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Labor Board Sides With Fired Workers At Chicago-Lake Liquors

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Editor Note: This is the press release from last week’s picket. A video of the picket can be seen at the end of this post.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Almost two months after 5 employees at Chicago-Lake Liquors were fired for presenting a petition to management asking for higher wages, the National Labor Relations Board indicated yesterday that it found merit in the charges that the firings were a violation of federal labor law, as well as two other charges against the employer relating to ongoing organizing. The fired workers are now calling for Chicago-Lake’s owner, John Wolf, to respect the law and rehire them. The workers and their supporters will picket outside the store at 7:30PM on Friday, May 24th, asking customers to shop elsewhere for the evening in solidarity with the campaign for higher wages and union rights.

The workers were fired the first week of April 2013, days after a majority of Chicago-Lake employees signed a petition asking management to raise the starting wage from $8 to $9 an hour, give a $1 raise to all workers in the store, and increase the wage cap from $10.50 to $13 an hour. The firings were a clear case of retaliation for organizing activities and an attempt to intimidate other workers in the store. Since then, the fired workers have announced their union membership and have remained a visible presence outside Chicago-Lake, handing out fliers to customers and picketing the store on several occasions with community support.

The Labor Board’s decision comes as a victory for the fired workers, but they note that it does not mean they will be walking into work tomorrow. “We are thrilled that the Labor Board found merit with our charges,” said fired worker Joe Giwoyna, “but we also know that the legal system can take a long time to turn that determination into action. We’re calling on Mr. Wolf to settle with us and get us back on the job, but we also are not going to forget why he fired us in the first place: because we believe that our coworkers should be able to live decent lives and deserve a raise.” He added that the workers will continue to bring attention to the situation until they get their jobs back. The union has vowed that it will mobilize the community for a boycott of the store on July 4th, an important sales day for the store, if the fired workers have not returned by then.

Chicago-Lake is one of the highest volume liquor stores in the state and is estimated to make millions of dollars a year for Mr. Wolf, who relies on his workers to deal with the high intensity environment of an incredibly busy store in a low-income neighborhood. “The reality is that the working class people who shop at Chicago-Lake make John Wolf rich, and he disrespected that community by firing some of the very people who keep him so wealthy just for asking for a slight wage increase,” pointed out fired worker Arella Vargas, “It’s insulting and now it’s time for John to do the right thing. If we’re not at work by July 4th, he’ll see exactly how the working class in Minneapolis can stand together.”

The campaign at Chicago-Lake Liquors 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 John’s workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.

Absolut Picket at Chi-Lake Liquors 5/24

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Help us turn away customers, demand management pay a living wage to all of the workers at Chicago Lake Liquors, and demand they stop union-busting!

MEET AT NW CORNER OF POWDERHORN PARK at 7:00PM

Background of picket:

On the week of April 1st, five workers at Chicago-Lake Liquors were fired for respectfully asking management for raises. This is wrong and illegal. All workers have the right to come together to improve their job conditions, and these firings are a clear attack on their rights and dignity.

On April 6th, the five fired workers announced their membership with
Food and Retail Workers United (FRWU), an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union.

We are demanding that management:
-Rehire the 5 fired workers
-Pay a living wage to all employees
-Stop union busting

Short video of April 6 thpicket: http://youtu.be/37N73QAcQr8

Short video of April 13th picket: http://youtu.be/B04Uc7weqS8

CityPages coverage: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2013/04/chicago_lake_liquors_employees_petition_for_raises_five_fired_two_days_later.php

The Broken Bottle: Volume 2

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A reportback of the last picket at Chicago-Lake Liquors and a short story about sexual harassment of cashiers and how we can stick together and fight against it. Like the first Broken Bottle, we’re using this for outreach to liquor store workers across the Twin Cities metro area.

The Broken Bottle Vol 2

The Struggle Continues at Chicago-Lake Liquors

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by John O’Reilly

Over a month after the retaliatory firings of five works shocked South Minneapolis, a noted progressive community within the Twin Cities, workers at Chicago-Lake Liquors continue their fight for justice at work by taking it right to their bosses. Throughout April, workers and their supporters in the IWW have kept the story of the fired workers alive in South Minneapolis, holding two large informational pickets outside the store and flyering to customers every weekend night. While management refuses to speak with the fired workers, the Labor Board continues to investigate the firings and the IWW continues to heighten the pressure against the company.

On April 1st, five IWW organizers at the highest-volume liquor retailer in Minnesota were fired after the majority of their coworkers delivered a petition to management asking for a higher wages and to raise the wage cap for the store, which sits at $10.50 an hour, below Minneapolis’ living wage of $12.19. The five IWW members, whose union affiliation was at the time not known by management, were fired in an attempt to scare the rest of their coworkers into silence. So far the attempt has backfired, as IWW supporters continued presence outside the store has only solidified the idea that the union has Chicago-Lake workers’ backs and is not going away. The fired IWW workers continue to demand an end to union-busting at Chicago Lake, their immediate rehiring, and a raise for all workers there.

The union decided to up the militancy of the struggle on Saturday, May 4th, when nearly 50 working class Minnesotans and IWW members picketed out the two main entrances to Chicago-Lake, stopping cars at the driveways and asking them to turn around and shop elsewhere that day. Minnesota’s blue laws prohibit liquor sales on Sundays, so Saturday is the biggest day for liquor retailers, and May 4th came a day before the Southside’s annual Mayday Parade and Cinco de Mayo, both big days for drinking. IWW members turned away upwards of 90% of shoppers while they picketed, making what should have been an extremely busy Saturday into a quiet afternoon inside the store and testifying to the consciousness of the Minneapolis working class. Cars honked in support and union supporters cheered as customer after customer pulled a U-turn and drove away to buy their booze elsewhere. Despite management’s threats and security personnel’s attempt to arrest IWW members, union workers stayed strong and held the line for the duration of the picket, asserting their rights and their power. The picket was scary enough for John Wolf, Chicago-Lake’s owner, who has become basically invisible since the fight began, to emerge and skulk around the store.

While the fight for fair wages and union rights at Chicago-Lake is just beginning, IWW members vow that it’s a fight they’ll see to the finish. Escalation work continues on multiple levels and readers of the Industrial Worker should stay tuned for what comes next. Organizers have announced another picket of the store on May 24th and continue to inform customers of the situation outside the store daily. As the chant which has become a favorite on Chicago-Lake picket lines goes: “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no Natty Ice!”

This is a slightly altered version of an article which will appear in the next Industrial Worker

We Are Not Machines! Foxconn workers struggles in China

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Foxconn employs more than one million people in China alone. As the world’s largest contract manufacturer, it works for Apple and many other electronics brands. Foxconn workers are the iSlaves who face horrendous conditions while producing communication tools like iPhones and iPads.

In 2010, a series of worker suicides shook the Chinese Foxconn factories and drew world-wide attention. Management promised to improve conditions and increase wages, but the situation has not changed much since: Foxconn accelerated the relocation of factories to the Chinese hinterland, employs student interns as “cheap” labor, covers up work accidents, and still relies on its militaristic management regime.

However, Foxconn workers are far from being passive victims. They have used everyday forms of resistance against the rhythm of the assembly line and have been able to stage strikes in various Foxconn factories around China.

This talk is based on gongchao.org‘s collective research and activity around the struggles of Chinese migrant workers and will use words, photos, and films to present the situation at Foxconn. The discussion will focus on ways to support the iSlaves of Foxconn and relate their struggles to our own.

Sponsored by IWW International Solidarity Commission

Facebook Event

Response to Sisters’ Camelot Collective Statement

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From SCCU

On Thursday, May 2 the Sisters’ Camelot managing collective posted a long public statement on the internet addressing the current standoff between them and our striking union of canvass workers. Their statement is full of inaccurate information. Below are the most egregious inaccuracies, each with a concise explanation of the truth.

1. Sisters’ Camelot: “We operate as an egalitarian democracy where no one member has a larger voice than any other, and all participate equally in the decision-making process. Anyone in the in the community – including the canvassers – can become a member of our collective and therefore have a full voice in its operations.”

THE TRUTH: The collective has refused to allow some canvassers to join the collective when they showed interest. Other canvassers have decided the collective has been hostile towards them and the canvass in general. Many canvassers who have tried addressing canvass-related grievances through the collective process equate it to banging their head against a brick wall. Some canvassers are unable to attend Monday morning meetings because of obligations as parents, students, and workers at other jobs. The 6 collective members have hiring and firing power over us and the collective process has failed to address the grievances of canvassers, so we unionized to bring balance to the power dynamic in our workplace. Telling us to use the collective process is classic boss speak for telling workers they should go through pre-existing channels instead of unionizing.

2. SC: “After the group gave a list of demands (some, but not all, being reasonable), they gave the collective one hour to meet their demands. If not, they declared they would strike.”

THE TRUTH: In our first meeting with the managing collective after unionization, we (the union) carefully went through our demands and allowed them an hour to ask any clarifying questions about them. They chose to only ask a couple questions, using about 5 minutes worth of their allotted hour. Then we gave the collective another hour to discuss in private and expected negotiation to begin after that. We stated very clearly that we did not expect negotiations to finish that day; we just wanted them to move forward in good faith. We stated that we did not expect to get all of our demands; that many of them were flexible, and as long as negotiations went ahead in good faith we would not strike. The managing collective simply refused to negotiate with our union.

3. SC: “The canvassers’ overall approach and now “non-negotiable” demands are a direct attack on our consensus decision making process and the way in which Sisters’ Camelot functions. Their demands would force Sisters’ Camelot to become the kind of hierarchical structure that we have worked against for so long.”

THE TRUTH: It is true that we made a package-deal offer in an attempt to end the strike which included only 8 of our original 18 demands, but made them non-negotiable in the package deal. They refused. After receiving criticism for making the package-deal non-negotiable, we sent them a letter, email, and Facebook message asking for a counter-offer. As of yet, we have not received one.
Furthermore, our demands would actually make Sisters’ Camelot less hierarchical. They include abolishing the role of bosses within the organization, putting hiring and firing power over canvass workers in the hands of a committee composed of canvassers and collective members, decentralizing the role of the canvass director, and placing a rotating union representative on the collective.
Lastly, the outcome of negotiation between the canvass union and the collective and how the resulting compromises would affect Sisters’ Camelot is pure speculation since management has refused to ever negotiate with the union.

4. SC: “the tactics used by the canvass and the Twin Cities IWW are unacceptable at best and at worst endanger the well-being of not only the organization but also the safety of collective members, volunteers, and supporters. They have posted pictures, names, and phone numbers of collective members and community members they perceive as accomplices in our refusal to be bullied by their collective busting tactics including the cell phone number of someone the canvassers knew was hiding from a past domestic abuser.”

THE TRUTH: The tactics used in this campaign have been less aggressive than in typical union drives. Diverse escalation is standard practice for any striking union who wants to pressure the bosses to recognize the worker’s right to unionize by negotiating with the union. For instance, when a for-profit corporation refuses to negotiate with their workers’ union and fires a union member it is common to phone blast bosses &assisting union-busters, often in the first week of a strike. Out of respect for the personal relationships between some canvassers and collective members, we held off on these standard escalation steps for weeks. In truth, this so-called “aggressive tactic” has been used by supporters of the managing collective against bosses in past campaigns without moral objection. We recognize that this situation is unique because of personal ties that some members of the radical community have with collective members.
Some of us did not agree with making the union-busters website but did not block it out of feelings of desperation from economic violence perpetrated against us by bosses who have refused to recognize our union, forcing us to endure being on strike for a long period of time. Many of us feel the union-busters website was a mistake, and of course many mistakes have been made during this very hard and complicated campaign but that does not mean that we should not have the basic right as workers to organize a union.

Also the claim that we endangered a person who is hiding from a past domestic abuser and we knew it is completely unfair. The collective member they are talking about publicly read the statement firing a union member in front of dozens of people and has been quoted in the press, making herself a public figure in this struggle already. No canvassers were aware that any collective member was hiding from a past domestic abuser and as soon as this situation was mentioned to us, we removed the collective member’s telephone number from everything.

5. SC: “The IWW and canvassers have misrepresented the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to serve their purpose, ignoring those provisions that do not support their apparent goal of fundamentally altering a democratic institution in a completely undemocratic way.”

THE TRUTH: Although Sisters’ Camelot’s collective process was originally created to encourage workplace democracy, 6 people having power over 14 other workers who feel the collective process has failed them is not democracy. The workers decided the collective process failed to give them democratic input, so they unionized. The unionization was meant to increase workplace democracy, but not to affect the collective’s control over any aspect of Sisters’ Camelot other than the working conditions of the unionized canvassers.

6. SC: “Sisters’ Camelot is trying to retain its democratic structure and has therefore decided to legally respond rather than roll over to the canvassers’ non-negotiable demands.”

THE TRUTH: Our demands are negotiable. The management refuses to negotiate with the union and find out what compromises could be made. As stated above, we asked them for a counter-offer and have not yet received one.

7. SC: “The situation as a whole is one we would prefer not to fight before the NLRB or a court, but the canvassers’ choice to pursue this form of categorically inappropriate manner of government intervention has effectively tied our hands.”

THE TRUTH: This claim asserts that it is inappropriate to use the NLRB process to protect a worker’s rights when they think they have been illegally fired for union activity. The collective fired a union worker while on strike and made it clear in public statements that they will not rehire the worker without government intervention. Many people have died for the few basic workers rights that are protected by the NLRA, and asserting those rights through the process of the NLRB was clearly the fired worker’s last choice in self defense. This charge with the NLRB was not filed immediately, but two weeks after the firing. After it was filed, the union made it clear that we did not want to turn this into a protracted legal battle, and that the preferred outcome was for the collective to rehire the union worker so we could retract the Unfair Labor Practice. Even now, the collective could choose to settle out of court.

8. SC: “Contrary to what the canvassers have stated, the NLRB has not decided anything. Rather, an investigator in the NLRB’s Minneapolis regional office made an initial determination that Sisters’ Camelot may be an employer engaged in interstate commerce. We believe that initial determination is wrong. The investigator does not have the power or authority to speak for the NLRB or to make any legal determinations, that job is left to a judge who reviews all of the evidence and makes a decision. Often the judge concludes the investigator’s initial determination is wrong.”

THE TRUTH: The NLRB investigator made a decision (or determination) that the job and workplace meet the criteria for the workers to be protected by national labor law, and therefore that the firing of a union member on strike is retaliatory and illegal. The NLRB does not make these decisions lightly and without thorough investigation. The NLRB also does not make these decisions unless they feel a judge will back it up with a court-order, but the NLRB always seeks to find a settlement agreement with the employer. In most cases the employer settles out of court, but when they do not a court order is sought by the NLRB. The NLRB’s decisions are rarely overturned. (Also, they contradict themselves: above they claim that “the NLRB has not decided anything,” but below they state, “We are contesting the decision of the NLRB’s Minneapolis regional office.”)

9. SC: “evidence demonstrates that Sisters’ Camelot is not an employer and is not engaged in interstate commerce. We are confident that a judge reviewing the evidence in light of the law will agree with us. We are contesting the decision of the NLRB’s Minneapolis regional office because we do not feel its decision is consistent with the law or the values of Sisters’ Camelot. Settlement no longer makes any legal or financial sense if the organization is going to survive in its current democratic state.”

THE TRUTH: Sisters’ Camelot and their well-known union-busting lawyer are looking for an obscure legal loophole to argue that the workers are not protected by basic labor law and do not have the right to unionize. If Sisters’ Camelot’s management actually believes the workers should not be protected by basic labor law and should not have the right to unionize– what does that mean for the values of Sisters’ Camelot and whether or not they actually care about workplace democracy?

10. WHAT SISTERS’ CAMELOT IS SCARED TO TALK ABOUT:
Sisters’ Camelot’s managing collective is working with a notorious right wing union-busting lawyer named John C Hauge. This lawyer is working for free (pro-bono).

In the past John C Hauge has:
-silenced victims of sexual harassment,
-prevented a boss from paying compensation to the family of a worker who died on the job,
-decertified unions,
-and taken pensions away from union workers.

His website brags about helping employers keep workplaces union-free. This lawyer has his own right-wing agenda and obviously does not care about the values of Sisters’ Camelot. The collective is choosing to work with this right-wing lawyer instead of respecting worker’s basic right to organize a union.