right to work question was last on the ballot, 60% of Missouri voters gave an emphatic no.

How Local 389 Survives and Thrives in a Right to Work State

This summer The Music of Pixar, Live! A Symphony of Characters at Walt Disney World employed a 43-piece orchestra from May through August.

 

By the 1990s Local 389 (Orlando, FL) was going through really hard times, but the troubles started years earlier. “For a few decades the relationships between Local 389 and our employers were fairly abrasive. We had lost an orchestra, and due to brutal arbitration, things had gone south with the largest entertainment company in the world, Disney,” explains Local 389 President Mike Avila.

“In 1999 we decided to try a different approach,” he says. “We began meeting with employers for the express purpose of building trusting relationships.”

The strategy has worked. Local 389 has been able to survive, and most recently thrive, in the difficult “right to work” environment in Florida through relationship building and demonstrating to musicians what solidarity can do for them. “The end result has been better agreements (higher wages and better treatment of our players) and affording our musicians greater opportunity,” concludes Avila.

Each year members of Local 389 (Orlando, FL) perform with Walt Disney World’s 51-piece Candlelight Orchestra for 37 nights under an AFM agreement.

 

Brenda Higgins was inspired to serve on her local’s board after witnessing this change and the integrity and focus of Local 389 leadership toward improving the lives of local musicians. “It is always willing to stand against improper treatment of musicians and also to work out compromise without alienating management teams across the table,” she explains. “While there are those who feel the local should be more heavy-handed in its approach, we
have been successful in changing the
minds of many through patience, perseverance, and kindness.”

There has been an increase in live performance and recording opportunities both with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) and Disney. This spring and summer 129 members of the orchestral community were hired for May through August. A 43-piece orchestra is performing The Music of Pixar, Live: A Symphony of Characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, seven nights a week, for 94 consecutive nights, under an AFM CBA.

“The great thing about this summer gig is that most of our players would go on unemployment in the summer; instead, they are getting $285 per night, plus pension, and they get to be Disney employees and enjoy many benefits of that as well,” says Avila.

Musicians performing in Walt Disney World’s The Music of Pixar, Live! A Symphony of Characters worked under an AFM collective bargaining agreement negotiated through Local 389 (Orlando, FL).

A cellist, Higgins has worked in Orlando since 1975 when she won an audition with the now defunct Florida Symphony Orchestra (FSO). “A core of former FSO musicians came together as Music Orlando, later renamed Orlando Philharmonic, a per service orchestra,” she says. An active Central Florida freelancer for more than 40 years, she has been a member of the Disney musical team since the late 1990s and plays in the Candlelight Orchestra at EPCOT every season. This summer she’s also performing in The Music of Pixar, Live!

“The scales and working conditions have steadily improved under the current 389 administration,” says Higgins. “The Orlando Philharmonic, which was a non-union successor to the unionized FSO, has been organized and we are working with
management to forge a consensus for a CBA going forward.”

“We are in negotiations with the OPO, as our CBA expires August 31,” says Avila. “Due to the aforementioned relationship-building these are the most productive talks we have ever had with an Orlando-based orchestra in my 34 years in Florida. Both sides are working hard to come to a place of mutual satisfaction.”

Meanwhile, Disney has also hired two other full-time bands with benefits, two part-time bands working three days per week, and several solo and duo musicians to entertain in the resorts. The 51-piece Candlelight Orchestra begins its run in mid-November with 37 nights of performances. “Prior to our philosophical change in 1999, that orchestra was contracted (1099) with no pension or benefits. Because of our changed relationship with Disney they are all now working in-house as employees,” says Avila. “Disney is providing a total of around 140 services for Orlando’s orchestra musicians in 2017.”

“This covered work has served to bring some local musicians on board with the union, thus strengthening the union in numbers and influence in the community,” says Local 389 Secretary-Treasurer Sam Zambito, who is also president of the Southern Conference of Locals. “Our working relationship with Walt Disney World has been amicable and productive.”

Disney also worked closely with the union to produce a Star Wars concert recording and streaming event, featuring the Orlando Philharmonic, conducted by John Williams of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 9-535 (Boston, MA). “We’ve had several long-running engagements during the past 24 months where Walt Disney World staffed their shows under the conditions of our CBA, rather than turning to third-party contractors,” he adds.

To increase their negotiating power with Disney even more, in January Local 389 joined a coalition of representatives from every major labor organization that has a CBA with Disney World and Disneyland, including Local 7 (Orange County, CA) leadership, President Bob Sanders and Secretary Tammy Noreyko. “East meets West!” says Zambito. “It was fairly informal, focused on sharing our knowledge base and strategies. We are now working together for mutual success.”

“The union has gained great respect. We have created a situation where it is so clear that all the musicians benefit by working under CBAs. Some of the most vocal union opponents have realized that things are really improving and have come on board, says Zambito. “The state of Florida is traditionally extremely anti-union and the central part of the state doubly so. We have about 95% participation rate overall. In the long term it’s going to help us achieve greater solidarity.”

“The current anti-union sentiment in our country is disturbing, to say the least. And it is frustrating that so many in the labor force fail to see that only unity can provide balance in the workplace,” says Higgins. “In a right to work state with a governor and legislature who wake up every morning with a commitment to ensuring that unions never regain strength, the battle is uphill and ongoing. The AFM, both nationally and locally, must remain mindful that balance is found through consensus and mutual respect, not ugly rhetoric.”

building a strong union

Building a Strong Union

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 47(Los Angeles, CA)

Recently in Los Angeles, the California State Labor Federation, along with state labor federations from Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, held a conference to address what is deemed to be the inevitable implementation of national “right to work” legislation by the current US Congress. Several hundred union leaders gathered to discuss best practices for unions already facing right to work. Invaluable information was distributed to those in attendance.

While many locals in the Federation have already been faced with the challenges of right to work, we who are in states that are currently not right to work may be joining this not-so-prestigious club. Some of you reading this article might consider me to be an alarmist, and I hope to be wrong, but the labor movement in California is taking the approach of, not if, but when right to work becomes the law of the land.

Our one choice should be to organize. We as a movement cannot remain stagnant or paralyzed, and we must rethink how we can organize internally to strengthen our ranks; not only resisting the challenges of right to work, but positioning ourselves to fight back. In the current climate, unions cannot be defensive. We must take the offense in our thinking and approach. Some of the recommendations that have come out of the right to work labor conference emphasize member engagement, strengthening workplace structures, and engaging new members.

When a musician joins the union, their first interaction should be a positive one. Too many times musicians learn about our union because they are required to join under our agreements. If we can get out in front of this by creating and maintaining an outreach program in music schools, we may be able to make the first interaction a positive one.

Local unions should look at broadening outreach into the community, building alliances, and finding common ground with our community in areas of shared interest.

Our message is critical. We must remind our colleagues that our union is working people standing together; that real people, not just “union officials,” comprise our union. We need to do better in ensuring that the face of our members is the face of our union. In addition, we need to tell real stories. Let’s dig deep in the well of our experiences to demonstrate how our union has helped our members in tough times, and how, without our union, there would be no safety net for working musicians.

Unfortunately, all of our locals are too overburdened and under-resourced to be effective in all the ways I suggest. Our challenge is to find the means to accomplish our mission, despite this lack of resources. That’s why I believe the key is to get membership to take the lead in these critical internal and external efforts. Without direct member involvement, these goals are unreachable.

Right to Work

Protect Your Union Against National Right to Work

by Todd Jelen, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator, Organizer, Educator

“Right to work” laws may soon be coming to every state in the union. On February 1, Representative Steve King (R-IA) introduced a bill crafted by the National Right to Work Foundation that would make private sector workplaces in every state right to work. This means that employees would receive the benefits of collective bargaining without being required to be union members. In addition, the bill would alter the Railway Labor Act, making railway and airline jobs right to work, which will not only affect our brothers and sisters in those industries, but could possibly make our airlines and rail systems less safe. The arguments against right to work have been well documented in the International Musician over the past few months. I would like to discuss what each of us can do to fight against the effects of these laws and to grow our power in the face of coming adversity. Following are a few simple things you can do to prepare your contracts. 

1) Negotiate multi-year contracts before the law takes effect. Contracts in place when the law takes effect will be enforced (including the union security clause) for the life of the agreement. Use this time to organize and get ready for the future.

2) Don’t eliminate union security clauses. Despite what management may assert, retaining your current union security clause is not illegal; these clauses are just unenforceable. In the event right to work legislation is later repealed, your union security clause will once again come into effect.

3) Don’t alter work dues check-off language or forms. Management often tries to convince the union that dues check-off is a part of right to work. Dues check-off is, instead, governed by several National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cases and is unaffected by right to work legislation. Management acts only as a pass-through for dues remitted pursuant to an agreement between the union and its members.

4) Maintain the role of the union as exclusive bargaining agent. Management may attempt to dilute this role through “artistic policy” committees or through musician representatives to symphony boards. By discussing wages, hours, and conditions of work under the guise of “artistic policy” or board privilege, they hope to circumvent the union and its agents, the orchestra committee. Don’t agree to provisions in your contract that would overempower these committees. Be vigilant of management pressuring musicians who serve on committees into overstepping their roles.   

In addition to the above precautions, the single best practice against right to work has always been to organize your members. For those of us currently in free bargaining states, it is time to start analyzing your workplaces for possible fault lines. You should have an accurate idea of what everyone’s issues and concerns in the workplace are so you can effectively address them all. Create short and long-term plans to realize each issue and include members in their planning and execution. 

As we analyze our workplaces, we must also analyze ourselves. Do we truly hear others’ opinions or do we brush them off? Do we include minority opinions in our conversations, or do we push on without regard to them? Organizing is difficult and takes time to do effectively. Well-meaning advocates can often perpetuate the very divides we are trying to heal when they cut corners. We can only engage everyone in the process when all are heard and given an opportunity to participate. Inclusion leads to ownership, which leads to solidarity and true power to fight for our interests in the workplace!

For those of us already in right to work states, this may seem like business as usual, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many cases in process that seek to challenge, as well as to expand, right to work laws and national right to work may be ineffective for some time, pending the outcomes. In addition, you are about to see your brothers and sisters in free bargaining states come together to combat right to work.  Now is your time to join their call to action to bring the fight to all 50 states. If we all work together, we can improve our circumstances no matter what congress and corporate interests try to impose on our workplace democracy!

Bill Changes Overtime Protections

Though the Working Families Flexibility Act has been touted as an attempt to provide employees with work flexibility, what it really does is provide employers additional flexibility in allowing them to compensate workers with paid time off (comp time) instead of overtime. The Republican backed measure was just passed by the House of Representatives and the Trump administration has come out in support of the bill in its current form. Democrats strongly oppose the bill because it gives employers final say in when comp time is used.

 

The Truth About Right to Work (For Less)

by Tino Gagliardi, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 802 (New York City)

When the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the legislation that protects the rights of employees and employers and prevents employment practices that are harmful to workers as well as to businesses and the overall economy, was enacted in 1935, a wide swath of the country immediately and bitterly opposed it. Republican leadership and the business community criticized the definition of “employee,” the act’s encouragement of collective bargaining, and the preservation of employee rights and protections at the expense of employer rights.

This debate, commonly referred to as “right to work,” still rages to this day. However, today’s political climate and the gains the right to work movement has made over the last two decades are making it more potent and dangerous for the labor movement than ever before.

On February 1, Congressman Steven King (R-IA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced the National Right to Work Act in Washington, DC. Similar legislation has been proposed and defeated in the past, but the Trump Administration, coupled with Republican control of both houses of Congress, could mean that right to work advocates have the political and legislative strength to win a victory at the national level.

Though Congressmen King and Wilson claim that they are fighting for the rights of workers by “erasing the forced-dues clauses” and unburdening Americans from the yoke of organized labor, don’t be fooled. This type of legislation, already passed in 27 states, has nothing to do with worker rights and everything to do with undercutting a worker’s strongest tool and ally—labor unions.

NLRA and Right to Work

Labor unions are vital to the health and vibrancy of a strong, safe, fairly-treated workforce, as well as an efficient economy. After the Taft-Hartley Act banned “closed shop” practices in the United States, unions found themselves advocating for fair pay and treatment of all workers, even those who were not union members. This was not only reasonable, it was a great thing for our communities, our families, and the vibrancy of our country.

This advocacy in “union shop” businesses has resulted in enormous gains for workers, including higher wages, safety laws, weekends, health and pensions, and scheduling practice standards (among others) that are now an assumed part of our daily lives. These protections help us ensure that hard working Americans can secure a decent living for themselves and their families.

Under the guise of benefiting workers, right to work legislation does the opposite. By incentivizing workers to benefit from union advocacy without paying dues, they are encouraging a “tragedy of the commons,” or “freeloader” mindset that ultimately undercuts the financial viability of union work and undermines the power of collective action.

Right to work advocates claim that this type of legislation creates jobs and allows for free-market economic growth. But nationally, wages in right to work states are 12.1% lower ($6,109/year) than in “union shop” states, and employees are less likely to receive health insurance or pensions from employers. Why? Because workers don’t have the strength or protection of collective action and representation that is vitally important.

The Right to Work … for Less

Who actually gains from right to work? The employers. Right to work legislation games the system, working around the NLRA to avoid employment requirements and ultimately takes worker rights from employees.

What workers and musicians across this country must realize is that right to work legislation is an insidious effort by employers to wrestle away the rights of employees. Nothing these politicians and right to work advocates publicly claim to desire is needed. The NLRA already allows for non-union workers to work in union shops, with the only expectation being that they help pay for the benefits they receive from working that healthy and protected environment. So why is it necessary? Ask the employers, large corporations, and political stakeholders that benefit from a weak workforce and the destruction of labor union values. Just follow the money that isn’t making its way into your pocket.

Right to Work (for Less) Amendment on Virginia Ballot

This November Virginians will vote on a proposed amendment that would put the provisions of the Virginia right to work (for less) law into state constitution. Passage of the amendment would make the right to work more permanent. While the General Assembly can change a law, a constitutional provision can only be changed by another constitutional amendment. The Virginia AFL-CIO says the proposed amendment is unnecessary and would make the law almost impossible reverse, adding that the amendment “is designed by a handful of powerful corporate interests to silence the voices of working Virginians.”

The Best Defense Against “Right to Work”

The Best Defense Against “Right to Work”: Organize!

Todd Jelen, Negotiator, Organizer & Educator, AFM Symphonic Services Divisionby Todd Jelen, Negotiator, Organizer & Educator, AFM Symphonic Services Division

It has been my privilege to visit orchestras around the country to discuss so-called “right to work” legislation. This simple slogan does not explain the resulting destruction to the middle class and working people in states where “right to work” laws are enacted. When a state passes a “right to work” law, there is an immediate decrease in the average wage. This translates to about $6,000 less per year than the wages in free bargaining states. “Right to work” states also consistently report lower household incomes, less employer sponsored health insurance coverage, and weaker unemployment benefits, than states without “right to work” laws.

In addition to taking money out of our pockets, “right to work” laws undermine democracy in our workplaces. When we decide to form or join a union, we vote. To choose our representatives, we vote. For all of the union’s business, we vote. “Right to work” laws seek to weaken our collective will by purposely providing loopholes in the membership requirements that workers have negotiated with their employers—agreements that the Supreme Court has upheld in free bargaining states. Proponents of “right to work” legislation often cite contractual freedom as a reason to pass these laws, but this is ironic considering that they are actually stifling workers’ freedom to make agreements with their employers.

Without a union contract our workplace rights are at the whim of our employers, whereas we can personally oversee the maintenance and enforcement of our agreements, if we are unionized. Employers know this, and that is one of the reasons behind the current wave of “right to work” legislation. By dividing us into different categories, employers are attempting to weaken our will and effectiveness as organized workers. We must realize that there is nothing that says we have to opt out of union membership. We can and should refuse to be divided by these laws! If we see past the laws in our states and learn about the Federal protections offered to us, we realize that we have a larger toolbox than we thought we had. Too often, orchestras don’t embrace the tools they already have to manage their own contracts.

“Right to work” does not have to mean the destruction of our workplace rights, if we work to ensure that we are organized. You may be thinking, “this won’t work in my city or state,” but I assure you that it will. I have found models for organization that exist in places considered unfriendly to labor. As a result, these locals enjoy more activity, visibility, and greater membership density. Together we have been able to begin to change the culture and perception of the local towards greater respect and congeniality. If you would like to learn how you can organize your orchestra and make your local more relevant in the eyes of your musicians and management, please contact me. Together, we can turn the tide of “right to work” laws toward a brighter future for orchestra musicians!