Sunday, July 18, 2010

What do Katrina, BP and Northrop Grumman have in Common?

For Louisiana, they have officially become examples of how bad things happen in groups of three.

I understand the economics behind the decision, I really do.  The economy is bleak all around, and companies have to do what they can to stay viable.  However, Northrop Grumman's decision to shut down their Avondale shipyard, particularly on the heels of the oil spill and drilling moratorium, is absolutely devastating.  It has been estimated that 11,000 jobs - well paying jobs, I might add - will disappear over the next couple of years as a result.  Northrop Grumman has about 5,000 employees, and there are roughly 6-7,000 jobs directly related to Northrop Grumman in the region that will also die off.  This includes everything from contractors and suppliers to restaurants, and everything in between.

Even the educational system in the region will be significantly hit.  Northrop Grumman has a phenomenal pre-apprenticeship program in local high schools which will vanish. They are also strongly tied to Delgado Community College and the University of New Orleans.  This shipyard has been the ultimate example of a forward-thinking employer who invests back into the community as much, if not more, than it receives.

Northrop Grumman's closing of the Avondale shipyard (for those of you not familiar with the region, the shipyard is located in Avondale, LA, right outside New Orleans, and is often referred to as simply "Avondale") is going to be devastating for the state economy, but on a more personal level, is going to cause serious financial hardships for their workers.  In stronger economic times, the region would have a better chance of providing decent re-employment opportunities for them.  However, I don't think I need to explain how that's not the case right now.  Far from it.  There are many instances where not just one family member works there, but two or three do.  Mothers, fathers, children and siblings will be in a situation where they won't have the support system in place to help them make it, because they all work for Avondale.  They have been such an excellent employer that their turnover is low, so many employees have been there for numerous years, even decades, before Northrop Grumman even bought the yard.  It is a way of life. It is a family.

So I ask you, where is the outrage?  While there is a great deal of talk, and some news coverage, the New Orleans region should be out there protesting!  The workers should be protesting!  Instead, it seems like they just sit back and take it.  They feel like nothing can be done.  This, my friends, is exactly the reason why the labor movement struggles.  We've (in most cases) lost our ability to get members motivated to take action.  Everyone is too afraid of being fired (particularly since this is a right-to-work state) over protests and strikes.  Without the threat (or action) of a very strong protest, in person or even online, then the powers-that-be hold all of the cards.  There is something to be said for very public, highly attended demonstrations.  I started a "Save Northrop Grumman" Facebook page/petition yesterday.  Only 20 people have joined it so far, and I advertised it with over 100 people initially who have a personal stake in this.  Pathetic. This is an IDEAL example of how labor should be using social media to connect with their members.  Email campaigns, Facebook and Twitter accounts with a continual feed of information on the status of the closing, while also using these online avenues to organize and gain support in the community for demonstrations.  If you've been following the "Boycott BP" Facebook page, or even just heard of it (because it's received TONS of press on CNN and the like), then you have seen the power of just what social media can do for a cause.  In the course of just a couple of months, this movement is 850,000 supporters strong, and many demonstrations against BP have taken place in various cities as a result.  This ONE Facebook page has had a tremendous affect on the BP Oil Spill reaction, and has generated a great deal of buzz, with examples here, here, here, and here - even a Diane Sawyer interview with the page's creator, Lee Perkins.

The Avondale workers and their local unions really have nothing to lose at this point.  It wouldn't be a strike, it would be a demonstration of support to keep the yard open!  Our politicians are supposedly trying to get involved, but we'll see how hard they try.  So, what would be the point?  Maybe, just maybe, a strong public relations campaign would buy the yard more time - more time for the economy to recover before flooding the market with the unemployed, more time to find a suitable buyer who could potentially keep a good percentage of employees in a job, more time for workers to figure out a game plan.  However, the first round of layoffs are rumored to be in the next few months.  Time is more scarce than it might seem, and the clock keeps ticking on this economic time bomb.

Friday, July 2, 2010

YOU MUST WATCH THIS! The BEST Video for the Social Media Argument

Why Should Unions Care About the Online Labor Movement?

I was delving into the Digg and Squidoo sites just now. If you're not familiar with them, think of Digg as a 21st century e-version of the "recommendation letter" ( that's also informative. You see little Digg buttons or widgets all over the web. The idea is that if you read something that you like/love/support you click on the Digg button (usually at the top or bottom of the article). The Digg site tracks the number of Diggs each article gets, and as the number of Diggs grows, so does the prominence of that information in search engines, like Google.  There are many labor-related items to be searched via Digg.

Squidoo is different. It is similar to Digg in that it's content can be provided by anyone by developing a "lense". Here is their explanation of the site. "Squidoo is the popular publishing platform and community that makes it easy for you to create "lenses" online. Lenses are pages, kind of like flyers or sign posts or overview articles, that gather everything you know about your topic of interest--and snap it all into focus. Like the lens of a camera, your perspective on something." ( The user gets a complete overview of a specific topic that includes an article/summary along with any and all relevant links that support it. It is widely popular, and according to the site, gets close to a million hits per day.

So, I proceeded to search union-related terms.  Union. Labor movement.  Labor union.  Trade union.  Guess what the two most popular results were?  One lens about Jimmy Hoffa, and another that was anti-labor.  There was surprisingly very little on the site about labor unions.  Yet the one lens that came up time and time again was anti-union.  What's wrong with this picture?

I also tested Urban Dictionary ( for labor-related entries.  For those of you that aren't familiar with it, this is a site that definitely appeals to a younger crowd.  It is an online dictionary of all words and phrases slang, and anyone can submit definitions.  A few examples include: 

  • Aluminum Digger - A younger version of a gold digger.
  • Thanksgiving Beard - An unintentional beard started over the 4 day Thanksgiving weekend, where you're too lazy to shave it off monday morning. Usually continues until Christmas or New Year's Day. Also known as a Holiday Beard.
  • Textpectation - The anticipation one feels when waiting for a response to a text message.
It should be pointed out that many of the entries can be considered raunchy, but there are many that are not slang.  When I searched the word "union" there were four pages of results, but the majority were anti-union.  However, the pro-labor view was represented more here than on Squidoo.  You may think this site is ridiculous, but it has a huge following by teens and young adults.  

My point is this.  There is an online labor movement as well as offline.  It's out there, it's growing, but the non-union proponents are online as well, and much more vocal.  Labor leaders, whether you're ready for it or not, the internet is yet another battlefield that needs your troops on the front line to protect and advance us forward.  You need to strongly encourage your members to help spread the word online, to comment on articles and blogs that warrant a union viewpoint.  (For example, check out this article, "Labor Agreements Make No Sense," posted last weekend on, and read the comments in particular.)  Labor organizations at all levels need to get involved, because here, online, we have access to untold numbers of the U.S. population that we don't traditionally have.  Think about it for a second and let that sink in.  We need to see the internet for what it is, and what opponents have already figured out.  It's an open mic!  We can recruit new members! Attract new contractors and employers!  Voice our opinions in so many different online communities that it's mind boggling!  And think about this.  Can you imagine how the internet could have a huge influence over organizing campaigns?

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think that the web is the answer to all of our problems by any means.  However, it might just be the key to exerting enough unbalanced force that the pendulum can begin to swing the other way.  That won't happen, though, unless every union organization from Seattle to Miami understands this concept and takes steps to get involved in the online labor movement.  Locals, I'm talking to you, because you can't expect the internationals to do it for you.  An online labor movement is a grassroots effort, just like every other campaign we're involved with.  It's simply a new component of our traditional efforts - with the potential of being a very, very powerful one.  There is certainly pro-labor activity online.  We're slowly seeing more and more locals with their own websites, there are union fan pages on Facebook and we're tweeting to a degree, but not nearly enough.  

I have one more point before I call it a night.  Internationals, you're doing pretty well.  Most of you are out there with good websites (although some are better than others, but that's a blog post for another day), you're tweeting, etc. - but you have to help your locals get to where you are.  I urge you to start thinking about developing a component of your local leadership training and organizing curriculum that addresses new media outreach tactics: Email, text messaging, blogging, quality website content and design, social network websites.  Give your locals the tools and training to ensure that they grow familiar with all of these mediums.  These all define "new media" and it is imperative that you begin to make utilizing them a priority method of outreach and advocacy.


(For those that might already be doing this, I applaud you.  I'd also like to hear all about it, so email me or comment below.)