Skip to main content

An Analysis of ACORN's Latest Remarks

Since the workers at the ACORN office in Washington were forced to resign their jobs amid hardship and harassment on the part of the employer, Wade Rathke, "chief organizer" of ACORN National, and the new manager at the local office, Kent Smith, continue to perform damage control for their illegal anti union tactics and their mistreatment of workers. While the union was able to negotiate a severance package for the workers that were able to return to their jobs, ACORN cannot buy their way out of the fact that what they did was wrong, and Wade Rathke shows no remorse for what he has done in the organization, and will likely continue to do to their workers without a union.

We have to put in all into perspective: workers were asking for a 40 hour week, regular lunches, a policy on sexual harassment, a safety policy, and to get paid on time and in full. It is a sad commentary on ACORN that their workers had to turn to organizing a union to get ACORN to comply with their own stated principles, not to mention what is law in most states.

Mr. Rathke and Mr. Smith, along with their small but powerful clique of anti union power brokers, have shown that they do not have the interests of the ACORN membership in mind. They will continue to ask low income and working class families to give their hard earned money to an organization that represents the antithesis of what their membership has expressed; the right to be treated fairly on the job. It is why the membership in Washington supported the boycott call by the organizers; it is why the new manager, Mr. Smith, refused to allow the organizers to talk to the membership once they did return to their jobs after much struggle. ACORN operates under the pretense of democracy; however, even their own bylaws have provisions for what the hidden hierarchy can do if the membership strays from the unofficial party line, that being of top down control and only very limited membership democracy, if it actually exists in reality.

We have many questions for the leaders of ACORN who will not respect the wishes of ACORN membership.

If there is democracy in ACORN, then why was the membership's support of the union ignored at the Washington ACORN office? Surely, there may be a handful of people who have an ACORN membership that may not like unions at all, but we have found that a super majority of them support unions, and supported the organizers joining the IWW and forming a union. We challenge Wade Rathke to explain their contradiction of his manufactured "democracy".

Where is the old head organizer of the Washington office, Doug Bloch? Why has ACORN relocated Kent Smith from Portland, who by definition is a modern day carpetbagger, in that he has no roots in the neighborhood where the ACORN office is located, and has not even lived in Seattle for more than a couple of weeks. Why is Mr. Smith presenting himself as an authority to speak on what happened with the union, when in fact HE WAS NEVER THERE DURING THE STRIKE or the months that led up to it? Has he been given a script to recite, in order to try to bamboozle people into believing that "all is good"? It seems likely, since the statements being made by Wade Rathke by e-mail, and those made by Smith on our web site, are nearly identical.

Lets look at what is being said by these two individuals, and then examine the facts, recognizing that it takes less time to tell a lie, then it does to explain why a lie is just that, and will require your patience for critical examination. Below is a list of statements made by the employer, and a response to each.

By Fellow Worker X352548, et. al. - April 18, 2001

ACORN Management has circulated a number of claims (and some outright myths) in response to the IWW's attempts to help ACORN workers organize a staff union in Philadelphia, Seattle, and other cities. IWW members, ACORN workers and members, the labor movement, and the general public have been presented with a number of claims from ACORN 's management and its apologists. Several of these have been made by Wade Rathke, Helene O'Brien, and Doug Bloch themselves! Here are some of the IWW's responses to these claims and myths:

Claim #1 - "ACORN settled the strike and accepted the unconditional offer of those involved to return to work."

FACT: ACORN was forced to accept the workers' unconditional return to work, as a result of the NRLB threatening to get an injunction from federal court, and only did so after the workers had been locked out for TWO MONTHS. Why didn't they accept the unconditional return to work immediately?

Claim #2 - "Three of the five organizers returned for 2 days of work."

FACT: Two out of the five organizers had to take OTHER jobs to avoid being evicted from their homes and having utilities shut off. One of them had to give up her place to live and move. A third was facing foreclosure on her home due to the strike (oddly enough, ACORN claims to oppose this kind of thing by banks, except when it is their own workers).

Claim #3 - "On the third day of work prior to an NLRB hearing on the IWW petition to seek an election in Seattle, the parties negotiated further."

FACT: It was very clear that the two attorneys that ACORN had flown to Seattle were willing to fight the election petition for as long as it took at the R-hearing, and were willing to appeal every decision by the Board that was favorable to the union, to delay the process even further; Why did ACORN file a ULP against the union to challenge the election process in the first place, which had already delayed it for 45 days, charges that was later withdrawn after the damage had already been done?

Claim #4 - "We had previously offered a labor peace agreement -- neutrality, access, and card check recognition -- on the entire national organizing staff of ACORN."

FACT: The agreement as offered by their attorneys during the negotiation, would have barred the union from speaking out against ACORN, essentially forcing the union to sign a gag order; since ACORN had never demonstrated that they could be trusted to even follow the law in the first place, what would make anyone think that they would uphold any agreement when the IWW would be barred from publicizing it? The fact is that the "peace" agreement was a PR stunt, designed to make the union appear as unreasonable. The facts say otherwise.

ACORN also proposed a national bargaining unit in their "offer", something that even well established union have trouble administering and would never agree to.

Also, the IWW offered to sign the agreement in spite of all of these problems, in exchange for a 40 hour week, lunch breaks, and the like; ACORN refused, and what does this reveal? The offer lacked substance, as there were unwilling to show and prove their intentions; it was all lip service.

Claim #5 - "The IWW withdrew all unfair labor practice charges filed against ACORN."

FACT: The IWW withdrew the charge regarding the lockout of striking workers IN SEATTLE , because the NLRB had forced the employer to "make whole" the workers, through back pay awards. That is how the process works, and it is common for these charges to be settled before going to a hearing.

There are other charges pending in Dallas, Texas. And who knows what the future holds, since the union busting has not ceased.

Claim #6 - "The IWW withdrew their representation petition with prejudice."

FACT: By the time the legal process would play itself out with the complete resistance of ACORN and their attorneys, there would be no workers in the shop left to vote in an election; the war of attrition in these situations is to always find a pretext to fire all of the pro-union workers before the union election date, where ACORN would then claim that none of the workers wanted a union-after they had hired workers hand picked to vote against the union. This tactic is outlined in all union text books and materials. Since the workers were well aware of these facts, they were able to negotiate a severance package in exchange for dropping the petition; knowing full well that they would eventually be discharged under pretext, and would face and expensive and tedious legal battle to get their jobs back.

Claim #7 - "The three organizers who had returned to work, voluntarily resigned as negotiated by the IWW."

FACT: Unlike many of the unions that ACORN deals with on a regular basis, the workers resigned by their own choice, and not by that of a third party, as portrayed in this assertion. Their attorneys and the ACORN staff flown in witnessed the interaction between the actual workers and the IWW attorney, because they are the IWW in this instance. The implication that the union cuts deal over the heads of the workers is absurd, and actually forbidden in the IWW by-laws (also on the web page).

Claim #8 - "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 back pay, 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"!

FACT: The obvious error in this statement is not mentioning that workers were legally entitled to back pay as a result of the lockout, and is not contingent on anything else.

This statement, made by new head organizer Kent Smith, shows his complete understanding of how the union busting war of attrition works in reality. In fact, Smith was setting the stage from day one of the return to work to fire everyone on a pretext, claiming that every opinion expressed by workers was "insubordination", making threats to "write up" workers up for things that were never considered wrong doing before the strike. This is called making a record for progressive discipline, to make the set up for a pretextual firing that can take years to appeal.

Only a fool will say that union recognition is guaranteed while the employer has been fighting the election process itself; which means that Smith is either a fool, or knew exactly what he was doing when making this statement; that being, hiding his real agenda of carrying out the union busting efforts of Wade Rathke to their logical conclusion. The fact that Smith attempt here to portray the workers as greedy ("They chose MONEY over victory") is exactly in line with how every union busting labor consultant advises employers to portray unions and the workers that support them. (A web search on "labor consultants" will substantiate this). It has also been alleged that he discharged two workers in Portland, his former office, for supporting unionization under pretext.

Smith, as an out of towner cannot build ACORN's credibility, except to talk trash about the union; that is because ACORN has nothing to base it's own image upon, except union busting. The IWW, on the other hand, has a proven track record in Seattle. ACORN at the same time is attempting to build its credibility on being pro union; They can't have it both ways by saying one thing, and doing another.

Claim #9 - "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."

FACT: "The money" was two week's severance pay, which is standard in many union shops; does this mean that any union worker getting this under a contract is "greedy"?

This second excerpt from Kent Smith, posted on the IWW web page, attempts to tell a potential supporter that a choice between a year of hearings, (expensive) appeals, and fired workers vs. the IWW signing a labor peace agreement AFTER NEARLY ALL PRO-UNION WORKERS NATIONALLY HAD BEEN FIRED, THREATENED INTO SILENCE, OR HAD QUIT IN DISGUST were golden opportunities. Also, in pursuing a local bargaining unit, there is no guarantee that Rathke wouldn't have simply shut the office down entirely to avoid having to negotiate a contract, if an election victory did take place; an underhanded but completely legal anti-union tactic.

Claim #10 - "[Question by Kent Smith] 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?"

FACT: Lets look at what ACORN has done with their own money donated to them; They used it to hire an additional attorney to break the union. They used it to fly several members of the national staff across the country to Seattle to attend at least 3 days of hearings, meaning additional hotel expenses. They locked out their workers, knowing full well that it would result in back pay. They spent hundreds of hours on the payroll, NOT ORGANIZING LOW INCOME FAMILIES AND WORKERS, AND INSTEAD BUSTING A UNION ORGANIZED BY THEIR OWN EMPLOYEES ON THEIR OWN TIME IN ADDITION TO THEIR 54 HOUR WEEKS. And all Smith can ask is where the pittance of strike pay was spent.

Question from the union: Why did the workers have to go on strike in the first place? Why all of this concern for fiscal responsibility? Is Smith pulling the other popular myth from the union busters handbook, THAT THE UNION IS CORRUPT? Or in the pot calling the kettle black, is ACORN management hiding their OWN FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY FROM THE MEMBERSHIP???

Claim #11 - "It Doesn't matter anymore anyway."

FACT: History has played itself out. And history is the lens through which we can predict what will happen in the future. The IWW will continue to organize workers to the best of its abilities, win or lose, even workers who are on the payroll to organize for justice; ACORN management will continue to attempt to revise history, to paint themselves as the moral victors, while denying their own history, and denying basic rights to their own employees, violating state and federal laws that are designed to protect workers, not to mention the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which explicitly states that workers shall have the freedom to form and organize into unions without fear of retaliation. The IWW will not forget Wade Rathke, Doug Bloch, Kent Smith, and wherever they will go, the cloud of what they have done will follow. Their workers will continue to organize, with or without the IWW to fight for their rights.