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ACORN Claims Workers Fired Due to "Bad Organizing" by IWW

By Brian Oliver Sheppard, April 20, 2001

From April 11-16 the Student-Labor Coalition at the University of Texas at Dallas sponsored a "Rethinking Globalization" conference that attracted area Wobblies and others involved in radical labor organizing. The conference was held in the "Telecom Corridor" area of Dallas where many large hi tech firms like Nortel and Alcatel have operations.

On April 12, the second night of the conference, a labor forum was held. Wobblies and Dallas-area ACORN workers that had been fired for discussing unionization were in attendance as ACORN's Kimberly Olsen spoke on the necessity of a "living wage." Olsen is the head organizer for Dallas ACORN and is responsible for the dismissal of ACORN employees in the area. Her refusal to reinstate fired workers Sarah Stephens and Erin Howley has garnered her increasing criticism from the labor movement. ACORN organizer John Rees resigned earlier this year in protest to Olsen's hypocritical and heavy-handed managerial style. ACORN workers in different parts of the US have spoken about unionizing with the IWW and have been systematically fired for it.

Olsen never mentioned the firing of workers and seemed intent on trying to get through the night without having to comment on it. She was finally confronted during the question-and-answer period and was asked to explain why ACORN was terminating employees. Rather than accept responsibility, Olsen said the "problems" ACORN had been having were largely the result of a "bad organizing drive by the Industrial Workers of the World."

Just outside the hall was IWW literature explaining the ACORN situation. Protest cards addressed to Wade Rathke were also in abundance; many of these were signed. Wobblies and fired ACORN employees countered ACORN's propaganda on a person-to-person basis with audience members during the "mingling" period after speakers were done. The prevailing sentiment was one of support for the fired ACORN workers and the sense that ACORN management was acting hypocritically at the least, despotically at worst.

The "Rethinking Globalization" conference also featured environmental, global trade, and peace forums.

The conference's student organizers encountered difficulties from campus administration. Ultimately school administration flew in Republican Senator Curt Weldon from Pennsylvania to give a University-sponsored talk on the opening night of the conference. Weldon spoke on tech workers and the benefits of globalization on the same night the Student-Labor Coalition had scheduled author Kevin Danaher (Corporations Are Gonna Get Your Mama: The Downsizing of the American Dream) to speak. Danaher's talk, unlike Weldon's, was without offical University sponsorship and was held in a different building on campus than the Republican senator's. In spite of this, Danaher managed to outdraw Weldon and garnered an audience of approximately 300.

Dallas Wobblies plan to continue to exert pressure on ACORN to recognize its employees' human right to organize.