Building Power for Working Class Communities in the Greater Boston Region

December 20, 2008 -- Community Labor United

Community Labor United (CLU), working in the Greater Boston region, has had a successful year strengthening our partnership of base-building community and labor organizations.  Our focus has continued to be growing new organizing in our region, building power for working class communities and counteracting the growing gap between rich and poor.  We achieve these goals through collaborative research, leadership development and organizing.   

Workplace Organizing
Together with SEIU Local 615 and seven strong community organizations, our Secure Jobs, Secure Communities campaign focused on holding Boston’s downtown building owners accountable to investing in both their workers and the communities where their workers live.  As a result of this campaign, SEIU 615 signed their first contract for over 1,200 security officers in downtown Boston.  Despite years of seniority for many of them, security officers were paid $9 - $12 an hour prior to the contract.  Few could afford the cost-prohibitive health insurance and all of them had their assignments, schedules and overtime subject to the whims of their supervisors.  As a result of our campaign, these workers received raises to $12.75 an hour with guaranteed raises of at least 50 cents a year over the next four years.  All workers have access to more affordable and comprehensive health care.  They now receive paid holidays, paid sick days and paid vacation time.  They also now have seniority rights, a grievance procedure, a fairer Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform policy and will receive paid overtime instead of just comp time.

In June, we released the research report, Running on Fumes:  Boston Taxi Drivers Struggle to Make a Living, which helped approximately 3,800 low wage taxi drivers in Boston receive their first rate increase in six years.  The taxi drivers are newly organized into the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, organized by the United Steelworkers.  The initial first mile charge almost doubled ($5 from $2.75) and the per mile rate after that increased from $2.40 a mile to $2.80 a mile.  The taxi drivers also won better working conditions and collective negotiating rights with the Boston Police Hackney unit that regulates their industry.  

Community Organizing & Leadership Development
Over the past year, our Secure Jobs, Secure Communities campaign has engaged hundreds of community members in pushing Boston’s largest commercial property owner to invest in key issues in Boston’s lower income neighborhoods.  The campaign has not yet concluded but over the past year, over 750 community members joined with union members in pushing for a fair contract for security officers and in pushing for community benefits from the Blackstone Group.   While we have not yet won the community components of the campaign, the level of escalation and community involvement that we developed has ultimately brought a huge, multi-billion dollar organization into negotiations.  Simultaneously, it has captured the attention of both the local office and their national headquarters.  We are hopeful that in the coming months we can finish and win this campaign, which will deliver funding to foreclosure prevention work, youth programming and CORI reform.

The campaign has successfully involved very strong, detailed campaign-based leadership development work across the union and community sectors.  New members have joined the union through community leaders’ outreach and likewise new leaders have joined community organizations through the union outreach.  One of the key negotiators both with the security contractors and the Blackstone Group has been an ACORN leader who works the night shift as a security officer and joined SEIU through the campaign.

The Green Solution: A Win-Win Plan to Address Climate Crisis and Jumpstart an Equitable and Sustainable Economic Recovery
Nationally and locally, there is new prioritizing of a green economy.  This past summer, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Green Communities Act, the Green Jobs Act and the Global Warming Solutions Act, setting up the infrastructure for dramatic expansion of energy efficiency programs through the utilities and identifying millions of dollars in revenue streams to be directed to these efforts.  

However, greening with justice is not guaranteed and our communities and workers generally run the risk of being left behind in the shift towards sustainability.  Millions of dollars of public and private investment will be coming to our region for energy efficiency work.  This work will generate thousands of new jobs and the coming year will be critical year in the effort to develop policies to regulate this emerging industry.  This work could easily generate ‘low road’ jobs with low wages, few benefits and few training opportunities.  Instead, we are advocating that this work be regulated with progressive policies ensuring the creation of living wage jobs with benefits, career ladders and pathways that connect people in low-income communities and communities of color with new careers.

Over the past year and a half, we have begun laying the groundwork for a broad-based partnership in Massachusetts.  We have built a coalition of community organizations, unions and environmental organizations committed to moving a collaborative campaign with an environmental justice focus.  Together we researched local opportunities, determined our issue focus, and developed both broad goals for the work as well as a vision and principles statement to guide how we organize in this area.  Our coalition plans to:  

  • Push for dramatic expansion of energy efficiency and weatherization programs in both the public and private sector to reduce Massachusetts’ carbon footprint.
  • Maximize energy efficiency opportunities for our region’s working class communities, especially those that are struggling the most with rising energy bills.
  • Create living wage and ‘high road’ jobs for new and incumbent workers via job standards and local hiring requirements.
  • Establish career ladder training programs to connect new workers from lower income communities and communities of color to green jobs.   

On December 6th, 250 community, labor and environmental leaders came together to publicly launch the coalition as an Apollo Alliance chapter.  We had city, state and utility officials at this meeting and began the process of educating them on our broad goals and frame and eliciting commitments from them to work with our coalition in the development of their energy efficiency policies.  At this event, we also released our first green research report, The Green Justice Solution:  A Win-Win Plan to Address Climate Crisis and Jumpstart an Equitable and Sustainable Economic Recovery.  The detailed report examines local opportunities for greening our communities and for building sustainable green jobs.  It also weaves our equity and justice frame throughout this examination.   

Our strategy is still evolving because the city, state and utilities are continuing to evaluate and determine how they are going to meet the new goals and mandates for dramatically increasing energy efficiency work in our region.  What is certain is that opportunity exists, funding exists, and the political will exists for this expansion.  We will ensure that this fast growing and emerging sector is regulated with progressive policies that ensure working class communities are at the forefront of accessing these efficiencies and ensure that energy efficiency work has living wage job standards, benefits, career ladders and pathways that connect people in low-income communities and communities of color with new careers and with unions.