War on Workers – Lee Fang

Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now

War on Workers

Look Who the Folks Who Took Down ACORN Are Targeting Now

by Lee Fang

“Right-wing operatives with links to
big retailers are going after worker centers like the Restaurant Opportunities

“In a presentation at the Drake Hotel in Chicago
last October, Joseph Kefauver addressed a conference of executives from
companies like Nike, Macy’s and Crate & Barrel, among other leading brands.
Kefauver, a key player in the rising cottage industry of lobbyists and
consultants hired by the retail sector, warned his audience that a new movement
was taking hold, one that could leverage the “exponential growth of grassroots
networks” to force change at corporations beyond the reach of traditional labor
unions. These activists, Kefauver explained in his PowerPoint presentation,
could create pressure in the media, throughout a supply chain, and even in the
policy and political arena, making them a threat to business’s bottom line unlike
any other. In addition, he noted ominously, these new groups are spreading
beyond the big cities and blue states and have established a “left-of-center
beachhead in traditionally conservative areas.”’

“The conference attendees were then asked to
consider the pushback. “How aggressive can we be?” one slide read. “How do we
challenge the social justice narrative?” queried another.”

“Kefauver is a former executive for public affairs
at Walmart and a former political action committee staffer for Darden Restaurants,
the parent company of chain eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. As a
full-time consultant at firms that serve the restaurant and retail industry, he
is part of a phalanx of lobbyists and political operatives with a small but
focused goal: to destroy what has become known as the “worker center” movement.”

“Kefauver’s alarm at the rise of worker centers,
which he has repeated in talks with the US Chamber of Commerce and other
business trade groups, isn’t simply bluster. Just as conservatives aimed their
fire—to devastating effect—at organized labor and low-wage advocacy groups like
ACORN in the past decade, right-wing lobbyists and the businesses that pay them
are going after worker centers today because they recognize their potency. With
unions in decline—a fact celebrated in one recent ad targeting worker
centers—the “alt-labor” movement has helped jump-start a nationwide effort to
reshape working conditions for millions of Americans in low-wage jobs. The
question is: Can worker centers escape the fate of other, similarly situated
groups targeted by corporate smear campaigns?”

* * *

“Though many worker centers began as localized
efforts to combat poverty, the movement has rapidly spread and matured. These
groups still help low-wage workers find legal representation and understand
their rights at work. But many now coordinate their organizing with other
community groups or labor unions across multiple regions. As Kefauver’s
presentation suggested, worker centers are indeed organizing along corporate supply
chains to achieve their demands. And in many cases, it’s working.”

“Arise Chicago, a faith-based nonprofit that founded
a worker center in 2002, has helped win new safety agreements for hotel
workers; negotiate a new city ordinance to crack down on wage theft; and
mobilize Walmart employees for an unprecedented set of strikes aimed at hiking
pay and benefits. In Florida, the pioneering farmworker group the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers (CIW) has successfully pressed for a wide-ranging labor
agreement with major food companies to curb abusive working conditions. The
Restaurant Opportunities Center, which began as a New York–based group that
organized a small number of waiters and waitresses, is now a federation that
spans the largest restaurant markets in the country and has come to represent
an alternative for consumers seeking information about the industry.”

“With this success has come a new, all-out assault
by business. Many observers point to a full-page ad in The Wall Street
last July sponsored by Rick Berman, a longtime lobbyist for the
restaurant and agricultural industry, as the first major shot across the bow.
As The New York Times reported, Berman has since launched his own
website filled with negative information about worker centers and has appeared
regularly in the media to criticize the movement, particularly the Restaurant
Opportunities Center.”

“I think that businesses are going after worker
centers because they view them as much more effective than they used to be,”
says Janice Fine, an associate professor of labor studies and employment
relations at Rutgers University. Calling the increasing attacks on worker
centers a “backhanded compliment,” Fine notes that the centers are “no longer
looked at as local organizations.”’

“Some of the pushback has been overt. A Google
search for “OUR Walmart” produces as its first result a web page sponsored by
the retail behemoth, claiming that the group exists solely to benefit the
interests of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of its financial
backers. Fox News and conservative talk radio have taken to reporting on
worker-center-led demonstrations. Asked to describe a wave of fast-food
strikes, Mallory Factor, speaking on Fox & Friends, suggested that
the demonstrators were all paid to be there, calling them a “rent-a-mob, purely

“Some of the attacks, though, are less transparent.
This past November, about a month after Kefauver’s presentation in Chicago, a
group called Worker Center Watch launched a series of YouTube videos aimed at
discrediting the Black Friday protests staged by worker centers against big-box
retailers. One video depicted the activists as “professional protesters” who
“haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.” Another video from the group alleges
that the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), OUR Walmart and other worker
centers are nothing more than union front groups designed to “make more money
for greedy union bosses.” The video closes with an appeal not to be “fooled” by
worker centers.”

“A week later, Worker Center Watch posted the
transcript of an audio recording from a private worker-center meeting in New
York that had been obtained by Breitbart News, the right-wing website founded
by the late Andrew Breitbart. The headline blared about the offensive “Santa’s
slaves” comments made by the organizers, though the actual recording was rather

“When contacted by The Nation, Worker
Center Watch refused to reveal its backers. However, records obtained for this
article show that Kefauver’s public relations firm, Parquet Public Affairs,
registered the website for Worker Center Watch. After I inquired about the
registration, the website hosting the record was concealed with a proxy.”

“Kefauver would not respond to multiple requests for
comment on what he does or who is paying him. But he was listed as a
“consultant” to the National Restaurant Association—the largest lobbying group
for the restaurant industry and the driving force against raising the minimum
wage—on a schedule posted by restaurant industry lobbyists for a meeting in San
Antonio several months ago.”

Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now

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