Keeping it real. Unions and Labor Day.

Elijah Edwards, local AFSCME president. Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers.

By Lilud, a former teaching colleague of mine.

Here it is already, the last unofficial weekend of summer. It seems like we just observed Memorial Day. Have you ever given any thought to why we have a holiday called Labor Day? As I just taught my second grade students, Labor Day was intended to be a day of rest so people could recognize the hard work of the average working person. Since the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, a lot has happened in the working lives of the average person. Many people work weekends, holidays, evenings, nights, around the clock in shifts, and in excess of 40 hours per week. Union membership has declined sharply. Wages have stagnated.

My friend Fred, the former union president of my local, once called me a union stalwart. He sure had that right. I have served as building representative, Region 36 representative, and I was elected to the negotiating committee of my local. Long before I was born, the coalminers in the vicinity of my home town literally fought for the right to safer working conditions, better pay, and job security. Eventually the UMWA caught on in the area and miners negotiated better working conditions. My father was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. (FOP) When I began teaching in public schools, I joined the union as soon as my building rep came knocking.

I am currently a member of the Illinois Education Association/National Education Association, and thoroughly enjoy the benefits that come with being a member. For example, if someone decides to sue me for educational malpractice, my legal representation will be provided by the union. My job isn’t protected by tenure. Illinois State Senate Bill 7 put an end to that. I can be dismissed if my evaluator concludes I need improvement. This conclusion has to be adequately documented and if I fail to significantly improve during the remediation process, I can be dismissed. At least there IS a remediation process. Without this union bargained process, I could be dismissed for any reason. That is the essence of at will employment.

If you enjoy a forty hour work week, paid vacations, weekends off, sick days, disability insurance, time and a half, double time on weekends and other benefits, these became available to you because union members and organizers worked to negotiate them for you. Businesses and factories adopted these benefits, even if they weren’t a union shop. The unions and their members can be thanked for this.

If you work for a forty hour a week salary, but you actually work more like sixty hours, it is likely because your employer is taking advantage of you. You aren’t in a union. Of course you’re going to work the sixty hours because you have bills to pay. If you won’t work the hours, someone else will. The sister of a friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer. She used up all of her sick days, and then was fired. She lost her medical benefits. She wasn’t a member of a union.

I will continue to strongly support and be an active member of my local, state, and national chapters of my union. I think the time has come in this country for union membership to increase. Wages have stagnated, union membership has declined, and workers are experiencing working conditions and practices that previously had been eliminated due to union negotiation. Claims of age discrimination in the workplace have sharply increased over the last decade. It’s time for the American worker to reclaim their power through union membership.

Happy Labor Day everyone.

NEA has 99 problems and Janus is just one of them.


Public employee unions are waiting to hear the Supreme Court ruling on the Janus case. The Justices will make their opinion known probably in June.

The decision will impact the future of public employee unions as we know them. The specific issue before the court is the right of unions to charge an agency fee for the services they provide, regardless of whether the individual employee covered by the collective bargaining agreement chooses to join the union or not.

It is not about using dues money for political activity. The separation of political action money and agency fees has been the law for decades. No union member is forced to contribute to any union political action fund.

But the problem facing the National Education Association (I was a 30-year member and local president) and the American Federation of Teachers, the other national teacher union, runs deeper than Janus.

Over the past months a teacher revolt has swept across so-called red states. The state and national leadership of the unions have often either followed behind the rank-and-file organizations that have sprung up to fill the leadership vacuum or they have been a target of rank-and-file anger.

In Nevada, the state’s largest local has voted to disaffiliate completely from the NEA.

Out of the  11,000-member Clark County Education Association, only 99 teachers voted in favor of staying with NEA and the Nevada State Education Association.

The turnout for the disaffiliation vote was less than 8 percent of those eligible to cast a ballot.

Here in Chicago, a higher education local representing adjunct faculty at Columbia College, voted to disaffiliate from the IEA in 2015.

In Nevada the NEA has responded to their rejection by setting up a new affiliate. The chances of the old team that was just dumped winning the right to represent Clark County teachers again is slim as Nevada law requires them to sign up half the bargaining unit to change representation.

The fight going on in Nevada is more than about who will control the millions of dollars in dues money.

Rank-and-file teacher union members have quietly complained about do-nothing, undemocratic leadership practices for years.

Just days ago, Oklahoma Teachers United, a grassroots group  which exploded in membership while leading the state’s teacher walkouts, moved to impeach officers of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Larry Cagle, one of OTU’s leaders, said he supported a campaign to encourage teachers to resign from the NEA-affiliated union.

Moves to disaffiliate have sprung up elsewhere.

The break comes amid a surge of statewide teacher strikes and as unions across the country await a Supreme Court decision on whether or not unions could continue to charge dues to nonmembers.

What’s more, the National Education Association has suffered similar breaks from local unions in recent years, including  in Memphis, Tenn. and in Carmel, Ind.

Even in Illinois, a Fair Share state that allows agency fees, the IEA has become more and more an impotent shell of an organization since the state legalized collective bargaining over 30 years ago.

Cinda Klickna, the IEA’s past president complained to me several years ago of the union’s failure to have much influence in the state legislature.

“We used to be able to walk across the street from our office and into any legislator’s office. Those days are gone,” she told me in explaining their failure to protect retiree pension rights.

A court ruling in favor of Janus will be a problem for teachers and collective bargaining.

The red state teacher revolt demonstrates that it might just provide new opportunities for teachers in unions whose leadership has become calcified.




A friend calls me about my Janus post today.

He is a long-time political organizer whose name you would probably know.

“I read your post this morning,” he says.

“It’s really worse than you say. We will lose a third of our union members. Even in the Right-to-Work states, members will leave.”

I say that I have been hearing from friends in locals the same thing. “A yearly card sign-up is just not sustainable in 600 locals. All their efforts will have to go into doing nothing but that.”

“It has been a Republican agenda item for years,” he says. “Money that would go into political campaigns to elect pro-labor candidates will dry up.”

And from our union leadership: crickets.

“I love your blog, by the way,” he says. “Read it every day.”

“Thanks. I guess,” I say. “Have a happy new year.”



Keeping retirement weird. Majority of Americans support unions while union leadership appears clueless.

Making automobile tires. My first union job in 1969.

I remember when I got my first union card.

I was working at the Uniroyal tire and rubber factory in City of Commerce outside of Los Angeles.

I was a member of the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastics Workers of America.

Peter Bommarito was president of my union from 1966 to 1981 and during his leadership the American tire industry mostly disappeared.  Nearly 100,000 tire-making jobs were lost.

My last union membership was with the National Education Association. I retired in 2012. I served as a local president and always seemed to find myself in conflict with the leadership. I wasn’t looking for disagreement. The leadership at the state level in particular seemed clueless when it came to the nature of the members’ working conditions.

43 years from my first union card to my last.

A recent Gallup poll shows high levels of support for unions. And the support is on the rise, thanks in part to Donald Trump.


Still, Americans remain more pessimistic than optimistic about unions’ future. Forty-six percent say they think unions will become weaker than they are today, while 27% say they will be the same and 22% say stronger.

The pessimism is well founded. Industrial unions have gone the way of American industry. Now pubic employee unions are under attack and we can anticipate court rulings taking away agency fees and fair share.

The situation is not helped by a leadership that continues to seem clueless.

Take Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO. He was nearly the last member of Trump’s advisory committee to leave in protest following Charlottesville. Even Wal-Mart got out faster than he did.

Apparently he just discovered that the Trump administration is dominated by racists and Wall Street.

National labor leader Richard Trumka said Wednesday that some White House aides “turned out to be racist” and said the Wall Street wing of President Donald Trump’s economic team is growing in influence.

“You had two factions in the White House,” the AFL-CIO president told reporters at a roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor and confirmed in audio provided by Trumka’s office to CNN. “You had one faction that actually had some of the policies that we would have supported on trade and infrastructure but turned out to be racist.”

Trumka continued: “And on the other hand, you had people who weren’t racist, but they were Wall Street. And the Wall Streeters began to dominate the administration and have moved [Trump’s] agenda back to everything he fought against in the election.”

So, Trumka quit because he . . .

Oh never mind.

Enjoy your long weekend.

Download episode #30 of Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers and guest State Representative Will Guzzardi.

Join us at our Labor Day Bash. Noon to 7 at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. 3219 S. Morgan. Live broadcast from 3-5pm. 105.5fm

Some union leaders stand with Trump. It’s not the first time some choose the wrong side.


Leaders of the New York construction trades encouraged attacks on anti-war protesters following Kent State, 1970.

Naomi Klein has written a column in today’s NY Times calling attention to the disturbing scene of skilled trade union leaders meeting and applauding Trump.

A new administration can always count on many organizations to issue pro forma statements expressing a nonpartisan willingness to work with the new leader. Let’s be clear: This was not that. This was a new alliance. As Terry O’Sullivan, head of Laborers’ International Union of North America, put it on MSNBC: “The president’s a builder. We’re builders.”

I am a long-time admirer of Naomi Klein who wrote the influential book, The Shock Doctrine.

But with all due respect, this is not a new alliance.

There have always been some union leaders who feel more comfortable with the powerful than with those who remain powerless, whose view of the world is almost inseparable from management, bosses and the political elite.

Reading Klein I immediately thought back to what were known as the hard hat riots in New York following the murder of four Kent State students protesting the invasion of Cambodia in 1970.

Peter Brennan was president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. He served as the vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO. Brennan was a registered Democrat but supported Nixon and the Vietnam War.

A few days after Kent State, anti-war protesters announced they would hold a rally near City Hall to commemorate the four dead students. Brennan decided to organize a counter-rally of construction workers to show support for the Nixon administration.

Rioting construction workers violently attacked the protesters. The construction workers then invaded two nearby Pace University buildings, smashing lobby windows with clubs and crowbars and beating up students. More than 70 people were injured, including four policemen. Most of the injured required hospital treatment.

But you don’t have to go back 40 years.

Just last September we saw AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsing the Dakota Pipeline using the same argument or excuse that those supporting Trump used: Jobs.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out this week in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of which was delayed last week by an order from the Obama administration—a decision that itself stemmed from months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.

In a statement, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said, “We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americas.”

As Klein points out, neither the pipeline nor Trump will provide jobs in a vibrant economy needed to improve the lives of union and not-yet union workers.

Union support of the Pipeline and Trump only divides the union movement from those who fight for social justice.

Union leaders like that are nothing new.

We have been here before.

A bad day for working people: Right to Work and Gorsuch. This is not a head fake.


When Antonin Scalia bought the farm, it left the Supreme Court split on the issue of agency fees and Right to Work laws.

Trump’s choice – really any choice he would have made – will end the four/four split on the court unless the Democrats obstruct any Supreme Court appointment for the next four years at least.

Right. That will happen.

What were once called “union shops” have been outlawed in the United States since Congress enacted the Taft-Hartley law in 1947. Nobody is compelled to  join a union.

In Illinois if a teacher doesn’t want to join the IFT or the IEA they don’t have to. But they have to pay the share of dues that go to fair representation and bargaining.

These are agency fees, fair share or security agreements.

The next Supreme Court will outlaw all that.

And they might not have to if the Republican controlled Congress passes national right to work legislation which they have promised to do. Trump will sign it.

Some observers expect a full repeal of the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m not taking any time here to defend agency fees. The TrumpTrolls that read this blog won’t be convinced. But workers and union members understand that people benefiting from a free ride is essentially unfair.

The existence of organized labor in the United States is threatened.

Union leadership needs to fight like our lives depended on it.

Past practice being the best predictor of future performance, I am not optimistic.

Others may have to step up.

This is not a head fake.