IWW Labor Action at Janus Youth
Mark Harris Portland, Oregon, 2/15/2001
A group of 40 labor, civil rights and community activists took part in a public audit action at the headquarters of Janus Youth Programs in NE Portland today. Representatives of the District Council of Trade Unions (representing municipal employees), several other trade unions, Jobs with Justice, students, and the community stood with IWW members as they presented their demands in their struggle with Janus.
The background to the dispute with Janus, briefly summarized, is this: Janus is a 'non-profit' corporation under contract to the city of Portland to provide social services to young people. IWW IU 670 ( http://www.iww.org) represents the social workers employed at Harry's Mother, a subdivision of Janus. Under US Labor Law, IU 670 is recognized as the exclusive collective bargaining entity for these workers.
In the midst of contract negotiations, Janus illegally laid off three workers, Tara Couchman, Michelle Markowitz and Jordana Sardo. Each of these women are labor activists with IU 670, and their firing at this crucial point is seen as an attempt to break the union. This tactic is in violation of US Labor Law, but is widely practiced by union busting companies, encouraged by the weakening of the National Labor Relations Board in recent years.
Since Janus operates under cover of IRS 'non-profit' status, it is required by the law to provide certain financial records to members of the public who request them during regular business hours. Today was the legal deadline for Janus to provide these reports of its financial standing. More than a dozen citizens requested the documents, but all were told that the staff at Janus could not provide them. After facing demands for the documents from the public over the course of hour, Janus staff took the addresses of the citizens requesting them and promised to mail the documents to them in short order. The IWW representatives at Harry's Mother believe that the documents will prove that Janus has more than sufficient assets to fully the union's demands, rescind cutbacks and lay-offs and pay a living wage. They feel that this fact lies behind the mysterious inability to produce the required documents.
Jordana Sardo, one of the laid-off workers, make a statement to the group supporting the IWW's demand that Janus bargain in good faith. She pointed out that the strong public campaign waged by the IWW and its supporters have already won a two-week postponement of layoffs, and a verbal offer (not yet made in formal contract negotiations) to hire back two of the three women, and to fund the Student Association of Garden Entrepreneurs program until October. However, Michelle Markowitz made clear that unacceptable conditions of additional work under more difficult circumstances had been attached to the offer. The group of supporters committed themselves to see the struggle for a just contract through to its conclusion.
Janus runs 20 programs in the city of Portland, and Harry's Mother is the only program with union representation. Committed social workers are routinely paid dismal wages for difficult work. The IWW is demanding a pay increase to $10.60 an hour for the workers it represents, and intends to spread organizing efforts through the entire non-profit sector.
Geri Washington, an organizer at Jobs with Justice ( http://www.teleport.com/~jobswj/index.htm), addressed the group, and assured them that Jobs with Justice will continue to support IU 670 until the struggle is won. Several Jobs with Justice pledge cards (pledgers promise to take part in at least five labor solidarity actions per year) were signed at the demonstration. The supporters of IU 670 repeated their commitment to stand up for workers rights in Portland, and to make life miserable for exploiters