Jim Grossfeld

Jim Grossfeld is a writer living a Bethesda, Maryland.

Recent Articles

Leo the Linchpin

Steelworker President Leo Gerard looks like an old-time union leader, but he's put together a labor-environmentalist alliance that bridges some growing Democratic fissures.

Leo Gerard is central casting's idea of a labor leader: tough and big. Really big -- 6 feet 2 inches tall and barrel-chested. He's just the kind of guy you'd expect to be the president of the United Steelworkers. So what's he doing palling around with Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope? "Good jobs and a clean environment are important to American workers," Gerard proclaimed last year. "We can't have one without the other." The occasion was the kickoff of the Blue/Green Alliance, a joint project of the Steelworkers and Sierra Club to promote "Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, and A Safer World." Pope describes the effort as "one of the most important initiatives undertaken by the environmental movement in decades." To underscore this point, last November he and Gerard barnstormed through Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, spreading the word that clean-energy technologies and conservation can yield millions of new jobs. Gerard is hardly the first labor leader to join forces with the...

A Union Hearing

In a June, 2004, speech John Kerry brought a New Jersey crowd to its feet when he declared: "It's time once and for all we change the laws so workers can organize when a majority of them wants to, without intimidation and interference from management." Memorable words. But if you don't recall them, you're not alone: this kind of talk was generally reserved for union audiences only. Among Washington's political cognoscenti it is considered a no brainer that idle chatter about unionism will brand a candidate as a hopelessly unreconstructed "old" Democrat. At the very least, they warn, it would be "off message," given that voters have about as much interest in labor issues as they do in, say, the Law of the Sea. The upshot of this conventional wisdom is that, today, not many Democrats are willing to step forward to promote unionism. What's more, few labor leaders even ask them to. That's too bad, because by speaking out for unions Democrats could not only help to mobilize public support...

Labor Gains?

"City and state, please?" For a moment I think the voice at the other end of the phone belongs to a telephone operator, but I've been conned: I'm talking to a piece of voice-recognition technology. Over the course of the last two decades, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) has seen the loss of thousands of telephone operators' jobs and many others, too. Some were due to automation, others to offshoring, but most were the result of structural changes in the industry. After AT&T's 1984 divestment of its 22 regional telephone companies, the CWA, together with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, represented 150,000 of the company's workers. This year, when a much smaller AT&T was purchased by SBC Communications, the union represented only 25,000. All told, the CWA estimates, about 250,000 telecommunications jobs have been lost over the past 25 years. * * * Staggering results like these have devastated some unions, but not the CWA. In fact, it's...

A Temporary Fix

With the White House and congressional conservatives ramping up to make the coming four years as memorable as the last, it is easy to miss some of their less conspicuous exploits. Many of those have taken place at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has issued multiple decisions that are costing millions of Americans their best chance to join the middle class. One such decision came in November of last year, when the conservative-dominated board overturned the MB Sturgis decision. Sturgis , as it came to be called, was the 2000 NLRB ruling that acknowledged that workers who perform the same job for a company under the same supervision as regular employees can share a “community of interests” even though they may be employed through a temporary-services agency. By removing a legal obstacle preventing unions from organizing and negotiating for these workers, Sturgis gave the labor movement a new opportunity to grow and gain strength in industries that rely heavily on temps...

Losing Lansing

Count me among the many whose lives were touched by Ronald Reagan. For me, it began in 1980 in Lansing, Michigan. I was living on the city's east side, an older neighborhood tucked between Michigan State University and the big Oldsmobile plant. That year I was the Democratic nominee for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. Though at 23 I wasn't the ideal candidate for a district made up of auto workers and state employees, I was convinced that my tough-minded rhetoric about stray dogs -- and the district's Democratic bent -- would help me overcome the Republican incumbent. But something didn't seem right. Few of us who were active Democrats really liked Jimmy Carter to begin with. Even those who backed him over Ted Kennedy did so with all the enthusiasm of someone paying off a parking ticket. When my new down coat was stolen at a neighbor's party, the thief left only the wad of green Carter-Mondale bumper stickers I was carrying with me. My friends' reactions were about the same...

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