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The Diary of a Nursing Home Agitator | Shop Floor Politics | Mobilizing Opposition to Carter's Wage Guidelines | One Step Forward, Then a Tousand Steps Backward
Mobilizing Opposition to Carter's Wage Guidelines
The Area-wide Grocery Store Contract
The March or April 1977 issue of Local 789's newsletter had a short article about the proposal for a new area-wide contract for grocery store workers in the Twin Cities. It reported a first year wage increase of more than 50 cents that would be retro-active to September 1976. The new contract would be submitted to the membership for ratification with a unanimous recommendation from their bargaining committee to approve it.
But at the union's monthly business meeting that followed the ratification vote, a grocery store worker denounced the bargaining committee for "selling out." He reported that the wage increase at the bottom of the scale for the lowest-paid job classification, grocery baggers, was only 10 cents per year. That's about all the grocery baggers got.
In the grocery stores, there was a separate pay scale for just about every job classification. The new contract raised the lowest pay rate in most classifications by about 3% per year. First year increases at the bottom of each pay scale ranged from 10 cents for the baggers to 25 cents for the assistant managers.
For most job classifications, the new contract also added something to the differential in pay at each step of the pay ladder, and added at least one step to the ladder for most jobs. The difference between the top and bottom of the scale increased to varying degrees from job to job. The pay hike reported in the union newsletter was the biggest pay hike, the pay hike for an assistant manager at the top of the scale.
The disgruntled grocery store worker speculated that the lopsided vote in favor of the contract was largely due to the misleading report about it in the union newsletter, and the fact that the ratification vote was scheduled for the same date as high school graduation ceremonies in the St. Paul Public Schools. Because of this, those who got the worst deal, and were most likely to vote against the contract, were also unlikely to attend the meetings where the ratification vote was taken.
The disgruntled grocery store worker also proposed that all of the union stewards be elected, and that the union set a date to elect union stewards at all of the grocery stores. The motivation for this proposal was that all of the union stewards had been appointed, and they often took the side of management in situations where they ought to take the side of union members, such as grievances about contract violations, changes in work rules, and unfair practices.
I posed the question, "If most of our stewards are acting more like company agents than union representatives, and this is going on right under the noses of our elected leaders, why not hold an election for local-wide offices?
Then I spoke for a minute or two about the need for an effective strategy to defend the interests of our membership. The problem was an infection of company unionism and the leadership's adaptation to it. By itself, the election of union stewards wouldn't alter this situation.
At my work place, informal discussion about the grocery store contract produced some debate about what kind of pay hike for nursing home workers would be acceptable. There seemed to be a lot of support for the idea of raising the differential in pay at each step of the pay ladder, and adding some steps at the top. It wasn't hard to convince anyone that this proposal would be linked to a very low wage increase at the bottom of the pay scale, and that it was being put forward as the alternative to demanding a decent pay hike at the bottom of the scale.
I sensed that there was a division of opinion among union members over wage demands, and it was difficult to gauge where the majority stood on this question. There were some union members who advocated a bigger differential in pay between the top and bottom of the pay scale, and I could not persuade them that it was a bad idea.
A Call to Arms Against Carter's Guidelines
Organized discussion about the area-wide nursing home contract began for members of Local 789 at the first of two mass meetings held one day in the Spring of 1977.
The presiding officer was Ken Kokaisol, a business agent for the union local's grocery store division, and heir apparent to the local's top job upon the anticipated retirement of Jerome Richgels at the end of the year.
Brother Kokaisol opened his presentation to the membership with the declaration that this was "the year of the employer." He said that it would be tough to get the kind of settlement we deserve.
"But this year," he boasted, "we have a secret weapon to use at the bargaining table that will get us a good wage increase and minimize the risk of a strike. We're going to keep the amount of money we want a secret."
Business agent Kokaisol's speech was brief enough to leave plenty of time for discussion. I was among the first speakers to follow.
I stated my name and identified myself as a union steward at Commonwealth Nursing Home, then began with the remark that the unmentionable component of Mr. Kosaisol's secret weapon was what he meant by a good wage increase.
I noted that one of Jimmy Carter's announced policy objectives was to bring price inflation down to 7% per year. His economic advisers explained that achieving this goal would require that labor do its part by keeping the cost of wages and benefits well under that 7% target.
I noted that the labor movement rolled over and played dead when the City of New York cut the wages of its unionized employees as part of a plan to bail New York City out of its fiscal crisis. It was a plan endorsed by the leadership of the Democratic Party at the federal, state and municipal level.
I pointed to a failed attempt at Commonwealth to take away our paid sick leave, and to a contract just settled for grocery store workers organized by Local 789, a model contract, which increased the lowest pay rate by only 10% over three years.
Then I reported that the idea had been circulating at my work place that old-timers should get a big pay increase by adding some money to every step on the pay ladder and by adding some new steps. I argued that such a proposal was designed to soften opposition to a very small across the board wage hike. It would cost the employers much less to raise wages by a given amount at the top of the pay ladder than at the bottom.
Declaring that "this is one old-timer who wouldn't take a bribe to sell out the union," I warned that the union would be weakened if it failed to defend the interests of those at the bottom of the pay ladder. Moreover, letting real wages fall at the bottom of the ladder, and raising pay at the top of the ladder, wouldn't keep real wages for those at the top from falling in the long run.
Then I proposed that we advance the demand for an across- the-board wage increase of 25 cents per year and stick to it.
Ken Kokaisol remarked that the wage increase I proposed was "too low," and added that we should also get more money at each step of the pay ladder.
"Even the modest wage increase I propose," I continued, "will require serious strike preparation to secure. We can't expect to extract more concessions from employers without a strike than we can expect to force out of them through effective strike action."
Brother Kokaisol commented that a strike lasting more than a few hours was "unthinkable," implying that little or no preparation would be required to carry out an effective strike.
I replied that "an industry-wide strike is unlikely to last more than two minutes without government intervention aimed at shutting it down. That's what we have to prepare for."
Ken Kokaisol responded with the declaration that "we can't strike against the government!"
Just about everyone who spoke after me had something to say about the strategy we should employ, and tactical questions to consider, in preparation for a strike.
The meeting was still young when everyone who wanted to speak had a chance to do so. Except for Ken Kokaisol's report and my extended remarks at the beginning of the discussion period, contributions to the discussion generally didn't cover more than one point, and didn't go on for more than a minute or two.
Again I took the floor, declaring that "Rule 49 Approval is a gun at our head and a hand in our pockets. It was used in 1974 to bludgeon us into accepting cuts in hours and heavy workloads. Rule 49 Approval should be taken out of our contract."
The contract provision, Rule 49 Approval, allowed employers to postpone a wage hike, then back out of an agreement to raise wages. It could be used pending approval by the Minnesota Department of Welfare of a nursing home owner's request to increase rates charged to patients, which the owner claims are necessary to cover costs and assure a fair rate of profit.
An overwhelming majority of the membership demonstrated
their support for getting rid of Rule 49 Approval.
Ken Kokaisol's initial response was to defend 'Rule 49 Approval' as a "useful bargaining chip," which obviously displeased his audience.
But after a quick huddle with another business agent, Local 789's future President did an about-face, promising that the removal of Rule 49 Approval from the contract would be the bargaining committee's top priority. This empty promise drew some applause and cheers.
Then, apologizing for the small amount of time allotted for discussion, Kokaisol revealed that the election of bargaining committee delegates was on the agenda at this meeting. This was a departure from the traditional procedure, which was to elect one delegate from each nursing home at a later date. Two delegates were to be elected at this meeting, and five at the meeting that evening.
Several candidates were at the ready with someone to deliver a nominating speech, a cheering section, and a brief acceptance speech.
After these candidates had declared, I nominated myself. A young black woman nominated herself to close the nominations. Then each candidate gave a brief presentation in the order that they were nominated.
The candidates who preceded me on the speakers list presented their multiple leadership credentials. All were union stewards and/or had been bargaining committee delegates in past years. Other office holdings included Cub Scout den mother, DFL precinct captain, and garden club president.
My speech was quite different and less forgetable: an appeal to reject Carter's wage guidelines. It went something like this:
"There are some members of this union from a facility in White Bear Lake who should be here today. They put their jobs on the line for this union. They know the difference a union can make, and we're a little stronger because of the fight they waged to force their employer to recognize our union and negotiate a contract.
"I'm proud to say that about half of the union membership at Commonwealth walked a picket line to show our support for the organizing drive in White Bear Lake.
"In recent years, we've been losing a lot of ground that was gained by the labor movement during the 1930s. Today, the employers and their government demand that we make a few sacrifices willingly, or they will force us give up much more.
"But don't be fooled. Every concession to economic blackmail will lead to more until we say no. No to Carter's wage guidelines! No to Carter's Government!"
The final speaker apologized for her lack of credentials, endorsed my views, and promised her
best effort to serve the interests of the membership.
A majority of union members cast a vote in the first round of balloting for the two candidates at the end of the speakers list. I received over 70% of the vote.
Bargaining Committee Delegates Chosen In Rigged Elections
Jerome Richgels, the president of Local 789, presided at the mass meeting that evening. His presentation was longer than the one given by Ken Kosaisol at the first meeting. More than 500 union members were in attendance.
Some of the first union members to speak from the floor were called on by name and tended to be rather long-winded. They aired grievances about working conditions and contributed items to a wish list.
Other union members who wanted to speak then formed a long queue behind a microphone set up in the center aisle. All but a few of the speakers near the front of the queue aired complaints about their employers and added items to the wish list. Then a growing proportion of speakers began to stray from this formula.
There was still a long queue of union members waiting for their first chance to speak when president Richgels closed the discussion period. He reported that the discussion that morning had gotten out of control, announced a change of plans for the election of delegates, and adjourned the meeting.
The meeting broke up on cue. The membership assembled in groups according to work place, each group selecting a delegate to the bargaining committee. These groups were encouraged to select a union steward or someone who had served on the union's bargaining committee in years past.
In addition to myself and the day shift steward, the group from Commonwealth only had about a half dozen members. A union business agent approached us as we assembled.
Then one of the rank-and-file members explained their dilemma. There were two union stewards
present, and it would be difficult to chose which one to elect as their bargaining committee delegate.
The business agent stated that the group from Commonwealth didn't have to chose one union steward over another as their bargaining committee delegate. Commonwealth could have two delegates. He explained that union members who attended the assembly that morning had elected two delegates-at-large, and that I was one of the delegates elected.
The day shift steward and rank and file members endorsed the two delegate solution. However, I stated that I would not serve as a bargaining committee delegate if the union members present were confident that the day-shift steward would represent their interests as well as me.
One union member from my work place seemed distressed by this offer, saying "no" with great insistence, then attempted to explain away this response. No one wanted to vote, and no one wanted me off the bargaining committee.
But I refused to serve as a delegate unless elected by the group from Commonwealth and demanded a vote by secret ballot.
Then the business agent proposed that the day shift steward serve as an alternate. But I insisted that if the union members at Commonwealth had the option of choosing an alternate, the rest of the membership should have the opportunity to participate in deciding who it would be.
Again the union business agent intervened. He proposed that we decide whether to chose the day shift steward as the alternate by flipping a coin. The rank-and-file members urged me to accept the challenge. I made the call and won the toss.
After this meeting was over, the rank-and-file members met with me. They explained that the low turn-out, and their support for the proposals made by the union business agent, were motivated by the threat of victimization. They alleged that the day shift steward at Commonwealth had warned them that if they elected me, everyone suspected of voting for me would run the risk of being fired.
I responded with the contention that the threat of victimization was an idle threat. It would be a big mistake for the management at Commonwealth to make good on such a threat. It would further undermine the authority of the bargaining committee selected at the evening meeting, which already had a severe credibility problem.
Then I gave an account of what happened at the meeting that morning. The key issues discussed in the meeting that morning had previously been discussed informally at Commonwealth. Among participants in this informal small group meeting, those who had taken the side of the union's officialdom on key issues changed their stances.
The Bargaining Committee Opens For Business As Usual
Local 789 provided 12 of the 21 worker's delegates on the area-wide bargaining committee. All but a couple of these delegates were also union stewards, and at least one-third of them had served on bargaining committees in years past.
Three union officers, all men, participated as members of the union bargaining committee in an advisory capacity: the President of Local 789, the President of the Minneapolis Local, and a Local 789 Business Agent. The president of local 789 served as chairman.
My recollection is that every member of the committee was white, even though a large minority of the membership was black. Except for myself, all the delegates selected by the membership were women. I was the youngest member of the bargaining committee, and the only workers' delegate who had been a member of the union for less than three years.
Every worker's delegate on the bargaining committee was a nursing assistant. Most of the delegates had been classified as a "nursing assistant II" before this classification was abolished in 1974, and retained the 50› per hour differential that went with this classification. Nearly everyone else received a 50 cent "merit-pay" increase sometime after their third year on the job.
It was a safe bet that a large majority of the bargaining committee delegates were inclined to recommend that the membership ratify an offer from the employers that included a pay increase at each step of the pay scale and more steps on the ladder, and would go along with a small pay raise at the base of the pay scale.
Nursing assistants, and most other union members reached the top of their pay scale on the third anniversary of their hire date. This pay scale ranged from $3.00 per hour to $3.30 per hour. Almost all of the delegates earned at least $3.80 per hour.
Some of the delegates were already acquainted with each other when the committee first met. The other person elected by the membership-at-large from Local 789 was not on the bargaining committee.
On the basis of introductory statements from the other delegates, I suspected that only one other delegate wouldn't be strongly influenced to vote the way that the union officials wanted the committee to vote on key issues. She was a member of the Minneapolis local, a union steward, and had played a leading role in a recent organizing drive that forced her employer to recognize the union.
Given the credentials presented by the other delegates, it seemed curious to me that the President of Local 789 and I monopolized discussion on the first topic addressed: the language of provisions in the existing contract. This dialog focused on the issue of how to interpret and apply contract provisions in disputes with employers.
My philosophy was to support any reasonable beef against management, to look for a point of support in the contract, and do what was possible to see that the management drew the proper conclusions. The President of Local 789 expressed the view that we should try to win some grievances and let the employer win some grievances.
The next topic that the bargaining committee was to address was bargaining strategy. A representative from the international union was on hand to give a presentation on this topic.
Before the international representative arrived at the meeting that he was to address, I started to give a presentation of my own. However I didn't get past the opening sentence, "the fiscal crisis in New York..." before the committee chairman cut me off, asserting that New York was not an issue.
The first words out of the mouth of the international representative as he began his presentation were "the fiscal crisis in New York..." The committee chairman cut him off before he finished this first sentence and led him out of the meeting room.
The chairman returned a few minutes later to adjourn the meeting. He reported that the international representative had to leave without delay in order to catch the first available flight to Washington DC. Some unspecified matter of great importance required his immediate attention there.
The Secret Wage Package And Strike Authorization Vote
When the bargaining committee got around to the issue of wage demands, the first order of business was to create a subcommittee.
The President of Local 789 put a motion on the floor to form a subcommittee consisting of the union officers present. They were to design a wage package and present it to the employers as the union's opening bid, without giving the full committee a chance to review it. Only two delegates voted against it.
Then I introduced a motion to instruct the subcommittee to include in its wage package an increase of at least 7% per year at the bottom of the pay scale. However, the president of Local 789 stated that such a amendment was unnecessary. To propose an increase in the base wage of less than 7% per year was "unthinkable." My motion was tabled for lack of support from another delegate.
The chairman's next move was to propose a gag rule. I "promised" to defy a gag rule if one was adopted. The chairman replied that the committee would not tolerate being bullied about, but backed away from putting the gag rule to a vote.
Within days, Local 789 held mass meetings to vote on whether to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike. I attended the second, and larger of two meetings to inform the membership about the secret wage package and the rejection of my proposal on the minimum wage. I did so, and called for a vote against strike authorization: as a vote of no confidence in the bargaining committee, and to put the election of a new bargaining committee on the agenda.
The vote by show of hands appeared to run about 60-65% in favor of strike authorization to 35-40% against it.
The Union Bids Low, Employers Bid High
The bargaining committee reconvened to find what the subcommittee had offered the employers: a wage package which increased the bottom of the pay scale from $3.00 to $3.30 over three years. The pay differential between a new hire and someone employed for 3 years or more increased from 30 to 73 cents.
By comparison, a 7% per year increase in the base wage over three years would be 69 cents. At the mass meeting chaired by Ken Kokaisol, the 25 cent per year across-the-board pay hike that I proposed as a minimally acceptable offer was dismissed by Kokaisol as "too low."
The subcommittee's wage package also added 10 cents at the bottom of the scale for male nursing assistants. The committee chairman and a few of the workers' delegates defended the introduction of separate and unequal pay scales for men and women. The rationale for this was that men tended to be better at doing the heavy lifting, and that it's hard to find men who are willing to work for women's wages.
Most comments exchanged between delegates about the wage package as a whole were negative. Most delegates in close proximity to me made remarks such as "we can't sell this contract" and "the membership won't go for it." The wage increase at the bottom of the pay scale was too low.
The President of Local 789 addressed the disgruntled with a remark to the effect that they had bought a pig in a poke and now they're stuck with it: "if you wanted a higher across the board increase, you should have voted to instruct the subcommittee accordingly."
Then the entire union bargaining committee met with the employers' delegation. The employers' spokesman reported that his clients would not agree to the proposal to pay male nursing assistants more than female nursing assistants. "It's illegal to do that sort of thing, and it is certain that the feminists will challenge it in the courts."
The employers' mouthpiece reported that his clients found the proposal to increase pay at each step of the pay ladder, and to add a big step at the top of the pay ladder to be acceptable. But, the union's opening bid for a wage increase at the bottom of the scale was "too low."
The employers' counter-offer was to accept the union proposals to make the pay ladder longer and steeper, and to double the amount that the union proposed as an increase at the bottom of the pay scale. They had other proposals to put on the table, but held them in reserve.
Back at the union caucus meeting, our chairman declared the employers' offer to be a bargaining trick. I added a warning: the union would be expected to pay a big price in concessions on other issues for their generous offer.
Then I put a motion on the floor to accept the counter-offer with a proviso: no further amendments to the existing contract would be considered by the union. I stated that this demand fell short of what I had been pressing for. But if the employers agreed to a new contract on this basis, I would vote to recommend it to the membership for approval with both hands. The motion was seconded by the chairman and approved unanimously.
The President of Local 789 then proposed that we elect a new chairman. Without hesitation, I introduced a motion to re-elect the president of local 789 by acclamation. It was promptly seconded by another delegate and put to a vote. The vote in favor was unanimous.
The President of local 789 was now stuck with the job of being chairman of a bargaining committee he didn't control. He couldn't be sure that a majority of the committee would consider making concessions to the employer, or grant the chairman authority to make a deal behind their backs. He needed some time to assess and strengthen his position.
On the other hand, until the chairman took an initiative that a large part of the committee would oppose, it was unlikely that any of the delegates would take my side in a debate over what to do next.
The next meeting with employers was predictable enough. The employers' spokesman pulled a list from his briefcase that contained just about every demand for concessions from the union one could imagine. Our chairman delivered the union response to the employers' wage offer before this list was handed over to us. The employers' reactions were comical: jaws dropped and there were some howls of disbelief.
Upon reconvening, the union's caucus reviewed the employers' demands one by one. I made the presentation, giving an assessment of how each concession might affect the union. I concluded that even the least onerous of concessions could do serious harm, and that giving up anything obtained in prior agreements was a violation of the eleventh commandment: What the employer giveth, the employer shall not taketh away.
The bargaining committee voted unanimously to reaffirm the position adopted just prior to the last bargaining session with the employers. But no one was willing to discuss how to prepare for a strike.
How a 7% Wage Hike Equaled Communism
The worker delegates settled into a routine of playing cards and other pastimes when the union caucus was in session. The troops were waiting for their generals to do something.
The chairman would periodically report that the subcommittee's discussions with the employers' agents were getting nowhere.
Soon came the official declaration that negotiations were at an impasse. A government mediator stepped in to the picture.
On one occasion, after meeting with employers, the mediator walked up to the union's officials in a reception area of a hotel within earshot of a few delegates, including myself, to issue a warning: "There's trouble in St. Paul. The bargaining committee members there are out of control and our contract is headed for defeat. Gentlemen, I suggest you do something about it."
Presumably, our subcommittee had reached a tentative agreement with the employers on the terms of a new contract. Even if a majority of the full bargaining committee could be convinced to accept the employer's offer, it wouldn't be so easy to win over a majority of the membership in Local 789.
The chairman's next move was to propose a meeting with employers where speaking rights would be extended to all delegates. The union delegation entered this session without any preparation.
Initially, the scene was reminiscent of a gripe session commonly staged by employers. The employers' lead representative neatly dispatched every complaint, every appeal to reason, every suggestion. Then the union delegates fell silent. At this point I spoke up.
"The issue," I declared, "is money, and we want more than 7% per year in our pockets."
The employers' mouthpiece contended, "We can't agree to that. We can't afford it. There's no money. We're broke."
I replied, "If you're really broke, we might consider your plea of poverty, but first you'll have to open the books, both sets!"
"That," retorted the employers' mouthpiece, "would violate the sanctity of private property."
Our chairman weighed in with the opinion that "if the private sector can't do the job, maybe the state should take over."
Then the employers' head negotiator gave the signal for his delegation to walk out of the meeting with the announcement: "We will have no further dealings with Communists."
At the next mass membership meeting that I attended, the president of local 789 denounced the bargaining committee's members for being dupes of a Trotskyite-Communist conspiracy that was fomenting class warfare. "The historic mission of the labor movement," he said, "is to promote industrial peace, not class warfare." Then he spoke fondly about the purge of Trotskyists from local 789 during the 1950s.
The Trotskyist-Communist conspiracy wasn't a proper conspiracy. Unlike the president of Local 789, I didn't have a hidden agenda or control a secret faction on the bargaining committee.
The One at a Time Strategy
When the union's bargaining committee reconvened, the president of the Minneapolis local introduced himself as the bargaining committee's new chairman.
The new chairman started off by lecturing the outgoing chairman about the virtues of union democracy. "The Minneapolis local," he boasted, "had an organized discussion and an election of delegates that was a model of union democracy in action, and we haven't had any trouble."
I asserted that "it is not a virtue to sweep important issues under the rug as happened in the Minneapolis local, even when the task is performed with a democratic broom. Is it not also a little late in the game to speak out against irregularities in local 789's election of delegates and the organized discussion that preceded it?"
The new chairman then got right down to business. He made the pitch for a one-at-a-time strategy. The idea was to transfer authority to conduct negotiations and recommend contract offers from the bargaining committee to the local presidents and their business agents. They would bargain for a separate contract for workers employed by each and every nursing home owner.
I opened my presentation by characterizing the one-at-a-time strategy as a strategy of capitulating to the employers one-at-a-time. I explained that the one-at-a-time strategy was a proposal to dissolve the bargaining committee. It was a proposal to remove the threat of an industry-wide strike.
I cautioned that some employers might offer terms that seem too good to be true for the sake of getting union members to vote for a separate contract. But what gains might be obtained by doing so will be short-lived.
I declared that anyone who votes for the one-at-a-time strategy will be voting away their right to represent the membership of the union. Loyal unionists should vote against this strategy, and if out-voted, spare no effort to see that any separate contract, however favorable its terms, is rejected.
Before the vote, the president of local 789 took a conciliatory approach, suggesting that we should give the one-at-a-time strategy a chance to work, and if it didn't, we could do it the other way.
During the vote, about half of the delegation immediately raised their hands in favor of the motion to approve the one-at-a-time strategy. A few of the delegates cast a long look around, then slowly raised their hands in favor of the motion. The rest of the delegates voted against it without hesitation.
The motion to approve the one at-a-time strategy carried by a 2 to 1 margin. But the St. Paul delegation was more evenly divided.
The Final Offer
The final offer tendered by the employers for an area-wide contract fell short of the demand advanced by the union bargaining committee prior to its dissolution. For part-time workers hired after the contract's effective date, it reduced paid leave time and slowed the climb up the pay ladder.
The proposed contract was ratified by a large majority of the membership of the Minneapolis and Stillwater locals before it was presented to the membership of local 789.
The contract was put to a vote by secret ballot, a departure from the practice in past years of voting by a show of hands. It would have been soundly defeated if the vote was taken by show of hands. Union members who opposed the contract tended to be quite vocal. Those who supported the contract tended to keep their views about the contract to themselves.
On the day that the contract was voted on, I was unable to get to the morning meeting that I had planned to attend. I reported for work that afternoon to find myself confronted with an angry mob whose members denounced me as a sell-out.
The mob reported that the president of local 789 commended me for the role I played in the negotiations, and claimed that I had given my qualified support to the deal struck with the nursing home owners. I explained that my qualified support for this deal was news to me.
When told about what the deal was, I stated that what was being taken away from part time workers in the proposed contract was a good enough reason to vote against it.
I also stated that I was inclined to agree with the local president that if would be difficult to do much better than the contract that was put in front of us. We might succeed in getting what the bargaining committee demanded prior to it dissolution, but it was unlikely we could do much better than that.
I explained that the minority of the bargaining committee was united in opposition to the one-at-a-time strategy, the dissolution of the area-wide bargaining committee, a retreat from the position of rejecting all of the employers' concessionary demands, and removing the threat of an industry-wide strike. To displace the union's official leadership, it would be necessary to organize a faction on that basis and chart a new course.
I proposed that we should advance new demands that could help to mobilize support for a strike within and beyond our ranks. For example, we could demand that minimum requirements for direct patient care, equal to or greater than state licensing requirements, be written into the contract. We could demand a shorter work week with a pay hike to offset the cut in hours, in addition to cost of living increases. We could demand that our employers hiring practices result in higher levels of employment for members of racial and ethnic groups with above-average rates of unemployment.
I discussed some of the obstacles we would face if we rejected the contract and proceeded toward a strike. The majority of the membership at some nursing homes might oppose this course. We should expect opposition from the leadership of our international union, the full-time officers of our local, and some of the union stewards in the nursing homes covered by the contract. We could also count on the government to intervene against us.
My assessment of the situation may have been more likely to convince someone who was sitting on the fence to vote for the contract rather than to vote against it. However, I felt that an honest, sober assessment of the situation was necessary.
When the votes of about 1500 local 789 nursing home workers were counted, the official tally showed that the proposed contract won approval by a margin of only about 20 votes.