Portland on short list of massive Change to Win organizing drive
LAS VEGAS — Portland is on a list of 35 cities the Change to Win labor federation has selected to be part of a massive organizing campaign it plans to launch the week of April 24.
The seven-union federation unveiled its recruiting plans at a gathering of 2,000 CTW officials, organizers and members here last month, adopting as its slogan, “Make Work Pay.”
The objective, said CTW Chairwoman Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, is a joint effort to organize workers in "transportation, distribution, retail, construction, leisure and hospitality, health care, property services, laundries, food production and processing and other services."
Burger, speaking at the conference, estimated those sectors have 50 million workers combined. CTW’s unions — SEIU, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE, the Laborers, the Carpenters and the Farm Workers — have an estimated 6 million members. They have also pledged to devote most of their money to organizing.
The unions will be reaching out to unorganized workers as well as members of the public and politicians to support the notion that the United States cannot exist without a “vibrant middle class,” Burger said. “This campaign will empower the millions of workers to help them effect real change to make work pay.”
Gene Pronovost, president of Tigard-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 and an international union vice president, said CTW unions in the Portland area are meeting to finalize their organizing plans. On the short list, he told the Northwest Labor Press, are possible campaigns at Three Mile Canyon Dairy, Wal-Mart, the Benson Towers condominium, Port of Portland drivers and the Oregon Lottery
One of the focuses of the CTW convention March 19-21 was the creation of local cross-union campaign teams, which will work together as single entities to unite workers of all the unions in their cities.
“It’s a little different” from past union organizing drives by CTW members and others,” Burger stated. “Truth is, we’ve always done campaigns — but we’ve done them individually, union by union. And we still have these campaigns. But now, as we work on these individual campaigns, we will be tying our work together and make it all add up to something bigger.”
“In every campaign, no matter what union, we will be telling the world that working people are uniting to ‘make work pay,’” she added.
In practical terms, that means CTW unions will field joint organizing teams, just as two of the member unions — UNITE HERE and the Teamsters — are doing in their current drive to organize 17,000 workers at Cintas, the nation’s largest launderer of uniforms and other materials.
But Burger also said CTW seeks worldwide support for the drive, because “corporations are global and so must we be.” Only with global cooperation, she stated, can unions “make global corporations raise living standards and respect workers’ right everywhere — rather than dragging them down to the lowest level everywhere.”
Some CTW leaders are comparing their organizing campaign with that of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) of the 1930s, when millions of workers joined unions.
“We must remember that auto, steel and other basic manufacturing jobs weren’t always the good middle-class jobs they became after World War II,” Burger said.
When a large percentage of the workforce was unionized, labor was able to change low-paid manufacturing jobs into jobs that were the “backbone of the American middle class,” she said.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.