Union Updates

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Chair City workers share their stories

Jonathan Dudley

Jonathan Dudley

In 1987 Richard Beauregard got a job as a band saw operator at the Nichols & Stone furniture company in Gardner. Nichols & Stone was a union shop, and so a co-worker approached Richard about signing a union card and paying dues. Richard recalls the exchange:

“What do you mean I got to join the union?” Richard said.
“You gotta join the union,” responded his co-worker.
“What if I don’t want to join?,” he asked.
“Well then you can’t work here,” his co-worker replied.

“I mean I was making good money, so I joined the union.” said Richard. “If you’re gonna make me join something, I’m gonna find out something about it.” Richard got involved in his local — IUE 81-154 — and in 2003 he was the shop chairperson for IUE at Nichols & Stone helping negotiate the contract.

In 2003 no one at the negotiating table knew that would be the final IUE Local 81-154 contact with a Gardner furniture maker. Nichols & Stone closed its doors in 2008 after 150 years of production.

“I haven’t heard anybody say that Nichols & Stone closed because of the union,” said Richard.  “You often hear that union places close – ‘Ah the union … demands far too much.’ But at the end we took cuts. We didn’t take the raises that we were entitled to. So it wasn’t the union that forced them out. I’m glad I haven’t heard that.”

 These recollections are from a 2009 interview with Richard and his wife, Millie, that are currently being printed as part of a series of oral histories about Nichols & Stone at the Chair City Community Workshop. Mass. Community College Council (Massachusetts Teachers Association) member and part-time community college instructor Tracie Pouliot collected the oral history interviews a year after Nichols & Stone closed. She runs the community workshop, where volunteers use the printing and book arts to celebrate the stories of working people in Gardner.

The oral history series includes interviews with people from throughout Nichols & Stone, including managers, the back office, the front office, and the factory floor.

Jonathan Dudley, a Head Start teacher and member of SEIU Local 888, volunteers at the Chair City Community Workshop. “I actually transcribed Richard and Millie’s interview. And one of the staffers at my local agreed to do some editing on it in his spare time,” said Dudley, who works for the Montachusetts Opportunity Council.

Next, he said, “volunteers will print the interview on our letterpress. We even set some of the type by hand.” After the interview is printed, volunteers sit together and bind each oral history into a book by hand.

“Especially when we’re sitting around binding the books, it is a great opportunity to talk about the issues raised in the stories – like why do we think furniture factories closed in Gardner and how deindustrialization has affected our small city,” said Dudley. After 400 copies of each oral history book are printed and bound, the community workshop holds a book-release party to celebrate the interviewees and the volunteers who worked on that oral history. Later, there is an informal book discussion, where community members can dive into the issues raised by each story.

Richard and Millie’s oral history is not specifically about the union at Nichols & Stone, but it is an account by two working people about their experience working in the furniture industry and trying to understand why a 150-year-old company shuts its doors, as well as how a factory closing like that affects a person.

The Chair City Oral History Book Series is community run — and depends on volunteers coming in and helping produce the oral history books. “I would be very excited to have a bunch of people who care about working-class history or are interested in unions to come in and help us finish Richard and Millie’s book,” said Dudley. “You don’t need any experience to help, someone will train you on the spot. If you volunteer three hours, you can have a copy of Richard and Mille’s book; or if you don’t like the work, you can always sit around the community workshop and share your own experiences.”

The Chair City Community Workshop is located at 306 Central St. in downtown Gardner. “All Are Welcome,” reads a small broadside printed by a letterpress shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, shortly after the 2016 elections.  For more information or to find out the hours for the community workshop, visit traciepouliot.com and click on Chair City Oral History Project.

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Librarians, supporters demonstrate for a fair contract at Brandeis Univ.

GAINING SUPPORT: Members of the wider Brandeis University community joined with the school's Local 888 librarians in a luncheon rally.

GAINING SUPPORT: Members of the wider Brandeis University community join with the school’s Local 888 librarians in a midday rally.

Brandeis librarians were joined by more than 50 supporters at a lunch time rally on Dec. 3. The librarians are demanding a fair contract and, accompanied by several supporters, delivered letters of support from the wider university community. On the cold windy day, speakers led the sign-waving group in chants calling for fair contract.

“All we’re asking is to be treated with dignity and the acknowledgment that we do important work,” said librarian Joanna Fuchs. “We love our jobs and want everybody in this community to be a success.”

“First as a student, and now as an faculty member, I want to say that the librarians have been there for me — on off hours and on short notice,” said Drew Flanagan, a Brandeis English lecturer and shop steward for the adjunct professors union, SEIU Local 509. Flanagan said that he had delivered letters of support to the Brandeis administration on behalf of Local 509 members, and urged others to voice their support for the librarians.

“Having a fair union contract is a basic right – and being able to be respected at your job is a basic right,” said Alina Sipp-Alpers, a sophomore at the school and member of the Brandeis Labor Coalition. Noting the many testimonials in praise of librarians’ role at Brandeis, she added that students and the labor coalition were “a part of the librarians’ fight for a contract!”

Click here to see more pictures from the rally.

A small group of representatives left the rally to deliver more letters of support to university officials inside the administration building, where the rally was held.

“We sent a powerful message to the administration,” said librarian Aimee Slater when the group returned to the rally. She added that the librarians “will be there to support anyone else going through this kind of struggle.”

Slater, a member of the Local 888 negotiating team, emphasized the protest did not mean there would be an upcoming interruption in library service. “We want to help all of you students as you go through your exams.”

The librarians have been locked in a contract dispute since June. And the administration has refused to bargain fairly.

“So far, we’ve been the ones to reach across the bargaining table seeking to come to an agreement,” said Surella Seelig, a librarian and member of the bargaining team. “But the university has just been playing games, making it sound as if there’s been movement on their part.”

However, the library staff have successfully gained support from students, parents and the wider Brandeis community. In October, the librarians set up a table at the Brandeis Family Weekend – educating students and parents about their fight for a fair contract.

For its part, the Brandeis Labor Coalition has written in support of the librarians in the Brandeis Hoot, the community newspaper.

Click here to email or call Brandeis University President Ronald Liebowitz with a message of support for the librarians.

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MassDefenders go on offense

COMING TOGETHER: Workers at the public defenders office in Worcester meet as part of a statewide drive to set up their structure, elect chapter leaders and form their union.

COMING TOGETHER: Workers at the public defenders office in Worcester meet as part of a statewide drive to set up their structure, elect chapter leaders and form their union.

The MassDefenders are holding meetings around the state with an eye toward electing chapter leaders — and putting pressure on management to make workplace improvements.

Already, their protests and lobbying of legislators have been rewarded with significant raises, due in January. But they want respect as well — along with the stable workplace environment that a union contract would bring. A Thanksgiving week meeting in Worcester drew an enthusiastic crowd.

“People were energized by the idea of taking steps to form a chapter — and not waiting for the Legislature to act,” said John Sadek, a public defender in the Worcester office.

The MassDefenders latest drive kicked off in Fall River this fall. Almost the entire office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services — the bureaucratic name for the state’s public defenders — attended an organizing meeting. And they signed union cards. Other such meetings are planned — from Pittsfield to Provincetown.

The roughly 750 lawyers, investigators and social service advocates and administrative staff in the state agency want to form a union. But a loophole in the law denies them this basic human right. Last legislative session, a bill to fix this loophole never made it out of the House Ways and Means Committee, led by state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez.

After this setback, Local 888 Secretary-Treasurer Tom McKeever called on the MassDefenders to step up their efforts. “Local 888 has been with you on this journey for rights and respect for six years. We aren’t going to give up now.”

Then, in the Democratic primary this fall, Sanchez was trounced by Nika Elugardo, who spoke about her victory at the Local 888 convention in October. (For more coverage of state Rep-elect Elugardo’s election victory, see http://www.seiu888.org/ .

While this defeat was gratifying, much work remains to be done.

A few years ago, the situation was so bad that a state commission found that the public defenders’ salaries were — when adjusted for inflation the lowest in the nation. Even below West Virginia. This has led to high turnover.

But the workers in the public defenders are committed to the indigent clients who they serve — and to pursuing their own rights.

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UMass members raise scholarship fund

READY FOR ACTION: Joe Piscitello, his son Evan and brother, Local 888 leader Nicholas Piscitello, get ready to drop the puck as UMass Lowell and UConn players face off before the Nov. 17 game.

READY FOR ACTION: Joe Piscitello, his son Evan and brother, Local 888 leader Nicholas Piscitello, get ready to drop the puck as UMass Lowell and UConn players face off before the Nov. 17 game.

More than 200 members, friends and family were on hand for Local 888’s UMass Lowell Hockey Night, which had the men’s River Hawks face off against the UConn Huskies on Nov. 17.

The hockey game came on the heels of a successful drive by Local 888’s UMass Lowell chapter to raise an endowment that will annually fund a student scholarship. As a result, chapter chair Nicholas Piscitello was asked by the university to take part in the opening ceremonies of the game.

He then forwarded the ceremonial puck to his nephew Evan. The scholarship will go to a family member of someone in the Local 888

Professional Administrative Chapter at the university, which represents about 580 workers. Secondarily, the winner of the scholarship will also be determined by financial need.

Piscitello said that the scholarship drive raised $28,000, more than the target, in only 2½ years. Both the chapter and Local 888 members contributed, including through payroll deductions. For starters, the endowment will cover two, $500 scholarships. The scholarship amount will grow as the endowment grows.

“For many of our members, working at UMass Lowell is more than a job — it is about contributing to something larger, serving students and enriching our community,” said Piscitello, a graduate of the school. “This is a great opportunity to create a living benefit that will grow and last for generations.”

He said the scholarship will help fill a role that the state has not kept up with: providing an affordable college education. UMass students face escalating tuition costs and fees.

To top off the event, the River Hawks soared to a 3-0 shutout victory.

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Labor makes big gains in November

Tram Nguyen

Tram Nguyen

Many pro-labor candidates were swept into office in the fall elections. These victories capped months of campaigning by Local 888 members and leaders that resulted in legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 and create a Paid Family and Medical Leave program.

More than 2.7 million voted this November, a record for any midterm election in Massachusetts. The heightened interest in politics shows voters’ increasing concern about the direction that both the state and nation are headed in.

“Voters sent a message in favor of protecting union rights, making health care more affordable and getting the economy to work for everyone, not just the few,” said Local 888 Secretary-Treasurer Tom McKeever. “The union’s Committee on Political Action was crucial to electing candidates who will support workers.”

In several House races, Democrats endorsed by Local 888 faced competitive challengers and won: Union dues are not used to fund political campaigns. That’s why donations to COPA are so important — so that Local 888 actually has a voice up at the State House and in the halls of Congress.

In several House races, Democrats endorsed by Local 888 faced competitive challengers and came out ahead:

  • In the 18th Essex District, Tram Nguyen, a legal aid lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services, ousted incumbent Republican state Rep. Jim Lyons.
  • In the 4th Middlesex District, incumbent State Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough) won decisively in a rematch with Republican Paul Ferro, a former Marlborough city councilor.
  • In the 4th Plymouth District, Democrat Patrick Kearney trounced his two opponents in a race for the open seat representing Marshfield and Scituate.
  • In the 17th Worcester District, David LeBoeuf captured the open seat, campaigning on a platform of improving access to health care and for universal pre-kindergarten.

In the general election, Local 888 supported state representative candidate Nika Elugardo. In the Democratic primary, she defeated House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez, ‑‑ who failed to come through on a bill that would have given workers in the Massachusetts public defenders office the right to bargain collectively.

Also, Local 888-endorsed Diana DiZoglio, Democratic state representative for Methuen, who won the open First Essex Senate District in a landslide.

There were two big wins for Local 888 candidates in the Democratic primary. Peter Capano, president of IUE-CWA 201 in Lynn, won a three-way race for state representative in the 11th Essex District. Also, David Biele netted South Boston’s Democratic primary race for state representative.

One sour note for Local 888 in the election: Longtime prosecutor John Bradley lost his bid to unseat Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz.

In other Massachusetts State Senate races, Local 888 endorsed these candidates who won re-election:

  • Paul Feeney, incumbent, Bristol & Norfolk District
  • Jim Welch, incumbent, Hampden District
  • Karen E. Spilka, new Senate president, who represents the Second Middlesex & Norfolk District.
  • Jamie Eldridge, incumbent, Middlesex & Worcester District
  • Jason Lewis, incumbent, Fifth Middlesex District
  • Sal DiDomenico, incumbent, Middlesex & Suffolk District.
  • Michael Brady, incumbent, Second Plymouth & Bristol

Wining candidates for the state House of Representatives endorsed by Local 888:

  • James Hawkins, incumbent, Second Bristol
  • Marjorie Decker, incumbent, 25thMiddlesex District.
  • Mike Connolly, incumbent, 26thMiddlesex District.
  • Denise Provost, incumbent, 27thMiddlesex District.
  • Christine Barber, incumbent, 34thMiddlesex District
  • Michelle DuBois, incumbent, 10th Plymouth District
  • Dan Cullinane, incumbent, 12th Suffolk District
  • Daniel Hunt, incumbent, 13thSuffolk District

Local 888 had also endorsed Steve Murphy for Suffolk County Register of Deeds. In addition: Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley in the Seventh Congressional District and U.S. Rep. Bill Keating in the Ninth Congressional District.

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Holyoke members aid Home

Kwesi Ablordeppey

Kwesi Ablordeppey

Local 888 members at the Holyoke Soldiers Home are committed to serving the veterans at the facility — understanding that demanding better working conditions for themselves is an important element of good care.

In a Veterans Day tribute, chapter leaders delivered care packages to the Holyoke Home — donations collected from workers there and from attendees at the Local 888 convention. The special delivery included such items as deodorant, soap, toothpaste and brushes, nail files and the like.

“We organized the donation drive as a gesture to show the veterans that we honor their service to the country,” said Kwesi Ablordeppey, Holyoke Home’s Local 888 chapter chair and a CNA.

At the same time, he said, members are fighting to correct problems at the Holyoke Home that include understaffing and harsh workplace conditions, such as forced overtime and unfair disciplinary actions. In turn, these problems contribute to high turnover, said Ablordeppey. He said that when he started at the Holyoke Home 19 years ago, it didn’t have the high turnover that is there today.

This fall, Local 888 members began a campaign to seek improvements at the Holyoke Home. They organized T-shirt protests and delivered a petition to management saying they had no confidence in the director and assistant director of nursing.

As part of this campaign, Holyoke Home leaders met with Francisco Urena, state secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services, to air their grievances. He made a commitment to hold further meetings and to address the issues raised.

Then in November, an additional 14 CNAs and 4 licensed practical nurses accepted offers of employment at the Holyoke Home.

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Hopkinton schools put to test

HARD WORK REWARDED: Diana Umina, left, and Rebecca Blake are co-chairs of Local 888’s Hopkinton paraprofessionals chapter, which recently negotiated a successful contract.

HARD WORK REWARDED: Diana Umina, left, and Rebecca Blake are co-chairs of Local 888’s Hopkinton paraprofessionals chapter, which recently negotiated a successful contract.

Against the backdrop of school budget cutting pressures – combined with a surge in student enrollment – Local 888 paraprofessionals at the Hopkinton Public Schools negotiated a contract with 6 percent raises spread over a three-year pact. The unit includes about 80 workers in five school buildings.

Unit co-chair Rebecca Blake blamed the “tough” bargaining climate on new housing and that the school district lacks its own funding source – and must go to the town to approve its budget. “The town keeps wanting us to have a level-funded budget, which doesn’t even take into account raises,” she added.

Meanwhile the small town has seen a 20 percent growth in population since 2010. In part, this has been fueled by the development of former Weston Nurseries land into nearly 1,000 housing units.

Almost 200 more students enrolled in the Hopkinton Public Schools at the start of this school year than had been expected. So, laid-off teachers had to be hired back.

Nonetheless, the paraprofessionals were able to negotiate a fair contract that the membership ratified. Blake and co-chair Diana Umina praised Local 888 staff for helping make that possible.

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Local 888 nets win

Maria Ziemba

Maria Ziemba

The race for the Northern Berkshire District Register of Deeds was all in the Local 888 family. And only one candidate could win.

Local 888 member Maria Ziemba racked up a 3-to-1 victory running as a Democrat against longtime Local 888 member Deborah Moran, running as an independent.

“I’m on Cloud 9,” Ziemba told The Berkshire Eagle on election night. “Tonight has proven that people have responded to my campaign, and I am forever grateful.”

Ziemba got 10,872 votes, while Moran netted 3,535. Similarly to her opponent, Ziemba has worked her way up from being hired as a junior clerk more than 20 years ago. The position became open because current Register of Deeds Frances Brooks is retiring.

Ziemba said she plans to continue computerization projects the office has already begun. After 1985, the registry put its data onto computers. But the office, located in Adams, has about 220,000 index cards with the records of property sales, one set for sellers and the other for buyers. Completing this project would, for the first time, make these sales searchable by computer.

The office, which only has six employees, has so far processed about 10,000 file cards.

 

 

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Voters weigh in on state ballot questions

logo-safe-patient-limits

Referendum Results

Local 888’s Executive Board endorsed a Yes vote on Massachusetts ballot questions 1, 2 and 3. All but the first ballot question sailed to victory.

QUESTION 1: More than 70 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure, which would have set limits on the number of patients that nurses could be required to care for. For example, emergency room RNs could care for no more than five patients at a time, fewer depending on a patient’s condition. California provides a successful example of enacting such a law.

The ballot question was put forward by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care.

Opponents of the measure, including the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, then named their industry-backed group the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety – a name that was confusing and seemed to defy common sense. Hospitals spent $25 million on their campaign, more than twice the union’s $12 million, according to The Boston Globe.

QUESTION 2: Over 71 percent of the voters approved the measure, which calls for a state commission to write a report on money in politics. The goal is to support and ultimately enact a campaign finance amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, which removed many campaign-finance limits and allowed billion-dollar corporations to make unlimited political donations.

QUESTION 3: More than two-thirds of the voters approved keeping in place a 2016 state law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in places open to the public — including restaurants, hospitals, hotels and sports stadiums. Under the law, transgender people can use a space, such as restrooms, that matches their gender identity. Since the law took effect, there has been no increase in safety incidents in places such as bathrooms.

 

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State rep-elect thanks Local 888

Nika Elugardo

Nika Elugardo

“Too many of our legislators have demonstrated a go-along to get-along behavior,” said state Rep.-elect Nika Elugardo. “With me, you’ll have an advocate.”

At the Local 888 convention, Elugardo thanked the union for its endorsement in the general election and talked about the importance of supporting American workers.

“Housing should be a right for everyone,” she added. “We have to have health care for all — not the situation we have now, where some people can’t afford it.”

The Jamaica Plain resident toppled state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, in the Democratic primary. It was his committee that, in effect, killed legislation allowing the Massachusetts public defenders the collective bargaining rights that other state workers enjoy.

Elugardo has been a strong supporter of raising the minimum wage to $15. She ran on a platform that included:

  • Increasing the funding for public housing and building affordable housing
  • Repealing the statewide ban on rent control
  • Continuing with criminal justice reform
  • Championing a single-payer, “Medicare for All” health plan.
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Coming Attractions

888-calendar logo

MassCOSH ANNUAL MEETING: Thurs., Dec. 6, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Voting at 7:15 p.m. Cash bar, light bites, good friends. Democracy Brewing, 35 Temple Place, downtown Boston.

WREATH-LAYING TO HONOR VETERANS: Sat., Dec. 15, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., family-friendly event at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1390 Main St., Agawam. The goal is to ensure that every veteran buried at the cemetery gets a wreath. Part of the Wreaths Across America program; a family friendly event. To sponsor a wreath, at $15 each, donate at https://donate.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ .

City of Boston Fuel Assistance
Visit the SEIU Local 888 website for a “City of Boston – SEIU Local 888 Housing Trust Application and Affidavit for Fuel Assistance.” Grants are up to $500; income cap is $56,800 for a household of 1. For more info, call the Local 888 office at 617-241-3300.

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Truly ‘stronger together’

URGING UNITY: Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues speaks at the annual convention.

URGING UNITY: Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues speaks at the annual convention.

“In the post-Janus world, we need to pull together so that we really are stronger together,” said Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues, kicking off the annual Local 888 convention. She praised the local’s officers, executive board and staff for the successful campaign to have thousands of members “recommit” to the union by signing new membership cards.

In the Janus case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed decades-old precedents that public workers could be required to pay “fair share” fees for the benefits of collective bargaining.

Rodrigues said the court’s decision was part of a larger campaign to cripple the
power of U.S. unions. Similar lawsuits have been backed by extremist foundations funded by billionaire donors like the Koch brothers.

To meet this challenge, she said, “We need to be out in the community and supporting other workers.” She called on members to support the 1,200 gas workers locked out of their jobs by National Grid. “Their fight is our fight.” (Click here to find out more about the lockout)

She added that Local 888 leaders had joined the picket line for the Unite Here Local 26 members on strike against Marriott-owned hotels in Boston. (Click here to support the hotel workers.)

The convention included workshops on:

  • New member experience and Local 888’s “Member Portal.”
  • Winning pay equity for women.
  • Massachusetts public sector health and safety.
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