STOP WORKING SO MUCH!

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President Obama recommended that the US Department of Labor raise the amount an employer has to pay a worker without having to pay the worker overtime (x1.5 more that the standard wage) from $455/week up to $970/week.

The media is stating that this change “could make 5,000,000 more worker eligible for overtime.”

Business leader warn that they will lower wages (unlikely). Jordan Weissmann at Slate predicts more lay-offs in the media as a result.

He views the results of this change from the employer’s stand point.

I don’t think this is the best way to think about it.

I think it is more accurate to say that this will “give 5 million workers their time back and will provide them the opportunity to get some more money if they have to lose some of their time.”

You see, a standard work week in our country is 40 hours per week.

Workers rights activists fought long and hard to win this fundamental protection. If your employer needs you to work more than 40 hours per week, then, the employer is required to may you 50% more for cutting into your personal time.

Sadly, Pres. Obama’s proposal drops protections for people earning around $50,000 per year. In other words, just as you have grabbed one of the lower rungs on the middle-class ladder, Uncle Sam hands your boss a hammer to bang your fingers with.

Sadly, I see many professional organizers fall into the trap of voluntarily giving away their time while simultaneously weakening our workers rights in the process.

Many union and community organizers are salaried employees.

Most of us get the implied understanding that we should selfless servants to “the cause.”

Due to this, many of my fellow organizers regularly work 50 or 60 hour work weeks.

This is a recipe for burnout. I have been a professional in this field for 15 years. I am sad to report that I can only think of a small handful of colleagues who have made it this long.

There are many reasons for this of course, but among the main reasons people quit: being over-worked.

That is why I want to encourage you, organizer, or any worker for that matter, to think about the President’s proposal as not a wage proposal, but a time-protection proposal.

You have 40 hours that you (full-time worker) dedicate to earning wages, 40 hours to recreation, enjoyment and enrichment and 40 hours to rest.

In my last job, we were salaried and we were also protected by a union that I helped to form.

The union and the employer signed an agreement that we could get comp-time after 45 hours per week.

Both sides agreed to this, so I am not complaining, but I think that it is helpful think this through a little more.

Essentially, my employer expected me to donate about 10% of my wage back to them if I worked more than 40 hours per week. After that, they would give me hour back after 45 hours per week. For example, I could work 50 hours in one week and take off 5 hours of my work week the following week.

This wasn’t a bad agreement, but, it is actually a far cry from x1.5 rate that an hourly worker would get in the same situation. Actually, if I worked 50 hours that week, I was volunteering to reduce my own wage by 60% (since my time after 40 hours SHOULD be worth x1.5 or 15 hours off the following week).

Since, like many of you, I had a job to do and take much pride in my results or sometimes simply could not avoid working more than 40 hours per week.

If you regularly, as a salaried worker, work more than 40 hours for less than x1.5 your rate (traded for time off or for wages/benefits) your are volunteering to slash your own salary. You are also setting a precedent and expectation from your employer that your most valuable time is a bottomless resource for them to dip into.

Try to stick to the 40 hour per week rule and you will have a better, more sustainable, work life.

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Fellow TED X speakers, Rosa Sheng and Stacey Holland.

Fellow TED X speakers, Rosa Sheng and Stacey Holland.

TED X was a fantastic challenge. I had a great time and met some amazing people. The other TED X speakers rallied around each other and we spent dozens of hours coaching and helping each other. Family, friends and allies all pitched in to help me prepare. I will never forget this wonderful experience.

Since that time, I have been very busy. In fact, after giving the final speech of the night at TED X, Emily and I hustled over to the after party. We had a few drinks and went home where I packed some clothes and got 4 hours of sleep before going to the Windcall Institute board meeting at Rancho Gallina outside of Sante Fe, NM.

Adobe house near Rancho Galina

Adobe house near Rancho Galina

The Windcall Institute is an amazing organization that is dedicated to preserving and sustaining our most valuable resource in social change work…the organizer. We do this by granting some residencies and by promoting “Staying Power” practices which keep trouble-makers tuned into their values, creative, courageous and strong.

Since I left town, some amazing things have happened. POWER and SEIU were able to prevent American/US Airlines (AMUS? USMerican?)from carving themselves out a huge loophole in the recently won Living Wage Ordinance victory.

This was big enough of an victory on its own, however, when taken in its full context, it could signify a massive shift in the center of grassroots power in our city.

The Living Wage Ordinance passed with almost 100,000 votes in May 2014. The law states that any city related business (on city property, doing city business or receiving any city incentives such as tax breaks) and sub-contractors of city related businesses must pay at least 150% of the highest minimum wage (i.e. if the PA min wage is higher that the Federal, city related businesses have to pay 150% of the PA min wage) and provide 5 days of paid sick leave.

This law has already improved the lives of thousands of people at the airport. American/US Airlines were the lone (and most significant) holdout.

American/US Airlines were able to hold out because of the pre-existing lease agreement that allowed business as usual. In the past 6 months we have heard rumors that the airlines were trying to find a work around including creating a special lease agreement that went on under the old terms until infinity, some how magically avoiding renegotiating it while still changing it.

They also really wanted to eliminate a “Labor Peace” clause that guarantees workers the right to join and form unions without being fired. Sarina Santos can tell you why this is so important.

During the last few months, many brave workers have joined the movement to have to force American/US Airlines follow the law. One of the bravest was Sarina Santos.

via philly.com

CASE IN POINT: Sarina Santos is fighting for her job after standing up for her rights at the airport

Sarina is a mother of 4 and a baggage handler earning minimum wage at the airport. She spoke up at many events but apparently, she went too far when she spoke at an event welcoming Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez (an aide to Pope Francis). She was terminated days later.

Despite her termination, she has not stopped fighting, in fact, she has only gotten stronger.

On Monday, June 8, I was happy to have a sit down with Daily News Inquirer reporter, Will Bunch. I asked him to hear my “Idea Worth Spreading” as I prepared for my TED X performance. I did tell him what a big role “public courage” has played in my life and my practice. He was a huge help and a fascinating person to meet (one of the best “tricks” I have is to ask people that I don’t know, but admire, for help as a way to meet with them. Almost everyone wants to be helpful and share their expertise).

I also got to tell Mr. Bunch about Sarina and her termination.

He weighed in on her fight and her courage. He contrasted it with the shallow, boring, business as usual top Presidential candidates yesterday in his Attytood column.

“…Sarina Santos did not do the easy thing. She spoke up to anyone who would listen…

If you are not a protester, you might view her termination as just a thing that happened. However, from an organizers point of view, this is classic “escalation” from American/US Airlines. They are using Sarina’s firing as a warning to all other workers. “See what will happen if you continue to agitate?”

Damping down the dissent was key for their next move, behind-closed-doors-deal-cutting. A task that seems a lot less slimy if there are no workers interfering.

Last Tuesday, June 9, we held a rally and prayer vigil for Sarina at City Hall.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (and other elected officials) attended the rally. She told us that she thought that American/US Airlines was going to refuse to comply with the law and that they were lobbying heavily to get an exemption.

On Wednesday, POWER Interfaith organizers and SEIU kicked up the organizing into high gear.

At one point, Rev. Gregory Holston and Rev. Robin Hynicka surrounded Councilman Robert Henon in his office and asked him to stand strong. In the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Henon was cautious. After the ministers offered a prayer for Mr. Henon and even laid hands on the Councilman in prayer, the Councilman’s stance noticeably changed. He pledged to make sure that “the law is followed.”

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The POWER crew continued through city hall and prayed with Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez (she asked for support and the flock obliged) and continued to talk to and pray in City Hall through out the afternoon.

One of the points that I made during my TED X talk is that protest can include many different elements besides chanting and marching. It should include all parts of our creative and spiritual expression.

Guess what, it doesn’t even matter if you are religious! You don’t have to believe that the prayers offered are going into gods answering machine to see how sincere the pleas for justice are.

You can be sure that Councilman Henon knew in all certitude that these activists were 100% dead serious about their demands.

So, they prayed. They won.

Workers win wage war at Philadelphia International Airport   6abc.com

It is important to note that this is a win brought to our city by direct action organizing. It simply would not have happened otherwise. Review the score card- Pledges from City Councilors in 2013 didn’t get it done, Mayoral Executive Action in 2014 did not get it done, 100,000 voters didn’t get it done, POWER activists sitting on the official “exemption task force” didn’t get it done. Direct action and the use of protest got it done.

Perhaps more important, though, is a noticeable shift in power in our city.

I have no doubt that this loophole would have gone through had it been proposed just a year or two ago.

Our city has been dominated by an alliance of big business, the building trades and pro-business Democratic officials.

In the past, no development deal, from the Convention Center expansion to the Comcast Center to even the rehabbing of the Gallery Mall would go unsweetened by Philadelphia Democrats. The powerful building trades have almost always staked out a pro-business position to the point of even opposing outside unions using their leverage to get some ability to represent the workers in the facility after the builders cleared out.

Just look at the almost 100% union free casino as an example (what Lynn Fox, Pres. of Workers United union, did on the Gaming Commission to leave empty handed could really use some explaining).

I don’t know if the Building Trades were lobbying along side American/US Airlines. But, since the airlines threatened to not build one of the new runways without the loophole, I would be surprised to find out that they weren’t.

I am not saying that those of us in favor of the living wage are “against” the building trades. In fact, I do think that the build-out should be 100% union, however, the building trades often prevent worker progress on other fronts if they think that it will delay development by even 1 day.

They usually win.

If they were fighting against us, they must have been very surprised (and happy with) the result of our organizing. This was the first time in my recollection that the progressives were able to walk away with a major win against their wishes.

I hope that they can see this as an opportunity and not as a threat because we are just getting started.

We can transform our city, our nation even, if we act now. That is what I said in my TED X talk. Will Bunch puts it even more elegantly-

“…But the biggest thing we need to realize is that we need not so much to listen, but to act. To become not just voters every four years, but activists every day.”

Thanks for reading! Please share and like and Subscribe to “That Final Straw.com” http://eepurl.com/UjVhX

NEW version if That Final Straw coming soon!

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I have been selected to be a TED X speaker!

I am still learning of the mysterious process by which I was chosen. I know that I was nominated by someone that I don’t know (I found out who they are but am not sure that I can tell any one…thanks…you!). TED X people (a brilliant cohort of tech and entertainment pros who are giving me so much help) researched me and figured that I should be one of the 16 or so speakers at TED X Philly on June 11th!

You can read more about all of the other brilliant speakers here.

I am not writing ONLY to self-promote, though.

I am writing to ask you for help.

First of all, please sign up to follow my blog by clicking here.

Secondly, I really need your ideas (consider them stolen).

If you had one thing that you wanted the world, or at least the average NPR listener, to know about Direct-Action organizing what would it be?

Also, can you simply state to them why they should do it?

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workers-3Emily Teel is a journalist and a fine dining server. At the time Edible Philly was a new magazine in the city which features our rich food and restaurant culture.

So, you can be sure that it would have been much easier for Ms. Teel and Edible to avoid the topic of the Earned Sick Leave fight that was simmering in the city and on full sear in the restaurant world.

Nonetheless, Teel reached out to me in the fall of 2013 wanting to learn more about what we were doing (I was then working for the Restaurant Opportunities Center) to help pass the law and to hear more about how our members were affected by not having access to paid sick days.

Of course, Emily knew how difficult it is to not have paid sick days being a server herself.

That passion really came through in her reportage which was published in the Spring of 2014.

Emily Teel and her Editor, Joy Manning should be applauded for their courage.

You can be sure that the restaurant industry expected mostly glowing reviews and exciting profiles of themselves and the industry when Edible Philly starting publishing.

Edible Philly does plenty of that too, however, on paid sick days, they played it straight. I am sure that that was not easy to do.

Despite whatever sneers they may have gotten from the food industry at that time, I would hope that they now feel vindicated since our city has now passed a paid sick day policy that covers almost all food workers.

Please take a minute to celebrate the courage of Emily Teel and Edible Philly by voting for them to receive an Eddy Award- http://www.ediblefeast.com/eddyawards/vote/2015/9352/people-ethical-treatment-restaurant-workers

Emily Teel’s story won in a landslide! 45% of the readers voted for her (her closest rival only had 20%) and she secured the Editor’s choice!

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IMG_20150212_143739004_1Today was a great day for Philadelphia. City Council passed the Earned Sick Leave Ordinance and Mayor Michael Nutter signed it into law.

In 90 days, the law will go into effect, giving 200,000 Philadelphians access to some paid sick days. I have no doubt, that many of these people, those who have toiled for years, maybe even decades in the service industry (retail, food, personal services and restaurants) will have access too paid sick days for the first time in their lives.

I was proud to witness Reverend Gregory Holston from New Vision UMC in N. Philadelphia, and leader in POWER, give remarks in support of the legislation.

As I stated in my previous post, a small, unruly group of security officers envisioned making this a reality a decade ago.

In the time that has passed, they won some small paid sick leave victories ate Upenn, Temple University, Drexel University and the Museum of Art.

Those victories, raised the profile of this issue across the city and played a role in inspiring the long fight that has been the Earned Sick Leave Campaign.

Reverend Holston and I attended the signing ceremony and we convened again a few hours later for a meeting of the POWER Economic Dignity Team.

At the close of the meeting, Pastor Greg put me on the spot and asked me to give the closing prayer.

I must admit that I was a little uncomfortable with this request.

Though I have prayed many times with others and in public, I have never conducted the prayer.

Nonetheless, I was glad to be given the challenge.

I was nervous so, I didn’t say much.

As I walked back to the Girard Ave. trolley, it was very cold and the wind was really pushing me around.

As I walked, I recalled when the security officers and I set the goal of winning paid sick days and a union for all security officers a goal.

Our time line to see those things happen was really long. I am pretty sure we set our deadline at “50 years.”

As we fought to put that first win behind us, paid sick days for 150 security officers at Upenn, we hit many bumps and set backs. There were times that we sure that we would not win.

Now, ten years later. Through four different employers, I am amazed to see that it finally came to fruition.

This is the prayer I wish I would have offered-

Dear Lord,

We thank you today for inspiring us with your work.

Today, you remind us, that though the path you have given us may seem long, the days too short, the wind too cold, our time too short, if we stay on the path that you offer, we can achieve even those things which seem impossible.

Some great leaders made this victory possible. There are so many, I am sure that I would forgot to mention them all and that would be embarrassing. So, let me appreciate Councilman Greenlee and Marianne Bellasorte. You two are so awesome.

I have made many videos on this issue, which I will reprise later, but here is another cool one.

From a sermon that Bishop Dwayne Royster gave in 2011, when his church was an old liquor store- –

From when we surrounded city hall with postcards-

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Paid sick leave has been a major policy issue in our city since 2011. This policy fight emerged from a high-profile work place struggle that goes back to 2005. Now, 10 years later, we are as close to passing paid sick leave legislation as we ever have been.

On Tuesday, February 3rd, Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce paid sick leave legislation for the third time.

If you stand with the 200,000 Philadelphians who don’t have any paid sick leave, please joins us in City Council Chambers, Room 400 at 10 a.m., Tuesday (weather permitting).

For some back ground on the origins of this policy fight for paid sick days, continue reading to learn how ten years ago, hundreds of non-union security officers kicked off the fight for paid sick leave and won many work place improvements on the way.

I began organizing with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and the Community College of Philadelphia in 2004. After several meetings with the security officers to talk about their problems, we had a strategy meeting in early 2005.

The purpose of the meeting was to “cut the issue.”

This is organizer jargon that means that we will look at all of the problems that a community is facing to find THE ISSUE that we think has the most promise of providing a much needed win.

Back then, I was the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice and I was assisted by the enormously talented staff organizers, Eduardo Soriano and sometimes, Dorian Lam.

At this point, these security officers didn’t have the option of joining a union (Security officers are restricted under the law to join unions that only have other security officers as their members. There were no “security officer only” unions interested in us or that we were interested in joining). People who are in unions have the benefit of a legal structure (the National Labor Relations Board), which requires an employer to at least discuss all of workers problems. However, since we didn’t have the benefit of being able to join a union, the security officers (most of them were employed by Allied Barton security company) had to find another way to improve their work lives.

They faced so many problems. This video lays out some of the problems that they faced-

Of course they wanted to improve their wages. They wanted to get health care. The security officers needed better training. They wanted better equipment and an improved call-out policy. They needed paid sick leave. They wanted to be treated with dignity.

With all of these problems, problems that caused so much personal pain for these workers, it was difficult to prioritize them. There was an urgent need to address all of them. An organizer will not tell a community that any of their desires for change are impossible. No, we ask: “what will it take for us to win?”

That first win, and sequencing the victories that follow, is “strategy.”

So, the questions changes from “what are the problems we face?” to “which ‘problem’ can we turn into an ‘issue’ that the person in power/company/elected official is forced to take action on?”

Turning “problems” into “issues” = “cutting the issue.”

Of the long list of things that we needed to change, we decide that the most strategic issue to raise, on the long path to improving the lives of 16,000 mostly African-American security officers, was paid sick leave.

Paid sick leave was a problem that was broadly felt (by every security officer we spoke with, regardless of the company they worked for). It was also an issue that was deeply felt. Many security officers had been fired or had seen friends fired for missing work when they were sick, whether they “called out” or not.

Many of our leaders were single mothers, and many of them had stories of having to miss work because their children were too sick to be left alone. Due to this, we found that single mothers were more than twice as likely to be fired within the first year of employment than their male counterparts.

We thought that paid sick leave was the issue to campaign for.

I would like to put this campaign into better context.

At this point (2005), social justice groups around the country were trying to figure out how to improve the working conditions of sub-contracted workers. This type of employment arrangement was growing rapidly.

In fact, security officers at Penn, Temple and the Museum of Art used to be direct employees of those institutions. Back when that was the case, they were treated much better. For example, security officers at the universities use to be able to take free classes and also send their children there for free. Security officers at the museum were members of the union AFSCME and had pensions, living wages, fully-paid health care, generous paid vacations, and paid sick leave, not to mention they were protected from unjust firings by a standard discipline procedure and paid-for union lawyers and volunteer shop-stewards.

However, in the 1990s, all of this began to unravel.

The universities fired the security officers and handed that function over to Barton Security (later to merge with Allied Security, a company owned by Ron Perelman, to form Allied Barton). Barton Security hired back many of the same employees, but at a cut rate. One old-time security officer told me that they were offered their jobs back at $2 less per hour, and year after year their benefits were cut further.

Likewise, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art then-Mayor Ed Rendell fired all of the security officers and sub-contracted to Barton Security. Paid sick days, their living wages, all benefits, and their union all disappeared over night.

Fast forward to 2005 when we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at Penn and Temple University.

The company was, by this time, Allied Barton. Allied Barton is owned by MacAndrews and Forbes, the private equity fund owned by Ron Perelman. The President of MacAndrews and Forbes was Howard Gittis.

If those names ring a bell, it might be because Mr. Perelman, his family’s and Mr. Gittis’ names are emblazoned upon buildings at all three sites, to which they have been major donors, and at which, their company, AlliedBarton, has had huge security contracts.

In short, we were really fighting against the tide. We had not a sympathetic ear at any of these institutions. To add to the impossibility of our efforts, our nation would soon get dropped kicked into the Great Recession, a difficult time to extract any economic improvements from large corporations.

City Democrats had endorsed the first cut, the universities enjoyed the “generosity” of Mr. Perelman and Gittis’, and had awarded them with huge contracts. The museum, also was in the back pocket (deep pockets, indeed) of Mr. Perelman and had just opened the Perelman Annex (Mr. Perelman’s parents made a huge contribution to make that happen), and our little crew had no union backing us.

Finally, in Philadelphia, Allied Barton enjoyed an near union-free monopoly, bringing more than 10% of its total national revenue from Philadelphia alone, a profitable market that the company was not likely to relinquish with out a fight.

That said, we felt that we had a solid issue to run on. Not only would many security officers be motivated to join our cause, so would many in the general public when they heard that these workers didn’t have the barest protection of paid sick days.

So, we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at the University of Pennsylvania. The movement was lead by workers from Presbyterian Hospital, Penn Dorm workers like Thomas Robinson and many security officers from “Penn Rovers” (aka Penn Walk, or the officers that are on bikes and on foot in the periphery of Penn) and students from Penn.

After several protests, our group was approached by Reverend Beverly Dale from the Penn Christian Association. She told us that she was morally disturbed by learning that the security officers had no sick leave. Rev. Dale offered to support us and introduce us to other clergy.

By 2006, we were having meetings with security officers from more than 5 different companies, all of which wanted to support the movement for paid sick leave, because they too lacked it.

We had protest actions on at least a monthly basis which either targeted the president of Penn or Temple, but we saw little advancement.

In 2007, Rev. Jay Broadnax and Rev. Beverly Dale staged a brief sit-in in the office of Penn President Amy Gutmann.

Finally, due to the courage of the clergy, we proved that we could gain benefits for sub-contractors by putting pressure on the client. This was a major break through, and this has informed the actions of dozens of campaigns around the nation since. The video shows us marching away from the office after we gained the promise to meet and negotiate for paid sick days and other issues.

Penn Administrators refused to negotiate directly with our worker leaders.

Rev. Dale served as our proxy and brought security officers our first victory of 5 days of paid sick leave!

This victory increased the pressure on the administrations at Temple.

As Daily News Columnist, Ronnie Polaneczky points out in her 2007 column: “For Guards, Workplace Insecurity,”

“YOU’D THINK that, after working 16 years for the same company, Clarence Berry might be afforded the dignity of being able to call in sick from work, just once, and not have it deflate his paycheck.

But Berry, 50, works for King of Prussia-based AlliedBarton Security Services, the country’s largest provider of private security personnel. One of its contracts is with Temple University, which pays AlliedBarton about $6 million per year for 300 security guards to cover Temple’s dorms, buildings and kiosks.

The guards don’t get paid when they’re sick. Not one day, no matter how beloved, respected and entrenched they are in the Temple community

Winning paid sick leave at Temple was extremely difficult. They just would not budge.

Students and security officers kept the pressure up, going monthly to the Board of Trustees meetings.

This monthly ritual soon became disheartening. We spoke at one meeting, then the next month we were disallowed to do that. We then held up signs in the meeting in silent protest, the next month, we were banned from the meeting altogether. The next month, we protested in the hallway during the meeting, the following month, we were banned from the building.

Finally, On December 10, 2008, our clergy supporters, students, security officer and labor activists had a prayer vigil on the steps of President Ann Weaver Hart’s office.

After having been ousted for months, our clergy stood up and demanded justice.

The last speaker at the vigil was Rev. Dwayne Royster (now Bishop Dwayne Royster and the Executive Director of POWER)

Pastor Dwayne stood with the police barricading the doors behind him and told us how a “holy disruption” was required in times of injustice.

He told us how Mary, Mother of Jesus, had to disrupt her life to bring her son, Jesus, in to the world. He spoke about how the prophets disrupted their lives to make the world a better place.

After his short sermon, Rev. Royster told us that we were being asked to disrupt the meeting, the meeting going on behind him, blocked by armed police officers.

With that, Rev. Royster turned and walked to the doors and we all began to follow.

I was amazed when the police officer opened the door for us and walked away as more than one hundred of us streamed in and up the stairs.

We occupied the stairwell and sang for some minutes before we left, empty handed, but empowered (the photo on the banner of my blog was taken as I addressed our supporters after we left the building).

A few weeks later Eduardo Soriano, Thomas Robinson, and two other security officers returned to Temple and infiltrated President Weaver Hart’s Christmas party (so many big $ donors in the room!).

We did this-

30 days later, Temple announced that they too would change the paid sick leave policy for sub-contracted, AlliedBarton security officers.

Our support network was growing. By 2009 the Great Recession had hit our nation and Jobs with Justice, too, felt its punch. For a period in this year, we were all laid off. Thankfully, despite our embarrassment, the faith community sprang into compassionate action. Members of our clergy sub-committee, such as Rev. Dwayne Royster, Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel, Rev. Jay Broadnax, Rev. Beverly Dale, Rabbi Rav Soloff, Rev. Rene McKenzie, Rev. Andrew Plotcher and Linda Lotz stepped up and supported us by hosting meetings, attending actions, donating, and even putting money and bags of groceries directing into our hands to keep us organizing. My girlfriend at the time, Emily Randle, also supported me…six years later, we are very happily married :).

Our campaign expanded and took on more sites, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the Philadelphia Museum of Art ,and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, with mixed success.

At Penn, our leaders, via Rev. Dale, raised wages from $9.80/hour to $15/hour.

We won paid sick leave for the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009.

At this point, though winning paid sick leave for everyone in Philadelphia was still one of our long-term goals, the movement thought that we were organized enough to start our own independent union.

The security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art won an election establishing the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) in 2010, and though the focus of the PSOU naturally shifted to starting their own union from scratch at that point, I am certain that their high profile campaign for paid sick leave played a role in inspiring what has grown into a powerful movement for paid sick leave in our city today.

As the union moved toward other business, the city-wide movement of paid sick leave began to evolve out of the offices of SEIU in 2010. The original proposal was loosely coordinated with Councilman Darrell Clarke’s office.

That effort didn’t get much traction at that time and sort of dwindled away.

The charge was taken up by Marianne Bellasorte from Pathways PA and the legislative sponsorship shifted from Councilman Clarke to the then-newly elected Councilman William (Bill) Greenlee.

By 2011 (I had since left Jobs with Justice to found the Philadelphia Security Officers Union and then the Philadelphia chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center), the coalition, then known as the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces passed he legislation through city council with the powerful advocacy of Councilman Greenlee and Councilman Wilson Goode Jr.

This legislation allowed every worker employed for a business with more than 5 employees to earn one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked, up to 5 days of paid sick leave.

Sadly, Mayor Micheal Nutter vetoed the bill.

Again, Marianne Bellasorte and the rest of us passed the legislation through council in 2013.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, lost her bid to run to be the next mayor of NYC after the unions dropped her for not supporting paid sick leave. Current-Mayor Bill DeBlasio ran with paid sick leave s one of his main issue.

However, here in Philadelphia in 2013, Mayor Nutter vetoed it once more.

A year later, Mayor Michael Nutter formed the Task force on Paid Sick Leave to study the issue. He recruited advocates such and Ms. Bellasorte and Teo Reyes from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (I had moved on once again to organize for POWER), along with business leaders.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), SEIU, the Working Families Party, UNITE HERE and others chalked up the first city policy victory for paid sick leave by overwhelmingly passing a city charter change in May of 2014, which included living wages and paid sick leave for all airport workers.

In December, the Task force recommended the policy for businesses with 15 or more employees.

This Tuesday, January 27th, (weather permitting) Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce legislation granting the benefit for employees who work at businesses with 10 or more workers.

With the mayor’s study out and an election coming up, this Spring we have the best chance we have ever had to pass (and keep) this bill.

Join us on Tuesday, at 10 a.m. In City Hall Chambers to show our City Council that 2015 is the year to make this happen. Ten years is long enough to wait!

Paid Sick Leave Time Line-

February 2005- POWR (Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising, worker center of security officers that evolved into the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) launched their campaign to win paid sick leave for Philadelphia (starting with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia, and at the Philadelphia Housing Authority).

2007- POWR Wins Paid Sick Leave for security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, SEIU convenes coalition to win paid sick leave for the city. The initiative was being led by Councilman Darrell Clark.

2009- POWR wins paid sick leave for security officers at Temple University. City-wide coalition disbands.

2010- POWR (which soon won their union election at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and became the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) Wins paid sick leave for security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. New city-wide coalition forms under the auspices of Pathways PA under the leadership of Marianne Bellasorte. The legislation was transferred from Councilman Darrell Clarke to Councilman Bill Greenlee.

2011- The Pathways PA administered Coalition for Health Families and Workplaces passes earned sick leave legislation through city council. Mayor Nutter announces that he will veto the legislation from the office of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. adds paid sick leave to the 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard ordinance.

2011- Earned Sick Leave passes city council. Legislation would have provided paid sick leave for workplaces with more than 5 employees. Mayor Nutter vetoes the legislation.

2013- Paid sick leave passes by a vote of city council again. Once again it is vetoed by Mayor Nutter.

2013- NYC Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn, loses the support of NYC Labor Unions in her bid to run for mayor against candidate Bill DeBlasio due to her lack of support of paid sick leave.

2014- Mayor Nutter creates the Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave. The task force recommends that the Mayor pass an Earned Sick Leave policy for the city for businesses with more than 15 employees. POWER and friends pass living wage and paid sick leave for airport workers during the May mid-term election.

2015, January 27th- Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce earned sick leave legislation for work places with more than 10 employees.

#ReclaimMLK Day rally from the stage at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia

#ReclaimMLK Day rally from the stage at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia

I was helping to stage manage the #ReclaimMLK Day rally today in Philadelphia. It was an amazing event. Media estimates are between 7,000 and 10,000 participants. Honestly, I don’t know that it matter. What is clear is that it was the largest protest in Philadelphia in probably a decade.

The energy was great for the march and held up for most of the event. People started to drain away in the last hour when it started to get really cold.

The MLK DARE Coalition announced our demands which are to end Stop and Frisk policing in Philadelphia, a full, fair funding formula for schools and some local democratic control of our school district and a city-wide $15 minimum wage.

Rev. Nickolas O'Rourke, Living Water UCC

Rev. Nickolas O’Rourke, Living Water UCC

The coalition has called on all who want to build the movement for racial and economic justice to convene at Mother Bethel AME at 6th and Lombard ST, on Saturday, January 24 at 1:30 pm.

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All across the country, people are out in the streets protesting, waving signs that say “Black Lives Matter,” in response the the killing of unarmed black men by police.

In Philadelphia, we will march and “Reclaim MLK Day” on Monday, Jan 19 starting at 2 pm at 44 N. Broad St and over to Independence Hall at around 3:30.

During this upheaval, I have seen friends and relatives on Facebook questioning “why” people are protesting. Most of the time, people share the sense of injustice with the protesters, but often they question the method.

People don’t understand “how are protests, screaming and yelling and having die-ins, going to change anything?”

Often, people point out how few people were voting in Ferguson before Michael Brown was shot (despite the fact that in other parts of the country in which voting rates are higher, we see the same murders and lack of police accountability).

I have some insight since my profession is to incite (move people into action).

On or around January 19th, Martin Luther King Day, we will take to the streets in protest to Reclaim MLK Day.

Find out whats happening near you here- http://fergusonresponse.tumblr.com/

MLK Day has become synonymous with being a “day of service.”

On that day, hundreds of thousands of well-meaning people gather at churches, school and parks and do good stuff, like feed the hungry, clothe the poor, clean up the neighborhood and repaint football uprights (that is what I was asked to do one year when I was the Student Body Service Coordinator of Mesa Community College).

There is nothing wrong with those actions.

However, we (Reclaim MLK people) contend that these actions don’t actually speak to the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Reverend King was not known for feeding the poor. He was known for demanding the right to vote, desegregating the bus system in Montgomery and for confronting powerful people to change society in a permanent way.

He used a method of social change that he saw as a birth right to all people, called “direct-action.”

“Direct-Action” is a little spoken of dimension of our democracy (If you are saying, “we can’t be a democracy as long as racism exists.” I concede your point, but work with me to get through this explanation about how direct-action seeks to build the democracy we claim to be).

CLICK THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

three dimensions of democratic action cropped

In our democracy, there are a few ways to make social change.

Traditionally, on MLK Day, we volunteer. Volunteering to address the immediate needs of people, such as feeding the hungry, addresses the problem for a little while. But, unfortunately, when we return to our lives, those people will likely be hungry once again. Direct-service, does not address the root cause of hunger but address a real, short-term, material need or problem.

Many people are hungry because they don’t have jobs. One remedy, feeding them, answers that issue without looking deeper to ask, “Why, in the wealthiest nation in the history the world, do we have so many hungry people?” ‘What can we do, as a society, to end hunger?”

In my diagram, I call direct-service, the “height” of our citizenship (I use “citizenship” for the lack of a better word. I know many non-citizens and undocumented immigrants are involved in all of these methods).

Another method of social change is voting. I call voting the “breadth” of our citizenship because it requires a lot of research and diligence to make a good choice in the voting booth. Voting lacks much, however. Take a look at our Congress.

Those in office are almost universally white, male and wealthy. Can we really hope that they will make the needs of the powerless a high priority? How do their lives as mostly white, male millionaires give them any understanding of the needs of regular, much less, extremely marginalized communities? When you vote for them, you are voting for their values and agenda, not necessarily your agenda or that of your community.

Direct-Action, the sacred, third dimension of our (world?) citizenship has always been essential to making progress for regular and marginalized people in our nation.

Direct-Action, often recognized by non-agitators by the “street protest,” is a powerful tool.

Direct-Action, is social change created BY the people affected by the problem. These people are calling the shots and they confront the powerful to permanently change their relationship with the powerful people.

When they gain some power, they enact changes that have a direct and material change for those people (think: “the right to vote” or “higher wages”).

Direct-action is how we reset the agenda. We demand that the issues that would never be considered by our government or by an employer or by the police or by anyone who has power over us, be taken seriously. Why? Because, suddenly, they see that we (There are so many of them out there chanting! And…oh god! Giant puppets!) are a threat to their power.

CLICK ON THE “SPECTRUM OF SOCIAL CHANGE” TO ENLARGE

1 social change action spectrum

Though I have never heard of Dr. King filling soup bowls, I don’t doubt that he did. I assume he voted (I could find no definitive evidence). However, as a “practitioner-of-social-change” I believe that he did both of those things, as they are 1. good and 2. serve as tools to move people toward that sacred, third dimension, which is direct-action.

We need all three modes, but what we (Reclaim MLK Day people) are saying, (as would Reverend King) is that we need a lot more of that confronting-power-type-of-action going on!

As an example, the film, “Selma” is in theaters now.

In the trailer, you will see a couple of hallmarks of direct-action.

1. It wasn’t just Dr. King. It was thousands of black people who couldn’t vote who were protesting. This is different than paying a lawyer or lobbyist (usually also wealthy and white) to hob-nob with other powerful politicians for change. Lobbying re-affirms the existing power relations between the wealthy, white and educated vs. the poor, disheveled masses (hiccup).

2. They were peaceful. The marches themselves instigated a savage response from their opponents. The reaction was as much of the progress as the marches because…

3. “Peace,” “justice,” “fairness,” “courage,” and “dignity” are transcribed into the DNA of the actions that the protesters took. What did the actions that the brutal, counter-protesters take say about their values? If you could list, side by side, the values of each, which side would you choose?

4. This moral action, agitated the broader community, demanding that those people in Selma, and our nation, make a choice. When you see the die-ins and the protests, what side are you choosing (HINT: “Not taking a side” is actually taking a side…the side of the status quo, the side of those who would rather things stay just as they are).

5. Their demands were considered “too much” by the powerful people in charge. In the clip, President Lyndon B. Johnson says, “This thing is just going to have to wait.” Again, referring to the agenda setting power of direct-action, the movement doesn’t allow those in power to determine what is reasonable nor the time frame. Direct-action is the act of changing the agenda and the time frame…and therefore history.

That is why we march.

We are reclaiming the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a legacy of direct-action (both Dr. King and Rosa Parks were trained in the practice of direct-action at the Highlander School. It was here that Mrs. Parks learned the tactic of the “sit-down strike” which she preformed that fateful day on the bus).

We demand change. We demand it now.

Demands here- http://www.prlog.org/12409590-black-lives-matter-protesters-in-philly-plan-reclaimmlk-day-march-for-justice-jobs-education.html

Hundreds of black men have been killed by police with no consequence in our country over the last few decades by police (they supposedly work for us, right?). Racism is a pervasive and over-arching reality of our lives in America. Mostly this problem is ignored. If the agenda is to deal with racism, how likely are the powerful (mind you, they arrived at their high spot and benefited in THESE conditions) to take up these issues? It seems like we need to reset the agenda, right? See:Direct-Action

Finally, I will address the question of, “How do protests accomplish anything?”

Part of this bias against protesters is because people generally don’t like conflict and look poorly on rebels. But, rebellion is how progress has always been made. In fact, if you believe the bible, we only became human because Eve rebelled against the word of God and ate the forbidden fruit. Before that moment Adam and Eve were in a child-like state, with no free-will. The rebellion actually made us into PEOPLE (as we understand the concept).

Rebellion so much a part of being human. It is our birth right.

Do protests work? Honestly, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. We won (in a previous movement) paid sick days for 180 security officers when we held a “anointing of the hands” ceremony on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in June 2008. We heard of the victory during the event. That is a rare thing. Making that boast also takes for granted that we held dozens of actions, protests and occupations before that.

Rev. Jay Broadnax blessing the hands of activist Brian at the even where we learned that we won the paid sick leave benefit at the museum

Rev. Jay Broadnax blessing the hands of activist Brian at the even where we learned that we won the paid sick leave benefit at the museum

Did we win it that day? Yes. Because of that single action? No. Did THE protest work? No. Do constant, increasingly militant protests work? YES!

So, I would say that 99% of the time a single protest doesn’t change anything. But, only a person who didn’t really want to change things would quit after one protest. It takes many actions, of which public protests are only one option, to win a campaign.

(SIDE NOTE: If you’ve never joined a protest movement (in the crowd or as a donor), ask yourself, “Is it because you don’t want to be weird like those people regardless of their cause or because you really don’t care that much if things actually change? What if you went to the gym just one time, would you expect to be in great shape?”)

It takes a multitude of creative tactics, often including direct-service and voting to win a direct-action campaign (those are not tactics of direct-action, but things we may have to do to get people to the courageous point of taking direct-action). I have always likened it to packing a snowball, a change-maker must apply steady, increasing pressure from all sides of the target to force the powerful person to accept your agenda as one that must be dealt with.

That said, do not mistake the work of lawyers and politicians for the work of direct-action. They may be standing there when the agreement is signed, shaking hands in the picture in the newspaper, and they play a critical role, however, they are rarely the people that catalyze the change (many awesome attorneys are a part of movements, integrated and interdependent with the rest of us).

Are you ready to make history? Join us, in Philadelphia on January 19th.

Resources-

Read about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther Kings Radical Legacy here- http://socialchangenyu.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/radical-king.pdf

Join Reclaim MLK and #Black Lives Matter here- http://www.powerphiladelphia.org/

If you want to learn more about becoming a direct-action agitator check out Bread and Roses Fund here- http://breadrosesfund.org/

If you don’t believe racism exists or don’t understand the concept (welcome to earth)- http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

 

MLK Day 2015 Should Be A General Strike

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2014 was a year in which the contradictions inherent in our democracy became too obvious to ignore any longer. Systemic racism against African-Americas and other people-of-color has intensified. Can we call ourselves a democracy at all or are we now, in fact, an apartheid state? The wealthy have nearly completely captured our political system making it possible for them to constantly award themselves more breaks and access while we, the people, see our rights to even cast a vote whittled away, election by election. We have reached a tipping point. That is why Martin Luther King Day, January 19, 2015, should not be the typical day of service, but one of rebellion. It should be a general strike by all people who want an end to systemic racism and rule by the wealthy.

The recent killings of several innocent black men and women, followed by grand jury failures to indict any of the police resulted in riots and mass protests. People are tired of the injustice and the devaluing of African-American people. The constant reports of these killings and the prison system swollen with people-of-color on one hand, and the lack of funding for schools, especially schools with high concentrations of poor and black youth, on the other, show us not a democratic nation in which all people are created equal.

No, rather, what we see is a nation that targets African-America children for failure, hard lives with few good options. We see a political system that endorses the killing of black people. We see a system that, nearly since its founding, has sought to abuse, destroy and exploit black people.

I am tired of it.

We cannot live with these contradictions any longer. We have to either fight to become a true democracy by destroying racism in all its forms, or we have to hang it up and abandon even the claim to be a democracy any longer.

Organizers all around the city of Philadelphia are organizing a march on MLK Day next year. I will support that and organize with them, however, I think we need something even more powerful.

We need to shake this system to its foundation and use this moment to strike at the roots of what ails us as a nation.

Martin Luther King Day, January 19th, 2015 should be a General Strike!

Don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Go on strike.

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Last night, Emily and our friends Jared and Tasha went to go and listen to Anna Crusis Women’s Choir. It was an amazing experience. To be honest, I was really going to support my colleague, Cecily Harwitt as I am not really into choir music. I was happily surprised by these astonishing women for not only their talent but their selection of multi-cultural songs spanning African music and even a song in Arabic. The choir also acknowledged the current protests about racism in our country before launching into a couple civil rights era songs.

The concert also featured Melanie Demore, who has one of the richest, most resonate voices I have ever heard. They play again today at 2, catch it if you can. Meanwhile, check out Mrs. Demore’s haunting rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot here http://youtu.be/tY_22UhpEdQ

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