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Fellow Worker X352548 Responds to Kent Smith

Posted by Acting Seattle ACORN Boss, Kent Smith, 5-22-2001

I am a Head Organizer with Washington and Oregon ACORN.

On May 9th, after HOURS of offer/counter-offer style negotiating, the IWW withdrew all charges it had filed with the NLRB against ACORN (the NLRB nowhere has or now will rule that ACORN was in any violation - ever.) Furthermore, the IWW in Seattle withdrew its petition to represent the striking ACORN staff in Seattle "with prejudice" (meaning that the IWW in Seattle recused themselves from any organizing of ACORN staff in Seattle for a year.)

The 3 staff in Seattle who had returned to work (they were doing ACORN voter registration work out of the ACORN office just the day before) resigned their positions permanently. In exchange, ACORN made good its promise to provide the striking workers with their back pay from the time they ended their strike (for some, back in February) until the the time of the NLRB hearing (which, for ACORN, would have determined whether their actions were protected). On top of this ACORN gave each departing staffer two-week's severance pay, and ACORN paid part of the striking staff's attorney fees for them. There were, three different desired outcomes (according to the negotiations ACORN undertook with the striking staff):

(1) The IWW elsewhere (meaning 'everywhere but in Seattle', which has it's own special "personality" at the helm - just ask the Steelworkers) wanted a go at organizing ACORN offices nationally. ACORN, you may remember, offered the IWW the ability to organize ACORN staff as a national unit. To this end, ACORN agreed to provide the IWW with all staff home phone numbers, emails and addresses, as well as work-site access to all staff, to all staff online-newsgroups, all being overseen by an agreement drawn up and outlined by the AFL-CIO, with mutually satisfying arbitrators, etc. It has been called a "gold plated offer" that any professional organizer would be hard-pressed to refuse. But, refuse it the strikers did, and that is because:

(2) the IWW in Seattle wanted to, come hell or high water, hold an election and get a union local in place at Seattle ACORN (which election they would have won the right to have from the NLRB, and which election would definitely have resulted in an ACORN IWW local in Seattle.) The IWW in Seattle wanted to reject the national-unit offer (regardless of any other objections anyone might have) because the IWW locally did not want to settle with ACORN at all without the local unit being recognized first. But the STAFF in Seattle knew that

(3) ACORN would not recognize the local unit unless the NLRB ruled on all the charges. And the striking staff knew that, if the NLRB hearing had been let to progress on all the charges filed by either side, they would have been found in violation, having engaged in unprotected activities during their strike (membership cancellations, etc.), which would have meant that, yes, they get their union, but they would get no back pay. Zero dolares [sic ed.].

You see, ... conventional wisdom has it that the IWW would have won on several charges it filed against ACORN, but that it would have lost on several, and that it would have also lost on the charges filed by ACORN. This would have resulted in 1) a recognized IWW ACORN local in Seattle, 2) a big black eye for ACORN, 3) no back pay for the striking staff, and no return to work for 2 of them (meaning they walked out the door fired and empty handed).

ACORN would not let the staff come back to work unless the NLRB ruled on all the charges filed for/against ACORN. If that had happened, the staff would have lost their backpay, but they would have gotten their local union. The staff chose money over returning to work as organizers in a recognized union! They chose MONEY over "victory for non-profit workers everywhere"!

At the end of the day, the staff opted for the money, the local guy opted for local fame, and the national IWW (or the IWW nationally, however it is most appropriately said) just had to sit there and watch a unique opportunity slip right through its fingers.

SO, here is where it stands - the IWW dropped all charges against ACORN and withdrew its petition of support for a Seattle unit. There is no organizing by the IWW of ACORN staff anywhere. The situation has been resolved.

Now, I do think it odd that the website does not reflect any of this, and that it still is asking for money (strike funds) for the striking workers, even though they get all their back pay, severance pay, and their lawyers bill paid for by ACORN. Who is getting the money sent to Seattle now? What are they doing with it? Will the strikers pay back the strike funds when they get their back pay, so that other strikers in the future (who might not be so fiscally motivated) will have strike funds for real?

Doesn't matter anymore anyway.

Response By Fellow Worker X352548, May 24, 2001:

Kent,

You timed your response perfectly. We were reluctant to post anything until today because ACORN's appeal on my unemployment was pending until yesterday. We knew that any word from the IWW could send ACORN bosses on yet another retaliation spree.

From the start of the organizing campaign ACORN bosses were determined to undermine any attempt to organize ACORN. We began talking about organizing after the Radical Caucus at the YE/YB meeting in December 2000. Shortly after the organizer of the Radical Caucus was fired. Union organizing efforts across the country were met with firings in Philadelphia and Dallas and a lock-out in Seattle. Though I personally believed that a national bargaining unit would give strength to the campaign and offer more bargaining power to ACORN workers nationally, given ACORN's past, none of us were convinced that ACORN would enter this deal in good faith.

Furthermore, in this situation the IWW was helping to organize workers who approach them. There is a difference between aiding interested workers and approaching workers indoctrinated for five months with ACORN's anti-union / anti-IWW propaganda. The offer was made to Seattle workers who were tired of fighting their 2 month lock-out. They chose the money because they couldn't stand to work at ACORN anymore.

No one in the IWW is complaining about a missed opportunity because we were uncertain of the potential of a national drive. Instead we are happy that ACORN bosses gave Seattle workers back-pay and severance pay, ostensibly admitting to their illegal anti-union activity. We hope that if ACORN workers organize, ACORN bosses will choose to bargain in good faith with the people who build the organization instead of being forced to pay workers thousands of dollars.