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Picket Event at Sisters’ Camelot

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We apologize for this information being so last minute.

TOMORROW, April 1, 2013

9:15 AM in front of the entrance to Sisters’ Camelot (right at the intersection of 37th AVENUE & 27th STREET, in the Seward Neighborhood)

PICKET EVENT. Come down and help us make a showing of people in support of the Striking I.W.W. Sisters’ Camelot Canvassers Union.

We will be gathered with signs as the Sisters’ Camelot Managing Collective walks past us to have their 10 AM weekly decision-making meeting.

We encourage as many people who can make it out on this Monday morning to come show support for us and solidarity with us. We ask that people not be rude or abrasive towards the collective members, but remind them with our presence that the community is watching and waiting for them to do the right thing. The basic message is still the same: REHIRE THE FIRED UNION MEMBER & NEGOTIATE WITH THE UNION.

We will then walk quietly and respectfully in to the Sisters’ Camelot office and deliver a stack of hand-written letters from people in the neighborhood urging them to rehire the fired worker and negotiate with the union. We will also deliver a printed copy of the Community Statement of Support for our union with the long list of names who have signed on to it.

Facebook Event

Sisters’ Camelot Phone & Email Zap!

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The Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union are doing a phone and email zap on the Sister’s Camelot collective. There are three phone numbers and one email to contact.

Please call Eric Gooden (SC Collective member) at 612-823-0647
Please call Dave Senn (SC Collective member) at 612-296-0677 <— Twin Cities people only for this guy!
Please call the SC Collective office number at 612-746-3051
Please email sisterscamelot@gmail.com

Please tell them to:

1. Rehire the fired union member.
2. Negotiate with the union.

Below is a sample email that can also be used as a script for calling as well.

*Dear Sisters’ Camelot,

I’m contacting you about the canvassers’ strike that’s been happening. I love the work your organization does, but, I’m deeply disappointed that you fired a union member, and now you won’t rehire him and negotiate in good faith with your workers. It’s shameful that your workers have been on strike for a month, and you still haven’t rehired the worker and come to an agreement with the union. I urge you to stop and reconsider your position. Rehire the fired worker, negotiate with ALL of the union, end this conflict and get back to the work you do that we all love and believe in.

Sincerely,*

Please call them every day, multiple times a day, and don’t stop until they agree to the union’s two demands.

Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union Open House Vol. 2

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The Sisters Camelot Canvass Union was formed by the workers who raise funds in order to make possible the programs of the organization we love. We want to do this in an atmosphere where our work is respected, supported, and we are given the trust to use our knowledge and experience to better further its mission.

Since Friday, March 1st, the Sisters Camelot Canvass Union has been on strike until the collective which manages the organization decides to sit down and all of us in good faith.

We are holding an open house so that the striking workers can explain their stories and reasons for for unionizing and going on strike and answer any questions that you might have.

This is the second open house that we have held for the public. The first was a success, so we are holding another in the hopes of bringing out more members of the community to learn about this struggle.

Sunday, March 24 @ 7PM
Mayday Bookstore
301 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454

Facebook event

A statement of support for striking canvass workers

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From IWW Sisters Camelot Canvass Union

We the undersigned, members of the Twin Cities community, write to state our support for the striking canvass workers at Sisters’ Camelot; and in order to hold the organization’s decision-making collective accountable to the community, we urge them to do what is right and negotiate with the union. We recognize that the canvassers have Sisters’ Camelot’s best interest in mind and support their decision to unionize; workers everywhere have the right to organize their workplace. Doing so is not an attack on the collective, the organization or its mission. As a community, we are aware that the canvassers of Sisters’ Camelot must be recognized as an organized union. We feel this recognition is vital to progressive change for Sisters’ Camelot.

We support and encourage an open negotiation in good faith between the collective and the Canvassers Union. We insist that all personal matters be put aside; as a community of onlookers, we are aware of the personal issues involved and can see that is it having a negative impact on the organization’s mission. By refusing to negotiate with the canvass union and then firing a union worker, it has become clear that the collective management of Sisters’ Camelot are not allowing the organization to move forward. We recognize that canvassers are the medium which Sisters’ Camelot uses to communicate with the wider world and cannot see a future for Sisters’ Camelot without them.

We recognize that Sisters’ Camelot’s programming represents a spirit of unconditional compassion and acceptance to the community in which it serves; it represents community outreach and support; it represents forward-thinking activism that decreases waste and hunger. An organization like this is scarce, and we are aware it cannot be created or destroyed overnight. As a community, we stand behind the Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union and feel that the demands and actions of the canvassers are in the spirit of Sisters’ Camelot’s mission and values. We wish to stand together, and ask that Sisters’ Camelot continues living up to these values by negotiating, compromising, re-hiring and re-evaluating what a community truly means.

As a community, we urge the following action:

1) Re-hiring the fired union worker: these actions have no place in the resolution of a labor dispute.

2) Negotiate in good faith with the canvassers of Sisters’ Camelot: so that they can end the strike and continue supporting its mission of “feeding the hungry and inspiring the world.”

We sign this document, as a community, to re-iterate that we too stand by Sisters’ Camelot and its mission statement and hope to see it thrive for years to come.

To add your name to the list of supporters, email SistersCamelotCanvassUnion@gmail.com with the name you would like to be listed as. Please include any title you’d like to see alongside your name; and if you’re not from the Twin Cities, please let us know where you’re from. Thank you!

Non-profit workers enter second week of strike

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Meeting at the IWW office

MINNEAPOLIS, MN– The atmosphere at Sisters’ Camelot, a mobile food shelf and kitchen bus based in Seward, has grown increasingly tense as a labor dispute between the newly-formed canvassers’ union and the collective management enters its second week. Sisters’ Camelot is a non-profit organization that delivers thousands of pounds of organic produce to low-income neighborhoods every week. It is collectively run by a group of seven individuals, each of whom have paid positions managing specific aspects of the organization. Their wages and the money for programming comes from the canvass crew, who raise nearly all the funds that allows Sisters’ Camelot to operate. However, canvassers have long felt that their work is not respected by the collective.

“I have been told by several collective members that the fundraising canvassers do is not as important or as valuable to the organization as the food distribution.” said Bobby Becker, collective member and canvass director at Sisters’ Camelot.

Canvassers began organizing over three months ago and contacted the labor union Industrial Workers of the World in December, after three canvassers were demoted from managerial positions and replaced by two collective members with less experience. This was not a disciplinary action, but the enactment of a new policy that only collective members could hold such positions.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” said Shuge Mississippi, canvasser. “We’ve had complaints against the collective for years, complaints they were unwilling to seriously address. We decided it was time to take action.”

On February 25 the canvassers went public as an IWW-affiliated union when they marched into a collective meeting and read a statement of intent. A negotiation meeting was planned for March 1, but on that day the collective refused to negotiate any demands and the union went on strike.

Communication continued between the union and the collective and another meeting was scheduled for March 4. The canvassers opened with a statement reiterating their desire to negotiate and promised to end the strike as soon as negotiations proceeded in good faith. The collective responded with two prepared statements: the first offered one canvasser a position on the collective, the second announced the firing of their co-worker Shuge Mississippi.

“[The collective members] recognize that negotiations cannot proceed in good faith until Shuge leaves…. We stand ready to return to negotiations in good faith whenever canvassers are ready to move forward.” read part of their statement. Canvasser Luke Welke expressed his “disgust that the collective could ask us to betray someone in our union who we work with every day and still believe that they are negotiating in good faith.”

The canvassers’ union would not proceed without their co-worker and walked out of the meeting. The situation is currently at a stalemate.

“I really hope this can be resolved soon.” said canvasser Maria Wesserle. “I love Sisters’ Camelot and want to get back to working for them. The collective needs to step back, realize their mistake, and rehire our fellow worker.”

The campaign at Sisters’ Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.

For the latest updates on the strike, visit:
http://www.facebook.com/SCcanvassunion

To donate to the strike fund, visit:
https://www.wepay.com/donations/sisters-camelot-strike-fund-donations

Demands of the striking Sisters Camelot canvassers

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The following are the demands, along with explanations written by the striking canvassers, presented to the Sisters’ Camelot Collective for negotiation on March 1, 2013. We wish to stress that many of these points are meant to be negotiated, there has never been an expectation that all of them must be accepted as-is.

Rotating union representative on the collective

Previous attempts by various canvassers to join the collective have been met with hostility, despite declarations of openness and inclusion. This representative on the collective would only have say in matters affecting the canvass, not any of Sisters Camelot’s other programs. The canvasser filling this position would be elected democratically by the union canvassers, and the union canvasser filling this role would rotate on a regular basis.

Union chooses canvass coordinators via democratic election

Currently, the canvass is run by two canvass directors who are hired by the collective with no say from the canvass workers. The union wants to abolish these positions and replace them with canvass coordinators who would be chosen by the workers themselves through a democratic election. In this manner the best candidates for the position would be determined by the workers, who have the most familiarity with what is required, and those filling these positions would be accountable to the workers directly.

Closed union shop with a hiring and firing committee chosen within the union

Having a closed union shop at the Sisters Camelot canvass program means that every worker who joins the canvass must also join the union within one month of employment. This protects the union in the workplace and allows for new hires to get a feel for the job before making a full commitment. Currently, hiring and firing power is held by the co-canvass directors. The canvass believes that in order to have a truly democratic workplace, that power must be in the hands of the workers themselves.

Medical bills covered for work related injuries

Sisters Camelot canvassers are employed as independent contractors and are not covered by workers’ compensation laws. Although workplace injuries on the canvass are relatively rare, they do occasionally occur. We believe that it is the responsibility of Sisters Camelot to cover the medical bills for the canvass in case of injury on the job.

A system to take credit card donations at the door

Many potential donors don’t have checks or cash at the door. The ability to take credit card donations would greatly increase the amount of money that the canvassers can raise for Sisters Camelot. The collective has denied this request in the past, citing a distrust of the canvassers in regards to credit card information.

Professional van maintenance

Since being purchased in the summer, the current van used to take canvass crews out fundraising has experienced several mechanical and electrical failures that have not been addressed by a professional. Previous van maintenance has been inadequate and done in-house without a clear timeline. This has resulted in fundraising shifts cut short, hurting both the workers and the organization as a whole.

Camping canvass to Duluth

Camping canvasses are a useful and common tool used by other fundraising groups to expand support outside of the Twin Cities area.

Decentralization of coordinator pay and tasks

The current workload placed on the canvass directors has proven to be too heavy and all-encompassing, resulting in errors in accounting, zoning, and time management, among other issues. Much of this work can easily be taken on by other members of the canvass program, furthering efficiency and effectiveness of Sisters Camelot as a whole.

Canvass has control over who field manages

Field managers are responsible for directing canvass shifts, driving the van, cutting maps, dealing with money deposits, and other day-to-day tasks. The canvass has proven that they have the experience and knowledge to elect who completes these tasks and how that work is managed.

Coordinators, field managers, and canvassers do not have to be in the collective to do their job

The SC collective is a closed collective, meaning that you have to go through a trial process and application to be considered for membership. There is no guarantee that applicants will even be accepted. Volunteer hours are a requirement in addition to paid canvassing work. Many canvassers work between 4 and 7 days a week and do not have time to put in extra volunteer hours. We believe that it is unfair to require any workers at Sisters Camelot to join the collective in order to perform their paid jobs.

Review of Coordinators done by the canvass, not the collective

The canvassers are the ones who are directly affected by the work that the canvass coordinators do. Thus, it only makes sense for the canvassers to review the coordinators, not the collective, who have proven in the past that they are unable to do this task effectively and without bias.

Separation of work and personal differences

Comments made out of personal animosity can no longer be tolerated in the Sisters Camelot workplace. In the past, canvassers have felt that personal comments and attacks made on behalf of the collective have created a hostile and unhealthy work environment. We don’t expect everyone to always get along, but demand the right to work in an environment of respect and dignity.

Canvass credit card, only to be used for office supplies, gas, and canvasser appreciation

Current access to funds for emergency situations, fueling the crew van, and office expenses is in the hands of one or two collective members. Having access to a canvass credit card for such instances would help the workers do their job more effectively.

Canvass coordinators have full access to online donations, mail-in contributions, and the ability to pay canvassers out weekly

Often, when canvassers go to the door, supporters are unable to donate via cash or check, and do so either online or via mail. These donations are an important part of our wages. These donations are infrequently checked by members of the collective often resulting in late or lost wages.

More paid training, up to three days for new people when needed

Currently only one full shift is given to new hires for training purposes. The union feels that this is not enough in order to fully understand the job. We want to give new hires the tools and knowledge to perform their job at the highest level possible in order to raise more funds for Sisters Camelot.

Sick/vacation pay

Sisters Camelot canvassers currently do not get paid sick days, despite this being a standard practice in the industry. The canvassers union is asking for earned sick days/vacation pay as a sign of respect and dignity for the hard work that we do.

5% base pay raise

As it stands, SC canvassers earn not an hourly wage, but 40% of funds raised at the door, which is well below industry standards. A 5% base pay raise is a relatively small amount of money to ask, and will serve as an incentive for canvassers to fundraise more money for the organization.

Double bonus at four shifts worked within a week

Currently, if canvassers raise at least $500 in one week, they are granted an extra 5% commission. We are proposing that if the canvassers also work 4 shifts in a week in addition to reaching $500 in donations, they will receive an extra 5% bonus. This encourages canvassers to set fundraising goals and put in extra work toward making the organization function well.

Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union Open House on Sunday, March 10

final open house fly

The Sisters Camelot Canvass Union was formed by the workers who raise funds in order to make possible the programs of the organization we love. We want to do this in an atmosphere where our work is respected, supported, and we are given the trust to use our knowledge and experience to better further its mission.

Since Friday, March 1st, the Sisters Camelot Canvass Union has been on strike until the collective which manages the organization decides to sit down and all of us in good faith.

We are holding an open house so that the striking workers can explain their stories and reasons for for unionizing and going on strike and answer any questions that you might have.

Sunday, March 20, 2013, 7PM @ CWA Local 7250, 3747 Minnehaha Ave S, Minneapolis (enter in back)

Facebook Event

Striking Non-Profit Workers Walk Out In Response to Surprise Retaliatory Firing

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN–IWW-affiliated canvassers at Sister’s Camelot, on strike since Friday, walked out of a meeting of the Sister’s Camelot governing collective at 10AM today following a shocking statement announcing the retaliatory firing of union canvasser Shuge Mississippi. The collective had invited canvassers to attend, claiming to recognize the union and verbally indicating that they were ready to negotiate to end the canvasser’s strike. After an opening statement by the canvassers stating they were seeking to negotiate and would end the strike as soon as negotiations proceed, the collective made a prepared statement, accusing canvassers of “forcing” them into a “boss role” and then proceeding to fire union canvasser Shuge Mississippi, who was accused of “manipulating” other canvassers into forming a union.

Following this, the canvassers walked out of the meeting, after making an unprepared statement that the firing was an attack against the whole union, as “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The unionized canvassers, who had expected to resume negotiations and end the strike within the day, left the meeting in a state of shock at the sheer aggression of the collective’s response.

Additionally, collective member and union supporter Bobby Becker accused the collective of making its decision without his input in violation of their own governing rules and collective process.

While collective members have insisted repeatedly that there are no bosses at Sister’s Camelot, today’s actions have only proven the canvassers’ accusation that the organization has become controlled by a top-down, exclusive power structure unwilling to negotiate with its own workforce.

Tracy Steidl, a union canvasser, summed up the union’s position: “They’re not even recognizing the union as a representative body of the canvassers. It’s obvious from this morning’s display that this is a grasp at straws by collective members slandering another human being in order to stop a legitimate organizing effort. It’s obvious they’ll do anything necessary to preserve power and influence for themselves.”

Luke Welke, another canvasser, expressed his “disgust that the collective could ask us to betray our friend and fellow worker who we work with every day and still believe that they are negotiating in good faith.”

“They’ve shown that they are willing to sacrifice the mission of Sister’s Camelot, for the sake of shutting down the voices of their own workers, who make this organization possible,” said fired worker Shuge Mississippi, “I love Sisters’ Camelot, but it’s clear that the collective has turned into the very thing we built it not to be.”

While today’s actions are a clear sign of bad faith, canvassers have said that they remain willing to negotiate once the collective is willing to rescind the firing and meet them at the table. The strikers have pledged to remain united in the face of further intimidation and attacks like today’s.

The campaign at Sisters Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.

FAQ about the Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Strike

Sisters Camelot bus

Written by Sisters Camelot Strikers

Q. Would any of your demands really tank Sisters Camelot?

A. No.

Q. Will this strike or union hinder resources need to distribute food or cook meals?
A. No. We believe more control over our work environment will allow us (the fundraising experts) to raise more money than ever. Also, our strike will not disrupt foodshare or kitchenbus work.

Q. Are your list of demands inflexible?
A. No. We want negotiation.

Q. Don’t your canvassers already get paid a lot?
A. First, our demands are mostly about structure and more democratic control over our workplace. Secondly, we get paid far lower than industry standard – but most of us don’t mind making less to work for the greatest organization on earth.

Q. Isn’t Sisters Camelot a co-operative?
A. No. Sisters Camelot is run by a closed collective. To join the collective you must volunteer for 3 months and then be approved by all collective members.

Q. How can you unionize when you are independent contractors and not employees?
A. This is our job and livelihood whether we have the legal status of employees. We are workers and deserve the right to be organized. Independent contractors have successfully unionized elsewhere.

Q. If you have control over your schedule, why do you need paid vacation/sick days?
A. We believe everyone deserves this. We live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes we get sick or want to visit family. This is a basic industry standard.

Q. Hasn’t Sisters Camelot recognized your right to unionize? Why strike?
A. Our right to unionize is not recognized until negotiation of our demands begins in good faith. We sat down to negotiate and our bosses said they would not negotiate.

Q. Isn’t unionizing too aggressive instead of using the collective process?
A. We believe all workers deserve the right to be unionized. The collective is a closed collective. Some canvassers feel unwelcome at collective meetings and have been treated disrespectfully by the collective. Furthermore, the collective process that currently exists has failed to address the canvassers’ grievances

Non-Profit Workers Go On Strike After Negotiations Fail

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Canvass workers at Sisters Camelot, a non-profit mobile food shelf and soup kitchen, have gone on strike today after the organization’s managing collective refused to negotiate with the canvass union. The workers went public as members of the Industrial Workers of the World on Monday, and met to negotiate with the collective this morning. This unionization comes after months of organizing among the workers in response to changes in the workplace, resulting in a decline in conditions and mismanagement of the worker’s time and the organization’s resources.

The strike began this afternoon at 12:30PM when the managing collective announced that they were unwilling to negotiate on any demands. The workers are now prepared to continue the strike by refusing to canvass door-to-door or conduct fundraising efforts until the collective comes back to the table ready to meet the workers’ demands.

“It’s deeply disappointing that the collective isn’t willing to take the demands of its workers seriously,” said Maria Wesserle, a canvass worker, “The last thing we wanted in this situation was to be pushed to the point of a strike.”

Canvassers at Sisters Camelot are employed as independent contractors. Workers began organizing with the IWW after a restructuring of the organization’s door-to-door fundraising operation left workers with increased work stress and less control over conditions. They are demanding that management positions in the canvass program be replaced with coordinators elected by the workers, and that hiring and firing be conducted by a worker committee. In addition, workers are asking for better conditions such as sick pay and medical coverage of job injuries, as well as common sense items such as more frequent training and regular repair of work vehicles.

“We care deeply about the mission of Sisters’ Camelot,” said Shuge Mississippi, an IWW member and canvasser who has worked for the organization for over 13 years, “We care deeply about its principles–if we didn’t, we wouldn’t work so hard in order to provide 95% of the funding for their programs. In refusing to negotiate, they are failing those very values they claim to stand for. In effect, they are acting like any other employer would.”

In addition to the workers, Bobby Becker, one of two canvass directors and a member of the managing collective has gone on strike in support of the workers. “This isn’t personal. It isn’t about the organization, which we all care about. What’s happening is an unwillingness to change or to give up any control to their workers.”

The campaign at Sisters Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.

Click here to donate to the strike fund