WBNG Members Protest Denial Of Contractually Required Training Opportunity

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In a show of solidarity for members of their unit who were denied participation in training staged by their employer, WBNG members wore protest buttons on Jan. 31, the second day of a four-day American Federation of Teachers organizing workshop.

Nearly a quarter of the 46 members of the Guild-represented Northeast Region Organizing Project were missing from a four-day employer-sponsored workshop in late January. What wasn’t missing was a provision in the Washington-Baltimore News Guild contract stipulating that the American Federation of Teachers has to provide annual training to every member of the NEROP shop.

Fellow WBNG members had their back. In protest of the absent colleagues assigned to the Cornell Higher Education campaign, the other three-quarters of the NEROP unit took “button action” at the training session, wearing Ithaca-support badges all day and posting related images on social media. For the purposes of News Guild solidarity It was anything but “too little too late.”  

AFT-NEROP workers in Ithaca and Philadelphia had been told in early January that they would not be going to the training sessions (Jan. 30-Feb. 2) near Washington, D.C. even though all other NEROP organizers – including those based in Buffalo, New York City, Long Island, Vermont, and Massachusetts – would be in attendance.

The reason given by management? As a NEROP Guild member put it in a statement on Jan. 9: “The Ithaca shop is being denied access to attend the NEROP training on the grounds that the Cornell Higher Education Project takes precedence.”

“Since a representation election will not be conducted until late March at the earliest,” noted Mark Friedman, NEROP unit chair and chief steward, “we were not convinced by management’s argument that a four-day training would undermine the success of the Cornell campaign.”

On Jan. 13, a Friday, Guild members filed a grievance against AFT management in Ithaca, noting that the refusal to provide such training violated the three-year contract signed in July 2015. On the following Monday, nearly every member of the Ithaca shop faced some form of intimidation, with one being disciplined for taking personal days and another having a per-diem revoked.

Friedman, speaking from the workshop site in Silver Spring, Md., said that the training violation and other issues finally and for the most part have been resolved.

Meanwhile, there’s no question that the unit members have grown closer. The early-January protest statement emphasized that training “not only serves as an important source of our professional development, but also is a chance for our entire unit to meet and grow stronger.”

And as it turned out, the rest of the unit made the best of its chance. “Despite management’s efforts to intimidate us, their tactics failed,” the Ithaca Guild members  said in an email. “In fact, they made us stronger and more united than before.”

WBNG Brings ‘Beyond the Beltway(s)’ Shops Into the Fold

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Mergers with locals based in North Carolina and New York have expanded WBNG’s membership and geographical reach.

To the south of Washington and Baltimore, the two shops that comprise the former IUE-CWA Local 83188 are the North Carolina AFL-CIO and the Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) organization, both of which are based in the Research Triangle.

And in the other direction from WBNG headquarters – mostly north of the local’s traditional jurisdiction – the American Federation of Teachers’ Northeast Regional Organizing Project members in 2015 voted 29-2 to affiliate with WBNG. The shop had been represented by an OPEIU local that had disclaimed its bargaining rights.

Headquartered in Durham, the farmworkers’ rights group traces its current mission to 1992. Since then, the organization has brought “more than 700 young people into social justice work and has supported 80,000 farmworkers’ efforts to gain access to a more just agricultural system.”

Among SAF’s honors are a Research Triangle Cross-Class Bridge Builder award for “work with people of diverse classes and races,” and a Diamante Award for making significant contributions to the Latino/Hispanic community.

Nadeen Bir, the organization’s Advocacy & Organizing director, heads up the unit at SAF.  The shop’s current contract, now serviced by WBNG, expires at the end of July.

At the state federation office in Raleigh, Jeremy Sprinkle is the unit chairperson. The three-year contract there expires Dec. 31, 2016.

The AFT-NEROP shop, the former Office and Professional Employees International Union unit, has about three dozen organizers-in-training, organizers, and senior organizers.

Shortly after affiliating with WBNG, the NEROP bargaining team was formed: new Guild members Malcolm Emerich, Sara Gordon, Jessie Leiken, and Local 32035 Executive Director Cet Parks.

Bargaining began in New York City in June 2015, and a three-year deal was reached relatively quickly. The new agreement runs from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018.