Article 43

 

American Solidarity

American Solidarity - Time To Stand Up

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Shift Change

image: millenials and boomers

...the plan announced October 13 by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to hand over $250 billion in taxpayer money to the biggest banks, in exchange for non-voting stock, was never really intended to get them to resume lending to businesses and consumers--the ostensible purpose of the bailout. Its essential aim was to engineer a rapid consolidation of the American banking system by subsidizing a wave of takeovers of smaller financial firms by the most powerful banks.
- The Dirty Little Secret Of The US Bank Bailout, October 29, 2008

Economist Richard Wolff is a proponent of democracy at work: an alternative capitalism that thrives on workers directing their own workplaces. In the documentary film Shift Change, producers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young tell the stories of successful cooperative businesses from Spain to San Francisco. We caught up with Dworkin and Young to find out what makes cooperative businesses work. 

Theresa Riley: What drew you to this topic as filmmakers? Why did you want to make this film?

Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young: As filmmakers we don’t just expose problems. We want to help people find solutions. In 2002 we were in Argentina at the height of their economic crisis, and in hundreds of workplaces which had closed, workers took over the company, went back to work, and made a go of it. These examples made quite an impression on us, and we featured their stories in two films: Argentina - Hope in Hard Times and Argentina Turning Around. A friend who saw the Argentina documentaries suggested that we learn more about the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain. When we did, we were moved and inspired by this successful model of worker ownership and its potential to change the culture of work not just in Spain but around the world. Our investigations revealed that there are hundreds of thriving worker cooperatives that promote economic democracy right here in North America, but they are little known.

Riley: How many businesses in America are worker-owned?

Dworkin and Young: Employee ownership in the U.S. is much more widespread than usually understood, with at least 11,000 such businesses in operation. Many are Employee Stock Ownership Plans or ESOPs, where employees own part or all of the company. Introduced under President Nixon, this is one way for private companies to transition to employee ownership. ESOPs may or may not be democratic and participatory places to work. Worker cooperatives are both owned and managed by their workers - one worker, one vote. According to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, currently there are about 400 worker cooperatives in the U.S. They operate many types of businesses, mainly services, and are growing especially among Latino immigrants and in working class communities.

Riley: Most of the businesses you visited in the film seemed to have weathered the economic downturn of recent years. But have some co-ops failed? How do privately-owned small businesses and worker-owned businesses compare? Do they fail less often?

Dworkin and Young: One of the challenges faced by cooperative businesses is that they have to survive in the larger economic system, over which they have little control. Worker co-ops in Mondragon and in the U.S. have done better than other similar sized businesses in the current economic crisis. When sales and profits are down, worker owners dont just close the doors. People take a hard look and try to figure out what they can do to make things better - such as adding new products or finding ways to improve efficiency and productivity. At any given time some co-ops are doing better than others, depending on the industry in which they operate. So in Mondragon each year co-ops that are profitable pay into a “rainy day fund,” and co-ops that are going through hard times are able to withdraw funds to help them out. In co-ops where business is slow, members can often find temporary work in co-ops that are doing better. And since workers own and manage the company, they may agree to reduce their pay on a temporary basis until business picks up again. That way nobody has to lose their job. Cooperative networks that function in a similar way are just beginning in the U.S.

Riley: The film makes it look like co-ops are pretty smooth operationally.

Dworkin and Young: Most of the co-ops we chose have proven themselves. They’ve had decades to learn how to operate smoothly. New employees go through a probationary period, from as little as six months to a couple of years, during which they discover if they like working in a cooperative environment, and current co-op members can decide if they think the new employee would work out. After this trial period the person generally has to apply for membership and be voted in by existing members. At that point the new member needs to make an investment in the company, usually ranging from $500 to $20,000, with about 10 percent paid in cash and the rest from payroll deductions. People who would not feel comfortable in this environment weed themselves out. People who have shown they donҒt work well cooperatively are not asked to join. New members then get training in co-op management. So there are various stages of selection and development to make sure that co-op members have the temperament and the skill to work together smoothly.

In the U.S. we learn from an early age to navigate hierarchical social structures, and we have lots of practice competing but little practice cooperating. So we have a lot to learn in order to make cooperatives a success. But many people are willing to make the effort. We have participatory instincts that are stifled in the dominant economy. One friend lit up when I told him that in worker cooperatives, people are encouraged to put forward their ideas about how to make the company better. Thats sure different, he said; everywhere I have ever worked you’re best off if you keep your head down and your mouth shut. So I wouldnt say that workers are resistant to cooperation, but rather our cooperative instincts are suppressed and trained out of us. To help overcome this, all of the co-ops we visited place a high priority on initial training and ongoing leadership development of their members. And it works.

Riley: What happens when agreement can’t be reached? Or when consensus leads to failed strategy?

Dworkin and Young: Worker co-ops are organized and run by their members and they have very different management structures. Those that manage by consensus, such as the Arizmendi Bakeries profiled in our film, tend to be small. Members can meet with one another face to face and on short notice to deal with problems and correct them. Most co-ops around Mondragon and the larger ones in the U.S. tend to have professional management that operates much the same as management in a conventional enterprise. The key difference is that the co-op board of directors is elected by the employees. Nobody who does not work in the co-op has a say in how the business is run, so the co-op tends to serve the needs and wishes of its members as opposed to absentee owners. Everyone has an incentive to work constructively together and help the business succeed.

But as Fred Freundlich, a professor we interviewed at Mondragon University offered, Broad democratic management doesn’t solve all human problems. When major disagreements do arise, “The ownership and governance structures in those enterprises, that they’re democratic, that they’re more participatory, helps ameliorate these problems, even if it doesn’t make them go away.”

Riley: What can we learn from places where it has not worked?

Dworkin and Young: The history of worker co-ops in this country is mixed. Many got started in the late 19th and early 20th century with the arrival of immigrant groups. In our region of the Pacific Northwest, there were a lot of cooperative plywood mills. Many of these failed because they had not made provisions for the business to survive as a cooperative long term, after the original members retired.

Weve heard of companies begun in a wave of optimism in the 1970s that failed for either of two basic reasons. Some were not businesslike enough (there was not a good market for their product, their product or service was not of sufficient quality, or they didn’t manage finances, time, and materials well). Others were not cooperative enough (they were such successful businesses that they were bought up by a large corporation and ceased to be a part of the cooperative economy). Newer co-ops have learned from past co-op failures and designed programs to overcome them. They have become sophisticated businesses that are more agile and nimble than conventional firms while retaining their co-op purpose. Technical assistance is available from experienced experts in terms of how to convert a regular business to one that is employee owned and even more successful in the future. And to discourage co-ops from selling out to corporations for a big profit, in many cases, if the co-op should be sold, members can only recover the funds they have invested with a modest return, but any profits above that have to be given to other co-ops or public interest organizations.

Riley: What aspects of co-op workplaces can non-co-ops adopt? How would we get started here at Moyers & Company, for instance? Any tools we can share with our audience?

Dworkin and Young: Nearly all workplaces, even those which are not owned by their employees, can still be more democratic. They can invite ideas and criticisms from staff without penalizing someone who challenges (constructively) how things are currently done in an effort to do things better. Decision making and finances can be more transparent, so every employee has an idea of the risks and limitations that the enterprise faces and their own contribution to that. Performance evaluations which are traditionally between an employee and a supervisor can also include peers, customers, etc. And even a non-cooperative institution can be devoted to the common good above and beyond the short term gain for that enterprise. We now have B corporations in various states where a commitment to solving environmental and social problems is enshrined in the corporate legal structure alongside financial profit. Many employee-owned businesses allow workers to spend a given percentage of their paid work time either improving their own skills or examining ways to improve the business. That is also something conventional businesses and non-profits could do.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/11/17 •
Section American Solidarity • Section Job Hunt
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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Book: Down and Out in the New Economy

image: Down And Out in the New Economy

Homeless and Unemployed in an Economy We’re Supposed to Think Is Liberating
In Ilana Gershon’s new book ”DOWN AND OUT IN THE NEW ECONOMY,” the employer power dynamic is called into question.

By Ilana Gershon
University of Chicago Press
April 27, 2017

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Dont Find) Work Today by Ilana Gershon (University of Chicago Press, April 2017):

Chris, an independent contractor in his midfifties, knows a lot about what it means to deal with an unstable job market, especially during those moments when you are between gigs and don’t know when you are going to get the next one. There was a period in 2012 where he hadn’t had a contracting job for a while, and he had no idea how he was going to pay his rent. He realized he might be able to make his rent for another month, but if he didn’t get a job soon, he might be homeless. He decided that he needed to get his body ready for this very likely possibility. I started to sleep on the floor a few hours each night, as long as I could take it, so I could get used to sleeping on a sidewalk or on the dirt. That’s how bad it looked. It just seemed hopeless, Chris said. Out of the blue, a staffing agency based in India contacted him and offered him a contract in the Midwest, giving him enough money to make it through this bad patch. But this stark moment, in which he saw homelessness around the corner, is part and parcel of the downside of careers made up of temporary jobs. Chris responded to this possibility in the way that you are supposed to if you are constantly enhancing yourself. He began to train his body for living on the streets, realizing that he needed to learn how to sleep without a bed. He was determined to be flexible and to adapt to potential new circumstances. Seeing the self as a bundle of skills, in practice, means that for some people enhancing your skills involves training yourself to survive being homeless. This too is a logical outcome of our contemporary employment model.

I have studied how people are responding to this new way of thinking about work and what it means to be a worker. In the United States, people are moving away from thinking that when they enter into an employment contract, they are metaphorically renting their capacities to an employer for a bounded period of time. Many people are no longer using a notion of the self-as-rented-property as an underlying metaphor and are starting to think of themselves as though they are a business, although not everyone likes this new metaphor or accepts all its implications. When you switch to thinking about the employment contract as a business-to-business relationship, much changes - how you present yourself as a desirable employee, what it means to be a good employer, what your relationships with your coworkers should be like, the relationship between a job and a career, and how you prepare yourself for the future.

The self-as-business metaphor makes a virtue of flexibility as well as the practical ways people might respond in their daily lives to conditions of instability and insecurity. As Gina Neff points out in Venture Labor, the model encourages people to embrace risk as a positive, even sought-out, element of how they individually should craft a career. Each time you switch jobs, you risk. You don’t know the amount of time you will have at a job before having to find a new one, and you risk how lucky you will be at getting that job and the next job. And with every job transition, you risk the salary that you might make. If there is a gap between jobs, then some people will find that they no longer experience a reliable, steady, upward trajectory in their salaries as they navigate the contemporary job market. Yet this is what you are now supposed to embrace as liberating.

Chris’s experiences cycling between employment and increasing periods of unemployment was a familiar story for me. I interviewed so many people in their late forties to early sixties who had a few permanent jobs early in their careers. But as companies increasingly focused on having a more transient workforce, these white-collar workers found their career trajectories veering from what they first thought their working life would look like. They thought that they might climb the organizational ladder in one or maybe even three companies over the course of their lifetime. Instead, they found that at some point in their mid to late forties, they started having shorter and shorter stints at different companies. The jobs, some would say, would last as long as a project. And as they grew older, the gaps between permanent jobs could start growing longer and longer. They struggled to make do, often using up their savings or selling their homes as they hoped to get the next job. Some started to find consulting jobs in order to make ends meet before landing the hoped-for permanent job, and then found themselves trapped on the consulting trackliving only in the gig economy. True, not everyone felt like contracting was plan B, the option they had to take because of bad luck. In their book about contractors, Steve Barley and Gideon Kunda talk about the people they interviewed who actively chose this life. I met these people too, but they weren’t the majority of the job seekers I interviewed. Because I was studying people looking for a wide range of types of jobs, instead of studying people who already had good relationships with staffing agencies that provided consultants, I tended to meet people who felt their bad luck had backed them into becoming permanent freelancers. These were people who encountered the self-as-business metaphor as a relatively new model, one they felt they actively had to learn in order to survive in today’s workplace, as opposed to the younger people I interviewed, many of whom had grown up with the self-as-business model as their primary way to understand employment.

When you think of the employment contract in a new way, you often have to revisit what counts as moral behavior, since older frameworks offer substantively different answers to questions of moral business practice. People have to decide what it means for a company to behave well under this new framework. Consider the self-as-business model. What does a good company do to help its workers enhance themselves as allied businesses? What are the limits in what a company should do? What counts as exploitation under this new model? Can businesses do things that count as exploitation or bad practices now that might not have been considered problems earlier, or not considered problems for the same reasons (and thus are regulated or resolved differently)? Businesses are certainly deeply concerned that workersҒ actions both at work and outside of work could threaten the companys brand, a new worry - but this is the tip of the iceberg. And the moral behavior of companies isnt the only issue. Can workers exploit the companies they align with now or behave badly toward them in new ways?

Yet while these two metaphors - the self-as-property and the self-as-business - encourage people to think about employment in different ways, there are still similarities in how the metaphors ask people to think about getting hired. In both cases, the metaphors are focusing on market choices and asking people to operate by a market logic. Deciding whether to rent your capacities is a slightly different question than deciding whether to enter into a business alliance with someone, but in both instances you are expected to make a decision based on the costs and benefits involved in the decision. In addition, both metaphorical contracts presume that people enter into these contracts as equals, and yet this equality doesn’t last in practice once you are hired. In most jobs, the moment you are hired, you are in a hierarchical relationship; you are taking orders from a boss. Some aspects of working have changed because of this shift in frameworks, but many aspects have stayed the same.

Avoiding Corporate Nostalgia

I talked to people who were thoughtfully ambivalent about this transition in the metaphors underlying employment. They didn’t like their current insecurity, but they pointed out that earlier workplaces weren’t ideal either. Before, people often felt trapped in jobs they disliked and confronted with office politics that were alienating and demoralizing. Like many people today, they dealt with companies in which they were constantly encountering sexism and racism. Not everyone had equal opportunities to move into the jobs they wanted or to be promoted or acknowledged for the work that they did well.

However, as anthropologist Karen Ho points out, when you have a corporate ladder that excludes certain groups of people, you also have a structure that you can potentially reform so that these groups will in the future have equal opportunities. When you have no corporate ladder, when all you have is the uncertainty of moving between companies or between freelance jobs - you no longer have a clear structure to target if you want to make a workplace a fairer environment. If there is more gender equality in the US workplace these days than there was thirty years ago, it is in part because corporate structures were stable enough and reformers stayed at companies long enough that specific business practices could be effectively targeted and reformed. Part of what has changed about workplaces today is that there has been a transformation in the kinds of solutions available to solve workplace problems.

I see what people said to me about their preference for the kinds of guarantees and rights people used to have at work as a form of critique, not a form of nostalgia. People didn’t necessarily want to return to the way things used to be. When people talked to me nostalgically about how workplaces used to function, it was often because they valued the protections they used to be able to rely on and a system they knew well enough to be able to imagine how to change it for the better.

Many people I spoke to were very unhappy with the contemporary workplace’s increasing instability. They worried a great deal about making it financially through the longer and longer dry spells of unemployment between jobs. I talked to a man who was doing reasonably well that year as a consultant, and he began reflecting on what the future would hold for his children. He didn’t want them to follow in his footsteps and become a computer programmer, because too many people like him were contingent workers. He wanted them to have their own families and reasoned: “If everybody thinks they can be laid-off in two weeks, how would they feel confident enough to be a parent and know that they’e got twenty-one years of consistent investment?”

It is not that the people I spoke to necessarily wanted older forms of work. What many wanted was stability. No matter how many times people are told to embrace being flexible, to embrace risk, in practice many of the people I spoke to did not actually want to live with the downsides of this riskier life. The United States does not have enough safety nets in place to protect you during the moments when life doesnt work out. Because you are supposed to be looking for a new job regularly over the course of a lifetime, the opportunities when you might become dramatically downwardly mobile increase. There are more possible moments in which you have to enhance your skills at surviving on much less money or even living rough.

Changing Notions of What Counts as a Good Employment Relationship

When people are thought of as businesses, significant aspects of the employment relationship change. The genre repertoire you use to get a job alters to reflect this understanding as you use resumes, interview answers, and other genres to represent yourself as a bundle of business solutions that can address the hiring company’s market-specific temporary needs. Networking has changed what it means to manage your social relationships so that you can stay employed has shifted. Some people I met are now arguing that you treat the companies you are considering joining in the same way you would treat any other business investment: in terms of the financial and career risk involved in being allied with this company.

It is not just that you evaluate jobs differently when you know that your job is temporary - deciding you can put up with some kinds of inconveniences but not others. Instead, you see the job as a short-term investment of time and labor, and the job had better pay off - perhaps by providing you with new skills, new networks, or a new way of framing your work experiences that makes you potentially more desirable for the next job. What if this new framework allows workers to have new expectations of their employers, or can safeguard workers’ interests in new ways? If you have this perspective, what are the new kinds of demands that employees could potentially make of employers?

For Tom, this new vision of self-as-business was definitely guiding how he was judging the ways companies treated him and what was appropriate behavior. I first contacted Tom because I heard through the grapevine that he refused to use LinkedIn. I was curious, as I had been doing research for seven months by that point and only came across one other person who was not using LinkedIn (and has since rejoined). We talked about his refusal, and he explained to me that LinkedIn didn’t seem to offer enough in return for his data. He clearly saw himself in an exchange relationship with LinkedIn, providing data for it to use and in return having access to the platform. Fair enough, I thought: as far as I can tell, the data scientists at LinkedIn and Facebook whom I have met see the exchange relationship in similar ways. Yet Tom decided that what LinkedIn offered wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t worth providing the company with his personal data. So I asked him about various other sites that he might use in which the exchange might be more equitable, and he lit up talking about these other sites. For Tom, because he saw himself as a business, and viewed his data as part of his assets, he was ready to see LinkedIn as offering a bad business arrangement, one he didn’t want to accept. The self-as-business framework allowed him to see the use of certain platforms as instances of participating in business alliances. Some alliances he was willing to enter into, but not all.

This wasn’t his only encounter with a potentially exploitative business arrangement. He typically worked as an independent contractor, and a company asked him to come in for a job interview. When he got there, his interviewer explained that the position was a sweat equity job - Tom wouldn’t get a salary, but rather he would get equity in the company in exchange for his labor. “Okay” he replied. “So what is your business model?” His interviewer was surprised and discomforted to be asked this. He refused to answer; employees don’t need to know the details of the company’s business model, he said. Tom felt that this was wrong; because he was being asked to be an investor in the company - admittedly with his labor instead of with money, he felt should be given the same financial details that any other investor in a company would expect before signing on. It sounded to me like Tomגs interviewer was caught between two models: wanting the possible labor arrangements now available but unwilling to adjust whom he told what. The interviewer was not willing to follow through on the implications of this new model of employment, and as a result, Tom wasnt willing to take the job. This is one way in which the self-as-business model offers a new way to talk about what counts as exploitation and as inappropriate behavior - behavior that might not have been an issue decades ago, or would have been a problem for different reasons (perhaps because a couple of decades ago, few people found sweat equity an acceptable arrangement).

But this new model also opens up the possibility that companies can have obligations to their employees that they did not have in the same way before. Since companies often dont offer stable employment, they now provide a temporary venue for people to express their passion and to enhance themselves. Can this look like an obligation that businesses have to their workers? Perhaps - businesses could take seriously what it means to provide workers with the opportunities to enhance themselves. Michael Feher argues that if people are now supposed to see themselves as human capital, there should be a renewed focus on what good investment in people looks like - regardless of whether workers stay at a single company.

SHOULD COMPANIES now help provide TRAINING for an employee’s next job? Throughout the twentieth century, companies understood that they had to provide their workers training in order for them to do their job at the company to their best of their ability. Internal training made sense both for the company’s immediate interests and for the company’s ability to retain a supply of properly trained workers over the life of the company. Now that jobs are so temporary, who is responsible for training workers is a bit more up in the air. Yet some companies are beginning to offer support for workers to train, not for the benefit of the company, but so that workers can pursue their passion, should they discover that working at that company is not their passion. Amazon, for example, in 2012 began to provide training for employees who potentially want radically different jobs. Jeff Bezo’s explained in his 2014 letter to shareholders: We pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable “choice.” It makes sense for a company to support its workers learning skills for a completely different career only under the contemporary perspective that people are businesses following their passions in temporary alliances with companies.

This model of self-as-business might give workers some new language to protest business practices that keep them from enhancing themselves or entering into as many business alliances as they would like. For example, just-in-time scheduling in practice is currently preventing retail workers from getting enough hours so that they can earn as much as they would like to in a week. This type of scheduling means that workers only find out that week how many hours they are working and when. They cant expect to have certain hours reliably free, and they need to be available whenever their employer would like them to work. Marc Doussard has found that good workers are rewarded with more hours at work. While white-collar workers might get better pay in end-of-the-year bonuses for seeming passionate, retail workers get more hours in the week. If workers make special requests to have certain hours, Doussard discovered, their managers will often punish them in response, by either giving them fewer hours to work or only assigning them to shifts they find undesirable. In practice, this means that workers have trouble holding two jobs or taking classes to improve themselves, as unpredictable shifts will inevitably conflict with each other or class times. Predictable work hours, in short, are essential for being able to plan for the future - either to make sure you are working enough hours in the week to support yourself or to educate yourself for other types of jobs. Since companies are now insisting that people imagine themselves as businesses, what would happen if workers protested when companies dont allow them to “invest in themselves” or when they are thwarted from having as many business partnerships (that is, jobs) as possible? Perhaps employees should now be able to criticize and change employers’ practices when they are prevented from being the best businesses they can be because of their employers workplace strategies.

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Posted by Elvis on 05/04/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations • Section American Solidarity • Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy • Section Microsoft And Windows • Section Job Hunt • Section News • Section Telecom Underclass • Section Dying America
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book: Strike Back

strikeback.jpg

Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labors Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today

During the 1960s and 1970s, teachers, sanitation workers and many other public employees rose up to demand collective bargaining rights in one of the greatest upsurges in labor history. These workers were able to transform the nature of public employment, winning union recognition for millions and ultimately forcing reluctant politicians to pass laws allowing for collective bargaining and even the right to strike. STRIKE BACK uncovers this history of militancy to provide tactics for a new generation of public employees facing unprecedented attacks on their labor rights.

When I read Joe Burns’ Reviving the Strike I thought that was the definitive book. But Strike Back must be included in the canon. For those of us who are new to the labor movement or who have just forgotten the gains made during the 60s and 70’s, this book puts it all into perspective. From the careful reconstruction of the historical events to his analysis of those events, Joe Burns provides us with a clear roadmap to what type of unionism it will take to get working people engaged with communities and back to real prosperity.
- Karen GJ Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1

Joe BurnsӒ account of the public sector labor breakthroughs in the 1960s and 70s provides a timely reminder of what it will take to defend and extend past union gains that are now greatly endangered. Too many public employee unions have forgotten their own history and/or kept their own members in the dark about it. Strike Back is the perfect cure for such organizational memory loss!Ҕ
- Steve Early, former organizer for the Communications Workers of America and author of Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress

In Strike Back, Joe Burns shows us that labor unions searching for new strategies and tactics to reverse this escalating trend need look no further than the all-but-forgotten labor history of the 1960s and Ӓ70s. This book provides a thought provoking historical look back at how public employee unions took an aggressive and fresh approach to fight back and build support during that tumultuous era. All union members should read this book to learn from our past and build a stronger and more effective labor movement now and in the future.
- Larry Hanley, International President, Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO/CLC

ԓNobody better understands the vital role of the strike or the injustice of anti-strike laws than Joe Burns. If you think that economic inequality is a problem in the United States, read this book.
- James Gray Pope, Professor of Law & Sidney Reitman Scholar, Rutgers University School of Law

Joe Burns is the author of Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America. A veteran union negotiator and labor lawyer, he has negotiated contracts in the airline and health care industries. He has a law degree from New York University, and currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Posted by Elvis on 07/20/14 •
Section American Solidarity
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Volkswagen Workers Become UAW Members

REMEMBER those anti-american politicians bad-mouthing unions and scaring people to voting the UAW out even when Volkswagen was begging them not to?

There’s a great ending to the story.

And a great beginning for the union/company partnership.

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UAW charters Local 42 at Volkswagen in Chattanooga

Juny 10. 2014

he UAW today ANNOUNCED the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local union providing representation for employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

Organized by Volkswagen employees, Local 42 offers workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace through the German automakers “works council” approach to employee engagement. Volkswagen’s business model is premised on employee representation, and Local 42 will represent any interested employees who join the local as members. No employees will be required to join.

“Earlier this year, the UAW was gratified to earn the confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members,” said Dennis Williams, president of the UAW. “At that time, we said we would not give up on these committed and hard-working employees. We’e keeping our promise.”

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, who previously served as director of UAW Region 8 covering the South, emphasized: “Local 42 will be run by, and for, the employees at Volkswagen.”

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” Casteel said. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members union that represents those employees who join the local. As part of this consensus, the UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s expansion and growth in Chattanooga.”

UAW officials renewed requests for the State of Tennessee to extend the economic incentives necessary for Volkswagen to add a new product line at the Chattanooga plant, and said the union will continue advocating for increased investment. “State officials have assured the public and the Volkswagen workforce that the decision on incentives for Chattanooga is not related to whether workers exercise their right to join a union,” said Ray Curry, the newly elected director of UAW Region 8. “We are gratified by those assurances, and the state was right to give them.”:

UAW officials reiterated the reasoning for recently withdrawing objections to the February election at the plant, which was tainted by outside interference. ”As Volkswagen’s works council partner, the UAW’s role is to encourage job creation and promote job security so that Volkswagen employees can achieve the American dream and Chattanoogas economy can prosper,” Casteel said. “We withdrew objections to end the controversy and put the focus where it belongs: obtaining the economic incentives necessary to ensure the growth of Volkswagen in Chattanooga and the addition of a new product line.”

Volkswagen employees formally announced Local 42 at an afternoon news conference, and immediately began communicating with fellow team members and with the plants management about next steps in advancing the works council partnership.

“Being part of the creation of an American-style works council is a chance to do something new and different,” said Michael Cantrell, a Volkswagen paint technician. “This is about securing good jobs for the future of the plant and Chattanooga, and building lasting partnerships between management and team members.”

Additionally, Local 42 members pledged to get involved in the community - as UAW members have done in other communities across the country to support charitable causes, youth programs and other local needs. דI see Local 42 as an opportunity to give back to Chattanooga and southeast Tennessee, said Myra Montgomery, a quality inspector in the Volkswagen plant. “As our membership grows, people are going to see us very active in this community.”

Local 42 members declared workforce development to be a top priority, and said they would work with Volkswagen and the UAW to organize job-training opportunities so that employees can continually expand their skills as new technologies emerge and manufacturing processes change.

“Having access to the UAW’s expertise and support will keep the plant competitive and will keep our workforce on the cutting edge of productivity and quality,” said Jonathan Walden, who works in the Volkswagen plant’s paint department. “The members of Local 42 are ready to roll up our sleeves and focus on the future.”

United Automobile Workers (UAW) has more than 390,000 members and more than 750 local unions across America. Since its founding in 1935, the UAW has developed partnerships with employers and supported industry-leading wages and benefits for its members.

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Posted by Elvis on 07/13/14 •
Section American Solidarity
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Sad Day For American Solidarity

I may hate the CWA and SOME OTHER UNIONS for their expressions of CORPORATE UNIONISM and SCREWING ME and a bunch of other AT&T technicians ten years ago, but I strongly SUPPORT the NEED FOR UNIONS and solidarity.

So, why did the VW autoworkers In Tennessee just vote down the UAW?

I think their reasons are a little different than mine.

Here’s a HINT:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-What Else?) told workers “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.”

The pervasiveness of a fearing, fragmented, selfish society is driving even into the shared interests of working class Americans to the ground.

Even the owners want a union.

Detriot Free Press TELLS US:

Volkswagen has said it favors the creation of a German-style works council, which gives workers a voice on a variety of product and other decisions. Under U.S. law, a union must represent employees for a company to form a works council.

“VW has shown that they can have a great relationship with unions. They do it all over the world,”

One leader of the Republican-controlled Tennessee state Senate threatened this week to block any incentives for future Volkswagen investment in Chattanooga if a majority of workers voted for the union.

Robert Reich REMINDS US:

the community was solidly behind us - that is, until Bridgestone-Firestone threatened to close the plant if we didn’t back down.

A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.

The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class. But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation.

This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America - so-called “red states” where the old working class has been voting Republican. Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation. But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.

This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding Medicaid, against raising the minimum wage, against extended unemployment insurance, and against jobs bills that would put people to work, continue to be elected and re-elected.

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UAW’s Critical Southern Drive Falters After Historic Vote At VW Plant In Tennessee

By Dan Bigman
Forbes
February 15, 2014

The United Auto Workers suffered their most CRUSHING defeat in a generation Friday night when workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted against unionizing their shop. The vote was seen as a critical test of the UAWs ability to organize in the South, which is fast becoming America’s new manufacturing center of gravity.

Employees rejected the UAW 712 to 626, the culmination of a months-long battle that pit the union against local politicians, including Governor Bill Haslam and the states Republican legislature, who feared that unionization threatened Tennessee’s ability to compete for business against rival states.

But with the Volkswagen plant, based in Chattanooga, the union saw an opening in the traditional anti-union bastion of the south. VW works hand-in-hand with labor in plants worldwide through works councils in which management and workers both participate in setting policy for running the factories. VW was hoping to create a similar arrangement in Tennessee, and, while not backing the unionization drive, did not stand in its way, either. The company had urged third parties not to interfere with the vote.

Nonetheless, workers seemed to feel they didn’t need the UAW, and many told reporters present at the vote that they blamed the collapse of Detroit’s automakers on the predominance of the union there.

It was a particularly stinging defeat for UAW president Bob King, who has been focused on the South as they lynchpin of future union growth thanks to a boom in auto manufacturing there. Since the late 1970s, UAW membership has been more than cut in half to under 400,000 members as U.S. automakers reeled.

Meanwhile, a host of foreign automakers from VW to Daimler to Toyota and Hyundai have set up shop in the largely anti-union South, with brand new facilities, some of which are among the most advanced factories in the world, leading a to renaissance in the U.S. auto industryand capturing 30% of all U.S. auto sales. Competitive labor costs, access to capital and a host of incentives from Southern states eager to attract manufacturing have fueled the boom.

To keep the union relevant long-term, the UAW needs to make inroads into these plants, and the VW vote was critical to that effort. דWere obviously deeply disappointed,Ҕ King told reporters at a news conference after the vote.

Local officials, who fought the vote, had a different take, obviously. Needless to say, I am thrilled for the employees at Volkswagen and for our community and its future,Ӕ said U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who helped attract the $1 billion plant to his town the first place.

SOURCE

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UAW rejected in organizing vote at VW plant in Tenn.
2-year old bid falls short by 87 votes

By Gabe Nelson
Automotive News
February 14, 2014

Workers at Volkswagen AG’s plant here voted to reject UAW representation, dealing a devastating loss to a union that saw the Tennessee factory as its best chance to gain a toehold at a foreign-owned assembly plant in the South.

Results of the vote—712 opposed to the UAW and 626 in favor—were released late Friday by retired Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne after three days of voting at the plant, where the company builds the Passat sedan.

Volkswagen said 89 percent of approximately 1,500 workers eligible to vote participated in the election.

“While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement.

The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the voting, must still certify the results.

Volkswagen did not resist the two-year organizing drive, which made it unusually easy for the UAW to win workers’ support for a vote.

Still, the election attracted widespread national attention from third-party union supporters and opponents, and they spent the past few weeks trying to sway the outcome with billboards, radio spots and other messages.

Some elected officials in Tennessee opposed to the unionization drive also worried that a UAW win would undermine the state’s ability to attract future private investment and jobs. In some cases, they threatened to withhold future incentives for VW if the union was successful.

UAW leaders said they appear to have lost some of their support this week when some Republican leaders in the state suggested a union victory might hurt chances for an expansion at the plant.

“We started to see some movement when the governor made his comments [indicating the union could hurt economic development],” Dennis Williams, secretary treasurer for the UAW, said after the vote. “Then Sen. (Bob) Corker who said he was not going to get involved came back [to Chattanooga] and had a press conference. We had a feeling that something was happening.”

Outraged

Williams and other UAW leaders were outraged that politicians and outside special interest groups “interfered with the basic legal right of workers to form a union.

“We’re proud that these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside,” Williams, who directs the union’s transnational program, said. “We hope this will start a larger discussion about workers’ right to organize.”

King told reporters after the results were released that the union will decide in the next few days whether to appeal the vote on grounds it was influenced by outside parties.

“What I hope the American public understands is that those people who attacked us were attacking labor-management cooperation. They don’t believe in workers and management working together. We believe in that. And we believe the workers here will ultimately prevail,” King said.

“It’s never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the House, a leader of the Legislature here, would threaten the company with no incentives, threaten workers with a loss of product. We think that’s outrageous,” King added. “We’ll look at all of our options in the next few days.”

Some workers who voted no also cited the two-tier wage contracts at Detroit 3 factories and noted that some VW workers in Chattanooga make more than new U.S. hires at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler plants.

Other workers singled out a clause in a UAW-VW neutrality agreement signed in January as part of the organizing drive. In the event of a union win, the clause called for “maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that [VW Chattanooga] enjoys relative to its competitors in the United States and North America.”

For some employees, that meant wages and benefits could be prevented from getting too high compared to other U.S. auto plants, including those operated by the unionized Detroit 3.

“The difference in the vote ... was people hunting down the information to make an intelligence decision, not just listening to your buddy,” King said. “Of course, if you don’t win, you review your strategy.”

Long odds grow

The UAW, whose membership has dwindled from 1.5 million in 1979 to about 400,000 today, now faces even longer odds in its decades-long quest to organize workers at auto factories that foreign companies including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have opened across the South since the 1980s.

If results of the vote withstand legal challenges, the outcome also will diminish the legacy of King, who took the union’s helm in 2010, a year after General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy.

King vowed to ingrain the union with a more collaborative culture than the one that he conceded had played a role in the Detroit auto industry’s decline.

A key test of that vow was the union’s ability to branch out from GM, Ford and Chrysler factories—a traditional stronghold—and recruit workers at plants operated by foreign automakers such as VW, the world’s second-largest automaker after Toyota.

In the months before the vote, King personally made inroads with labor leaders in Germany and reached an accord with top Volkswagen AG officials under which the UAW agreed to help form a “works council” at the Chattanooga factory.

The council, a collaboration between management and workers, would have been similar to ones at other VW plants worldwide.

UAW organizers on the ground here went into the election confident after securing signed union cards of support from a majority of the Chattanooga plant’s workers.

But when workers cast their secret ballots, a slight majority—53 percent of those voting—decided to keep the plant running as it does now, without the UAW.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which opposed the organizing bid, claimed the union and Volkswagen’s German management “colluded for over two years to stack the deck against the workers” and allow a rapid-fire election.

“If UAW union officials cannot win when the odds are so stacked in their favor, perhaps they should reevaluate the product they are selling to workers,” Mix said in a statement.

After the tally was announced, a hundred or so dejected union supporters milled around the IBEW hall that had been the UAW’s organizing center, consoling one another about the outcome.

Rapid expansion

The vote at VW is another stinging setback for the UAW, which was rebuffed by a 2-to-1 ratio in its last secret-ballot election at a foreign automaker’s U.S. assembly plant—Nissan’s factory in Smyrna, Tenn., in 2001.

And the UAW’s ongoing attempt to recruit workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., and a Nissan factory in Canton, Miss.—it faces management opposition at both sites—now appears harder to achieve.

“While far from a death knell, this latest defeat suggests a turbulent future for an organization that has steadily lost membership and influence over the past four decades,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “We may never know what impact a union would have on future Volkswagen plant operations in Chattanooga, or other foreign plants in the region, but we do know the rapid expansion of southern auto manufacturing has occurred without union representation.”

Volkswagen AG started construction of the Chattanooga plant in 2008 as a cornerstone of its plan to push the VW brand into the top tier of car marques in the United States.

Since the plant opened in 2011, the productivity of the workforce and quality of the cars produced there have impressed top VW executives.

Crossover on table

Though weaker U.S. sales of the Passat in 2013 forced the company to cancel shifts, lay off 500 contract workers and dial back production from a high of 152,400 vehicles in 2012.

VW is also studying whether to build a crossover at the plant, a move that would likely boost capacity utilization.

Yet the plant has remained an outlier in VW’s far-flung global network of assembly plants, nearly all of which are unionized, and nearly all of which use German-style works councils to give workers a say in key business decisions.

Some legal experts say such councils run afoul of U.S. prohibitions on company-controlled unions unless workers join a third-party union first.

Before this week’s vote, VW and the UAW signed a 20-page agreement, dated Jan. 27, saying that if the majority of workers were to vote for UAW representation, the union would agree to hand over many of the functions that it usually oversees to a new works council.

“Our works councils are key to our success and productivity,” Frank Fischer, CEO of the Chattanooga plant, said in a statement before the vote. “It is a business model that helped to make Volkswagen the second-largest car company in the world. Our plant in Chattanooga has the opportunity to create a uniquely American works council, in which the company would be able to work cooperatively with our employees and ultimately their union representatives, if the employees decide they wish to be represented by a union.”

Works council still a goal

By rejecting the UAW, despite VW executives’ stated desire to set up a works council and their willingness to negotiate with the UAW, the workers in Chattanooga made clear how difficult it is to organize workers at automotive plants in the South.

Despite the vote, VW officials are not giving up on the idea of creating a worker-management group that would oversee some daily operations at the plant.

“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant,” Fischer said in a statement. “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”

With a victory, the union would have negotiated wages and benefits for plant workers, leaving overtime rules, quality initiatives, health and safety guidelines and other daily operations to the works council.

Tennessee is one of 24 U.S. states with right-to-work laws, so a union victory would have still allowed workers to opt out of the union and avoid paying dues.

Union membership in Tennessee grew by 25 percent in 2013, the most of any state, with 31,000 new members over 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Even so, only 6.1 percent of the state’s workforce was unionized in 2013 compared with 11.3 percent nationally.

“It’s unfortunate that there was some outside influence exerted onto this process,” said Gary Casteel, director of the UAW’s region 8, where the VW plant is located. “These workers have stated their position and we respect that, so we’ll move forward from here and look forward to maybe someday in the future working with VW to establish a works council.”

Mike Burton, a paint shop employee and one of the leaders of the anti-UAW movement inside the plant, said he and his co-workers want to see how a works council might be set up without involvement of an outside union—despite assertions by VW that it wouldn’t pass legal muster.

He said that whether workers voted for or against the UAW, they want worker representation in the plant’s daily operations.

“We’re just not willing to pay $600 a year to have most of that money go out of our community,” Burton said.

“What they want and what we want are pretty much the same thing,” he added. “If they’re loyal to the UAW, they’re going to have to go someplace else. If they just want employee representation with the management here at Volkswagen, we will come up with a solution—and we will all benefit from it.”

David Phillips contributed to this report.

SOURCE

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Loss at Volkswagen plant upends union’s plan for U.S. South

By Bernie Woodall
Reuters
February 15, 2014

In a stinging defeat that could accelerate the decades-long decline of the United Auto Workers, Volkswagen AG workers voted against union representation at a Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, which had been seen as organized labor’s best chance to expand in the U.S. South.

The loss, 712 to 626, capped a sprint finish to a long race and was particularly surprising for UAW supporters, because Volkswagen had allowed the union access to the factory and officially stayed neutral on the vote, while other manufacturers have been hostile to organized labor.

UAW spent more than two years organizing and then called a snap election in an agreement with VW. German union IG Metall worked with the UAW to pressure VW to open its doors to organizers, but anti-union forces dropped a bombshell after the first of three days of voting.

Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who helped win the VW plant, said on Wednesday after the first day of voting that VW would expand the factory if the union was rejected.

“Needless to say, I am thrilled,” Corker said in a statement after the results were disclosed.

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix hailed the outcome: “If UAW union officials cannot win when the odds are so stacked in their favor, perhaps they should re-evaluate the product they are selling to workers.”

An announcement of whether a new seven-passenger crossover vehicle will be produced in Chattanooga or in Mexico could come as early as next week, VW sources told Reuters.

Despite the indignation of pro-union forces, legal experts earlier had said that any challenge of the outcome, based on Corker’s comments, would be difficult, given broad free speech protection for U.S. Senators.

The UAW said it would “evaluate” the conduct in the vote, where 89 percent of eligible workers cast ballots.

“We are outraged at the outside interference in this election. It’s never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the house, a leader of the legislature here threatened the company with those incentives, threatened workers with the loss of product,” Bob King, the UAW president who has staked his legacy on expanding into the south, said.

UAW membership has plummeted 75 percent since 1979 and now stands at just under 400,000.

The Tennessee decision is likely to reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW cannot make significant inroads in a region that historically has been steadfastly against organized labor and where all foreign-owned vehicle assembly plants employ nonunion workers.

Before the results were announced, King had said in an interview with Reuters that his group and the German union were already at work organizing a Daimler AG factory in Alabama.

“We will continue our efforts at Daimler. It’s not new. We’re there. We have a campaign. We have a plan. We are also very involved globally with Nissan, so that will continue,” he said. He did not mention the other plants when speaking to reporters late in the evening.

Dennis Cuneo, a partner at Fisher & Phillips, a national labor law firm that represents management, said earlier in the day that a loss would be a big setback for the union movement in the South, showing the UAW was unable to convince rank-and-file workers even with management’s cooperation.

Such a loss “makes the UAW’s quest to organize southern auto plants all the more difficult,” he said.

Local anti-union organizers had protested the UAW from the start, reflecting deep concerns among many workers that a union would strain cordial relations with the company, which pays well by local and U.S. auto industry standards.

Mike Burton, one of the anti-union leaders, cheered the results. “Not on our watch,” he exulted, adding, as did VW management, that plans to find a way for a workers council to help set rules for the factory would continue.

Many labor experts have said that a workers council, which is used in Germany, would not be possible at a U.S. VW factory without a union.

“We felt like we were already being treated very well by Volkswagen in terms of pay and benefits and bonuses,” said Sean Moss, who voted against the UAW. “We also looked at the track record of the UAW. Why buy a ticket on the Titanic?” he added.

Many workers believed that the union had hurt operations at plants run by General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler, now a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, he said

For VW, the stakes also were high. The German automaker invested $1 billion in the Chattanooga plant, which began building Passat mid-size sedans in April 2011, after being awarded more than $577 million in state and local incentives.

VW executives have said the new crossover vehicle, due in 2016 and known internally as CrossBlue, could be built at either the Chattanooga plant or in Mexico, but Tennessee facility was built with the expectation of a second vehicle line.

The vote has received global attention, and even President Barack Obama waded into the discussion early on Friday, accusing Republican politicians of being more concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers.

The vote must be certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Andreas Cremer in Berlin; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Ross Colvin and Ken Wills)

SOURCE

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VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief

By Andreas Cremer
Reuters
February 19, 2014

olkswagen’s top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.

Workers at VW’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union (UAW), rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.

German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.

Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council.

“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again,” said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council.

“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW’s supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel - evenly split between labor and management - has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

Osterloh’s comments were published on Wednesday in German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. A spokesman at the Wolfsburg-based works council confirmed the remarks.

“The conservatives stirred up massive, anti-union sentiments,” Osterloh said. “It’s possible that the conclusion will be drawn that this interference amounted to unfair labor praxis.”

Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a staunch opponent of unionization, said last Wednesday after the first day of voting that VW would award the factory another model if the UAW was rejected.

The comments even prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene, accusing Republicans of trying to block the Chattanooga workforce’s efforts.

Undeterred by last Friday’s vote, VW’s works council has said it will press on with efforts to set up labor representation at Chattanooga which builds the Passat sedan.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 02/15/14 •
Section American Solidarity • Section Dying America
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