Still going strong and moving forward

Can’t seem to shut them down, despite best efforts:

On the same day that thousands protested the end of labor as we know it in Michigan, the largest, thriving union in a right-to-work state celebrated the ascendancy of its first female and Hispanic leader.
As Michigan is poised to become the country’s 24th right-to-work state (unions can’t force new employees to pay dues), it’s worth remembering just how potent labor is here in Nevada, despite the 60-year-old law on the books here. With an invaluable assist from ex-state Archivist Guy Rocha, I wondered just how a state that became right to work by a narrow margin in 1952 could be the same one where labor is celebrating unprecedented political influence in 2012 and its largest member today announced the election of Nicaraguan refugee and former housekeeper Geoconda Arguello-Kline as its new leader.
Ultimately, SB79 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Russell on March 14, 1951. It had to be ratified by the voters and was, barely, the following year, 38,823-37,789 (50.6 percent to 49.4 percent).
Labor tried to get the law repealed twice at the ballot –- 1954 and 1956 -– failing both times. And then in 1958 – see if this doesn’t sound familiar – an initiative petition to repeal the right-to-work law was ordered off the ballot for insufficient signatures.
And yet, the 1952 law has not destroyed labor in Nevada – far from it. Indeed, although membership is not overwhelming, just as it isn’t anywhere, labor’s political might may have reached its apex in 2012.

But unlike in Michigan, where labor may be going in reverse, the Culinary, through Arguello-Kline’s elevation, is moving forward. She is the first Latina ever to lead the union, which only cemented its political power by helping Harry Reid in 2010 and President Obama and down-ballot folks, too, this year. That Hispanic might here, which is key to politics in Nevada: A lot of those Latinos are Culinary members, and now one is the leader.
Right-to-work is all the rage across the Midwest. But here in a state marking its 60th anniversary of being a right-to-work state with the election of an unprecedented leader of a populous union, you almost never hear the phrase.

Culinary Workers Local 226 promoted Geoconda Arguello-Kline, a former housekeeper and Nicaraguan refugee, to become the organization’s secretary-treasurer.
Arguello-Kline becomes the first female and first Hispanic to lead the 60,000-member union that represents hotel and restaurant workers in Las Vegas.
Born in Managua, Nicaragua, Arguello-Kline fled the country as a political refugee in 1979. She arrived in Miami with her two children and worked a series of service jobs including housekeeping and truck driving.
She moved to Las Vegas in 1983 and worked at Fitzgeralds as a guest room attendant.
She became part of the Culinary staff in 1990 as union organizer. She worked the picket line of the more than six-year-long strike against the Frontier, which in ended in 1998.

“I’m tremendously honored to take on this position,” Arguello-Kline said in a statement. “It is a testament to our diverse and incredible members that has put me here. It is an honor to represent our members every day. We undoubtedly have challenges ahead, but I’m confident that we will overcome them by working as a union.”

I don’t know what this means nationally, maybe nothing, maybe it doesn’t apply outside Nevada, but it’s really heartening to see how resilient and enduring both labor unions and the ideas behind labor unions can be.

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27 replies
  1. 1
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    Question for Michiganders: if the state government goes back to Democratic control, could the RTW be repealed/nullified/etc? Or is it one of those things where they superglued it to the state constitution to prevent that from happening?

  2. 2
    trollhattan says:

    No wonder Sheldon Adelson is batshit insane about throwing his cash at anybody who remotely smells Republican–the Hispanics is ruining his buzz, man!

    (Couldn’t he just use those tens of millions for raises and basically buy them off?)

  3. 3
    👽 Martin says:

    I don’t know what this means nationally, maybe nothing, maybe it doesn’t apply outside Nevada, but it’s really heartening to see how resilient and enduring both labor unions and the ideas behind labor unions can be.

    The loss of power by unions corresponded to a loss of middle class wages. It also corresponded to a lot of outsourcing.

    Unions did a fair bit of harm to themselves and the country while they continued to do a fair bit of good in keeping the middle class relevant.

    But unions reformed themselves. Reagan quite effectively broke them. They seem to have largely recognized where they overreached and are far more willing to give sensible concessions. Executives have not with but a handful of exceptions. So the public and the GOP seems to be skating not just to where the puck is, but where it was decades ago. Tearing down the unions is just going to do even more harm.

  4. 4
    David in NY says:

    The UAW has high levels of union membership in both its union shop and right-to-freeload-state plants. It’s Texas and Michigan plants have similar levels. 90 to 100% in most cases (some 100%). It will cost the union something, but won’t by itself be crippling — just another board for the coffin for the middle class that the rightist billionaires are building.

  5. 5
    kindness says:

    I feel bad for the people in Michigan right now. The Democrats are getting hosed.

    I would like to think this is a good lesson for all the poors/union/etc to actually go out and vote in elections. But I honestly don’t know if even this level of pooch fuckery will get them off their asses (the ones who didn’t vote).

    I voted! But I live in California. Such is life.

  6. 6
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    What the right-to-mooch (ht Daily Kos) laws break is the ability for a union to require that everyone who benefits from union negotiations help pay for the union, even if they don’t want to join. If you can’t force people to pay, then you have to rely on a person determining that paying for the union is ultimately in their self-interest. In most cases, there are always enough people who decide that they want to enjoy the benefits but at a lower price.

    It’s very similar to environmental regulations. If you can’t force everyone to participate in the regulations, then those that don’t abide by them are enjoying everyone else’s participation without paying the cost. And eventually no one does it.

    Serious kudos to the people of Nevada for sticking with their unions.

  7. 7
    Alex S. says:

    The idea behind labor unions is as strong as ever, I would say. In the end, they’re a union of common interests, the form of organisation is secondary.

  8. 8
    Zifnab says:

    @👽 Martin: I don’t know about that. RTW really puts a dagger in the chest of the union organizational structure. It creates huge amounts of uncertainty by effectively nullifying a reliable form of contract we’ve been using for nearly a century.

    I mean, imagine what would happen to businesses if there was a nation-wide movement to make the Corporation illegal? Would it end every business transaction in American? No. Of course not. But would it hamstring a wide assortment of businesses and throw all sorts of once-settled questions back to the court? Yup.

    RTW is about changing the rules to the game, in the middle of the game. If Republicans can do this successfully, it will leave unions and progressives forever on the back foot – kind of like how Voter Fraud laws are driving folks in purple Ohio / Florida / Penn batty.

  9. 9
    Ruckus says:

    @👽 Martin:
    I long ago had the opinion that unions were their own worst enemies, asking for ever more that at some point either was or was getting to be too much, relative to non union industries. And I may have been in some cases correct. But labor unions were started for immensely valid reasons and breaking them is not the same as saying no to sometimes irrational demands. And we need strong unions once again because the balance of power is so far out of whack between business and labor, caused not even by the most strident unions, but by business and in many cases, governments.

  10. 10
    kay says:

    @Alex S.:

    Our county job and family services workers voted to unionize last week. This is a conservative county, and they’re 90% young women. My husband said the county commissioners (all men) were just shocked! by this disturbing development :)

  11. 11

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    “Question for Michiganders:…”

    The RTW bill was just a statute change. The only thing that strengthens it over a typical bill was the insertion of an appropriation into the bill. Michigan’s constitution prevents any appropriations bill from being over turned by referendum. (Requiring a “No” vote on the ballot.) We could replace the law with an Initiative or Constitutional Amendment. (Requiring a “Yes” vote on the ballot.)

  12. 12
    Yutsano says:

    OT: is anyone else having issues viewing BJ on mobile? I think there was an upgrade or something.

  13. 13
    👽 Martin says:

    @kindness: Union members already vote at high rates, but that’s a correlation not causation effect. Voter turnout is moderately correlated to income, and higher income is causally related to union membership.

    Poor people don’t vote because they’re poor. Government is constantly fucking them – and the Dems can only make things marginally better. Even with Dems they’re still poor. And poor people have a harder time voting. So you have a process problem (voting is hard) and an incentive problem (voting is pointless) with lower income people.

    Union rights don’t help people that are poor because they’re not in a union (otherwise they wouldn’t be poor), and even in collective bargaining states, organizing a union is fucking hard to do and just doesn’t happen often any more.

  14. 14
    Steve Finlay says:

    At first sight, it seems to make no sense that unions are strong in a state that has had “right to work” for so long. But maybe there is a good reason. Belafon pointed out that “If you can’t force people to pay, then you have to rely on a person determining that paying for the union is ultimately in their self-interest.” This implies that if “right to work” is in place, a union that wants to survive has to convince enough workers that paying into the union is good for them.

    Maybe that pressure is driving the unions who are under RTW to work harder, and to never take their members for granted. I think it’s pretty clear that there have been unions, in some industries and in some places, which ended up treating their members with an attitude of “We don’t care; we don’t have to. We get your money anyway.”

  15. 15
    red dog says:

    As a child in the 50’s it seemed everyone’s Dad could support the family because they were payed a decent wage. Yes a few women worked but it was usually very part time or as a business owner in my rural area. This was also the apex of trade unions. Not a coincidence at all. Our most productive eras and pleasant households that the GOP longs for were union.

  16. 16
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Marat, we’re poor and the poor stay poor
    Marat, don’t make us wait anymore.
    We want our rights and we don’t care how.
    We want our revolution… Now.

    This is what happens if the poor truly lose hope.

  17. 17
    Alex S. says:

    @kay:

    Nice to hear! In the end it’s just about getting a fair share of the profits made by human and non-human capital. This idea will always be relevant, but it’s going to require some flexibility. I mean, theoretically you don’t have to announce that you’re founding a union, you could simply set up an internet forum and people could communicate there.

  18. 18
    kay says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I like the idea of showing what organization can do even if they can’t get past an employer like Wal Mart and form (or join) an official union. There are worker protests against Wal Mart in five countries, today. I think that’s a smart tactic, as an opening move.

  19. 19
    Violet says:

    Is the BJ website borked for snyone else on an Android phone? Seems to have just happened today, although I didn’t read BJ on my phone yesterday.

  20. 20
    Linnaeus says:

    @Steve Finlay:

    Nevada is an interesting exception, but the much more prevalent pattern in the United States is that “right to work” states have much lower levels of unionization.

  21. 21
    mainmati says:

    @Yutsano: yes they did something to the interface.

  22. 22
    Linnaeus says:

    So-called “right to work” has implications beyond labor itself. By weakening labor unions, you also weaken an institution that plays key roles in trying to pass all kinds of progressive legislation and, in the other direction, stopping regressive legislation.

    It’s no coincidence that Michigan’s legislature has passed or is preparing to pass terrible legislation on things like reproductive rights, etc. right around the time that it passed “right to work”. First, the Republicans are taking advantage of the current partisan makeup of the legislature before it becomes slightly less favorable to them in January. Secondly, reversing this legislation will be harder if progressive allies like organized labor have fewer resources to devote to it.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    👽 Martin says:

    @Steve Finlay:

    Maybe that pressure is driving the unions who are under RTW to work harder, and to never take their members for granted. I think it’s pretty clear that there have been unions, in some industries and in some places, which ended up treating their members with an attitude of “We don’t care; we don’t have to. We get your money anyway.”

    This, plus some unions didn’t know when to stop. Because they had full mandatory participation, some unions pushed employers unnecessarily because they had the power to do so. There’s a distinction to be made between advocacy to serve a need and advocacy because you have the power to do so. The latter is Cole’s ‘asshole’ theory of the GOP – where the GOP too often fucks with things simply because they have the power to do so – like voting rights. There’s no public need – they just do it to further entrench their own power.

    Here we are arguing for something as basic as a $10/hr minimum wage when two decades ago a few unions were striking because they couldn’t get a COLA off of a $20/hr wage, when they had pension, full retirement health care, seniority protection and influence on hiring. Yeah, there were more profits to go after, and yeah, they could have gone to workers, but workers were doing pretty damn well. Rather than focus on what more they could get out of the companies, they should have focused on how to help the company preserve that level of benefits. Nobody should be too surprised that some companies jumped at the first chance they got to move that plant to Mexico, simply because the union was acting like an asshole.

    I have a union I interact with that regularly fights reclassifying workers into better positions because those workers would move out of lower-paid but represented positions into higher-paid but unrepresented positions. It makes no rational sense except that the union wants to protect their own power, and fewer members makes them less effective. It’s no wonder when faced with that behavior that eventually someone strives to take that power away – and shifting to right-to-work does exactly that.

    I’m overall pro-union, but everyone I know who has to deal with this particular union just wants it to end. It’s really hard to tell an employee you want to promote and who you need working at a higher level that their new position is being contested and no, they can’t get that 10% raise as a result. Nobody wins and everyone is miserable, and while the union does overall good, sometimes the specific shortcomings are just so emotionally painful that you just want to end it.

  25. 25
    cinesimon says:

    The crazy thing is, with regards to the right wing and their bizarre attempts to equate modern unions to the days of the mob, is that the main union they protect – the police – are holding up to the world some of the most brazenly inhuman behavior by their members, calling it stellar police work. They murder, they brutalize, they falsify evidence – even the honest and non violent cops cover up for the corrupt, every single day – for fear of losing their jobs, or worse.

    Across America, police unions have totally blown my mind with their callous disregard for the lives and well-being of those they’re charged with protecting. Not to mention the law, something which they seem to think of as a joke to be exploited against minorities. They have become an unaccountable paramilitary force, outright bigotry is ‘best practice’, as is falsifying records.

    Yet this is the union the right wing choose to protect from any reform.
    Police and their unions have become the most corrupt, dangerously violent, racist and unaccountable since the 1950s, in my opinion.
    This is an issue I have seen many ‘tea-party’ types talk about, pretending that both Dems and Repubs are just as apathetic to this issue. Of course, they completely ignore what Holder and Obama have been doing with the Civil Rights department, converting it back from Karl Rove’s the grotesque and corrupt political vendetta machine, to what it was designed for. It’s not funded as much as it needs to be, but they really have done some absolutely FAB work.
    Yet the Tea Party, who seem to claim they love the constitution more than life itself sometimes – who indeed constantly pretend that it was written alongside the Ten Commandments, like to talk about this issue as if they were serious about solving it.
    Yet, as we saw in Michigan and Wisconsin – the police unions have a lot of political clout(as well as muscle to beat on protesters), and the republicans are some of the biggest pussies in America when it comes to deciding between the extremely obvious Right Thing To Do, or ceding to those with political power.

    They include the police and firefighters in their figures as to why unions are sop expensive for the states(talking public unions of course) – and then they completely leave out the most expensive unions. Surprise surprise.

    To me, the leaving out of police unions from union busting, is not only a sign of how cowardly republicans are. It confirms that many – especially in the states legislatures – are as corrupt as any politician has been in history.

  26. 26
    Linnaeus says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Rather than focus on what more they could get out of the companies, they should have focused on how to help the company preserve that level of benefits. Nobody should be too surprised that some companies jumped at the first chance they got to move that plant to Mexico, simply because the union was acting like an asshole.

    The problem, though, is that very often, management has no real desire to be helped to preserve that level of benefits and wants to try to roll them back. A lot of the issues that unions could weigh in on are either part of management’s purview in the “management rights” clause of a CBA or they are subject to “permissive” bargaining, in which both management and the union have to agree to bargain in the first place.

    And then you have cases like Hostess, in which the unions suggested various changes and improvements that management could make. Instead, management just took more money out of the company.

  27. 27
    Steve Finlay says:

    @👽 Martin: We have a union in the company where I work that was rigid and impossible to deal with in that way. (I’m in “management”, and so not covered by the union.) Their power was broken in a strike a few years ago. The company has not attempted to reverse benefits and salaries or get rid of the union since then, but they have done a lot more outsourcing than any of us want. So the power balance has overshot the midpoint again.

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