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IWW STRIKE at Seattle ACORN Enters 3rd Week

By x337969 - March 16, 2001

(Seattle)---Workers that struck the Washington office of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) remain on strike for nearly three weeks as of Thursday, March 16th, and the employer continues to escalate their union busting campaign. The "ACORN 5" still remain strong and continue to organize to win for the union.

The strike (which begun February 26) is for recognition of the IWW as the bargaining union; in spite of workers offering an unconditional return to work 1 week ago, pending an election filed with the National Labor Relations Board, and in spite of repeated attempts of workers to return to work, the employer has refused to even acknowledge the offer. Workers are concerned that ACORN may instigate a lockout, and close the office entirely. Scabs have been recruited from the Portland ACORN office and have been crossing the picket line.

So far the Strike has received mentions in the Seattle Weekly and the Stranger; the Washington Free Press has printed the most comprehensive article thus far.

Wade Rathke, the chief organizer of ACORN (and founder of SEIU local 100, ironically enough) is behind the union busting effort. At first the employer chose to try and stall the workers, and Rathke claimed that the bargaining unit must be "national". This of course contradicted his own remarks in Dissent, where he wrote, "collective bargaining agreements were generally negotiated on a firm by firm, and often plant by plant, basis." The IWW has also filed Unfair Labor Practices against ACORN management, after the local Head Organizer (and employer), Doug Bloch interrogated employees and tried to bar union protected speech at work. The employer responded in kind by filing frivolous complaints with the NLRB, which is interfering with the democratic process of a union election by delay. Rathke and Bloch have sent ACORN members and the labor movement a message; no social justice in our own house, and membership dues will be used for union busting!

ACORN members show support

ACORN is a membership based organization, but is run primarily by a hierarchy from the national level, which employees Head Organizers in each office, who in turn employs the staff.

One of the tactics management has been using to discourage organizing is to play the members of ACORN in the community against the field organizers that are demanding a union. This divide and conquer strategy was undercut by organizing a boycott. In the process of just a few days, 135 letters from members were signed, saying that they would cancel their financial contribution if the union was not recognized by March 8th. Members were not only present during the initial walkout, but have also been walking the picket line and speaking at rallies in support of the strike. It has been easy to point out the connection between ACORN supporting unions in general and supporting one in house in particular, in that most ACORN members work under similar working conditions as ACORN worker. Mass mailings informing the membership of the strike situation continue to go out informing members of the union busting, while Bloch and his scabs in a frenzied attempt to recruit membership support for his union busting cause. So far he has failed miserably, and any attempt to match the union for membership support for the anti-union campaign would mean scabs having to canvas the doors of informed and pro-union members.

AFL-CIO unions show support

On the first day of the strike, members of various AFL/CIO unions visited the picket line. Washington ACORN rents office space from local #28 of the American Postal Workers Union, and naturally the usual banning of strikers from the property never materialize. APWU president Jeff Mansfield signed a letter to the employer, stating that "...management's refusal to recognize the union and the bringing in of scab replacements is offensive to the labor movement and disgraceful for an organization that claims to fight for the rights or working people. The Greater Seattle Area Local of the APWU, AFL/CIO stands in solidarity with the striking workers". Members from the Joint Council of Carpenters, Ironworkers Local 86, the Boilermakers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have dropped by to show support for the strikers and some have even addressed Doug Bloch directly, asking him to recognize the union. Letters of support were also issued by a member of SEIU 1199 in Wisconsin, AFSCME, Out Front Labor Coalition, and Portland Jobs With Justice.

On March 7, 2001, the ACORN 5 met with the executive board of the King County Labor Council to ask for an endorsement. After a presentation, Norma Kelsey, president of Local 8 of OPEIU, offered to sponsor a motion to the delegates' council to endorse the strike. Local 8 two yeas ago had been at the brunt of a union busting campaign by El Centro De La Raza (another "progressive" non-profit in Seattle). Doug Bloch had also been invited to give the management's side of things, and was promptly laughed out of the Labor Temple. At the delegates meeting, the endorsement passed unanimously and with a standing ovation for the strikers.

With unanimous support of Labor in Seattle, ACORN membership support, supportive press clippings in both weekly papers, and 100% solidarity coming from the workers, you would think that Wade Rathke and Mr. Bloch would either resign or recognize the union. All bases of support have shifted to not only support the ACORN cause, but also to support the realization of that cause only if the organizers can work in a union shop. Meanwhile, discontent amongst the ACORN workers continues to manifest itself in organizing across the country, and union busting is following accordingly. If the entire organization collapses under the weight of this conflict, the burden of blame rests on the management and the national hierarchy, for not simply saying, "yes, we will recognize the union". Will members and non-profits give money to an organization that fights unions and violated the UN Charter on Human Rights and the National Labor Relations Act?