Ellen's Stardust Diner
September 14, 2016 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Two weeks ago, workers announced the highly publicized formation of Stardust Family United under the Industrial Workers of the World, which is supported by over 70 employees of Ellen's Stardust Diner, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan recently profiled for by the New York Times. Ken Sturm, owner, then fired six long-time employees in retaliation for their efforts to form a union to protect and improve their working conditions. Ellen's, a diner which primarily employs Broadway and off-Broadway singers, has been a mainstay source of income for many since 1995.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (37 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
2016 and workers are still getting fired for forming unions. What the hell.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:00 PM on September 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:02 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]




Stay strong, Stardust Family United!
posted by oceanjesse at 7:43 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The problem is the AFL CIO ignores any union busting done against the IWW, so people feel free to hit it at will.
posted by corb at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The problem is the AFL CIO ignores any union busting
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:58 PM on September 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'll have an order of bread and roses, please.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:05 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why do so many people hate unions? Honest question. Most people I know don't come into much contact with them, and when I worked at Fred Meyer the union (UFCW) seemed okay ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by gucci mane at 10:50 PM on September 14, 2016


About a century of relentless social/media pressure from those most threatened by them (i.e. Capital) doesn't exactly help. If all you ever hear about them is how they're keeping you from doing things you want to do, or how they're protecting corrupt teachers & the like...

And what's to be said in their favor in general culture? Maybe a week back in grade school about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and child labor, but that was a long time ago...

I think the last part which has caused a lot of trouble for unions and unionization is exactly that last word there. Unionization. Sacrificing the purity of individuality/independence for... collective action. People voluntarily working to help each other. Cultural pressure in the US is much more isolated than it was at their heyday. Hobbies, living conditions, the nuclear family. There's a lot of pressure to think of things as everybody out for themselves, so if you're helping someone out at some cost to yourself without being able to see tangible return... Practically un-American, by that point.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:05 PM on September 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


A political narrative pushed by owners and ideologues etc that unions hold their businesses to ransom (a power imbalance) to get their way, and that unions themselves are rife with corruption - union leaders being more interested in helping themselves than the people they represent, which feeds into the bloated government narrative where politicians are actually just out for power and enrichment rather than civic duty. Also the forces of globalization and technology have assisted the anti-union political narrative by making domestic labor less valuable.

I think the unionized rate in america is like 10% now and it used to be triple that? There was a famous airline strike in 1980 where I think a lot of people trace this to?

I've seen the very pro-union David Simon (of The Wire fame) say that sometimes unions in the past have had too much power, but that the balance of power is crucial and that these days unions are generally an impotent force. People make distinctions between private/public too, where public union power has remained in a greater amount.
posted by dimejubes at 11:13 PM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


2016 and workers are still getting fired for forming unions. What the hell.
2016 and people are still forming unions. What the hell? I thought that modern serfdom aka crony capitalism had pretty much destroyed the rights of labour to organise in its own interest.
posted by wilful at 11:23 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Capitalism is always on the offensive and unions are an impediment. I don't know if this started after the Depression, WWII, the 60s, or it was always that way, but there seems like a pervasive predatory instinct within the system.
posted by rhizome at 1:45 AM on September 15, 2016


> Why do so many people hate unions? Honest question.

Well, it doesn't help that the police are organized around unions.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:34 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know if this started after the Depression, WWII, the 60s, or it was always that way, but there seems like a pervasive predatory instinct within the system.

Reagan. He made union-busting an actual goal of his administration, and freed the corporate hounds to do likewise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I hope they sue the place right out from under Mr. Sturm, and it ends up being run as an employee-owned cooperative. Screw that asshole.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:29 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I know this is serious, but that chorus of head-breaking goons sang so well in the Act ! finale
posted by thelonius at 4:46 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that it was illegal to fire people for organizing. Am I wrong? Does the IWW somehow fall outside such protections?

Why do so many people hate unions? Honest question. Most people I know don't come into much contact with them, and when I worked at Fred Meyer the union (UFCW) seemed okay ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A lot of the sloganeering from pro union people seems steeped well in the past. So I think for many folks, their feelings about unions is more what have you done for me lately? And sure, there's some history of corruption that still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Union and non union members alike get disenchanted when they find out about unions vigorously protecting bad apples. This isn't unreasonable. In recent years, we've seen over and over how police unions will go all out for its members even if it means going all out against the very people its members are supposed to serve.

I'm not sure I would characterize unions in the past (or now) as having too much power. Or too little. They have what they can get. They seem to have generally been more successful with the public sector over private. I would say union power is largely a matter of critical mass. But in the US, unions overall have been in decline since the 1950s. The Reagan years brought a lot of inspiration to anti labor activism from the federal level on down.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:14 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


The systematic destruction of organized labor in the US is the core impetus for the trend toward increasing inequality, wage stagnation and decline of economic security of the middle-class, the rise of the neoliberal economic consensus, and the political changes that both reflect and maintain this.

Organized labor is the bulwark against many of the ill effects of globalization and other economic changes, yet the left and American political culture has essentially given it up for dead and instead agitates against globalization itself (good luck with that) and accepts the dubious analysis that more college education is the path to reduced inequality and increased economic security. No, the path is via a more equitable distribution of the wealth created by productivity gains, primarily to the working and middle-class, and especially with regard to workers in the service economy and this will only happen with empowered labor.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:01 AM on September 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Why do so many people hate unions? Honest question.

The unions that they my family members were/are in are leagues away from the ones that, along with Frances Perkins and other non-union social activists, fought for fire escapes, minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, the end of child labor and all of those life-saving measures. Nowadays, the dues money goes toward glossy magazines, countless meetings, the business of the union itself and , yes, protecting the jobs of subpar employees.

Also, some politicians on the left (at least in my state) enjoy the unions' endorsements and happily lap up donations from members and then turn on the unions, which makes the unions look really, really dumb.

This is obviously not the case with Stardust Family United.
posted by kimberussell at 6:20 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why do so many people hate unions? Honest question.

I'm a union member (actually of two unions!) because I believe in collective bargaining, protection of workers rights on the job etc. These representational activities are very important to me and i think the freesom to join a union is a fundamental right. However, I have a very conflicted relationship with the union because it often supports economic and social policies that I believe are actively harmful to workers' economic futures and to society as a whole.

In addition, I see ways that my primary union supports or allows low level incompetence, inefficiency or waste in the running of the union at the local level. It's also not oriented towards true democratic control of the locals or of the national union. National doesn't really seem to care as long as membership numbers are steady or increasing and dues are getting paid.
posted by Jahaza at 6:29 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


And several unions I'm aware of are virtually impossible to join unless you have a family member in the union already - apprenticeships are pretty much always secured through nepotism.

To echo kimberussell, not the case with Stardust Family United.
posted by R a c h e l at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The IWW is literally the opposite of the craft unions with their heavily nepotistic memberships. You could join the IWW today as long as you meet a few conditions (can't have hiring/firing power, can't work for a political party, there may be a few others).

The thing is, until enough people get that an injury to one is an injury to all and act accordingly, bosses will be free to fire workers for unionizing and go through with all kinds of nasty shit. Once they do figure it out... Well that's another story.
posted by graymouser at 7:07 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Quick Disclaimer: I own a business in a "right to work" state so my experience with unions is somewhat limited. I will say, though, that while traveling and having to interface with various unions throughout my career it's been a real eye opener.
One example: A corporate meeting at a fancy hotel in NY city a few years back.
Unloading half of a 53' truck on Easter Sunday
Teamsters union: the teamsters have control of the dock which means that they set the rules.
5 guys plus a leader or "steward" 8 hr minium plus triple time so basically each man is paid for 24 hrs. The actual job took 30mins. They push the stuff off the truck and onto the dock. Maximum distance is 75' (they bitched the entire time because it was Easter Sunday ) there rate was $60 per man per hr.
Carpenters union: These guys have control of the hallways and ballrooms. They push the stuff from the dock to the tradeshow floor or ballroom, and help build the screens and set pieces, but will not touch drapes or "soft goods" or Electrical. .
7 guys plus a lead or "steward" 6 hr minimum triple for Easter Sunday. So they all get paid for 18 hrs. Job took 3 hrs. Rate was $40.00 per man per hr
Decorators union: These guys erect pipe and drape or "soft goods" and also lay carpet for tradeshows and stage productions. We have aprox 40' of drape which is 16' tall. It takes 5 decorators and a lead or "steward" about 25 mins to install the drape after they pillage the clients lunch buffet. They billed 8 hrs at triple time like the teamsters. Rate was $45.00 per man per hr
Electrician: he came in to hook up the power and deliver AC to the various places required.
Only one dude and I'm not making this up, he had to install the ends on the bare cables that he was supplying. I thought maybe someone had pranked him and removed all the ends as a joke but nope, this was the way things were done. he was 8 hr minimum triple time as well. He was onsite for about 3 hrs. Rate was $50.00 per man per hr
Typically in a non union property I'd have done the entire event with 5 good techs and myself.
And we pay a fair wage my guys average $450.00 a day plus per diem.
So 22 people doing the job of 6. I have many other stories like this which take place in what are know in my business as "union towns" Chicago Vegas Philly and NY mainly. They have simply become a cost of doing business. Which is kind of a shame.
But do I hate the unions? No way! They make us look good when we run circles around them.
posted by HappyHippo at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Unions are responsible for the long weekend and the effect of that is they made working holidays expensive. If you hadn't been asking people to come in on their days off it would have been a lot cheaper.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 AM on September 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Americans hate unions because: We know next to nothing about labor history. We have a culture that venerates the individual and wealth, we don't identify with economic class coherently, we would rather draw our power from above than below.
posted by Pembquist at 9:09 AM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well made post, thanks OP!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:51 AM on September 15, 2016


I love the Idea of unions, but as a union member I mostly see them protecting the under-productive. Oh, and because we have no actual bargaining power, we're working without a contract again. I was just this morning bemoaning the gap between what unions Should be (helping folks like the Stardust folks make a living wage, have safe conditions, etc) and their current powerlessness/seeming-thuggery. I want to be able to say Solidarity Forever and feel good about it.
posted by ldthomps at 11:14 AM on September 15, 2016


Organized labor is the bulwark against many of the ill effects of globalization and other economic changes, yet the left and American political culture has essentially given it up for dead and instead agitates against globalization itself (good luck with that) and accepts the dubious analysis that more college education is the path to reduced inequality and increased economic security. No, the path is via a more equitable distribution of the wealth created by productivity gains, primarily to the working and middle-class, and especially with regard to workers in the service economy and this will only happen with empowered labor.

I dunno... this kind of sounds like a well rehearsed response, and even worse, I don't think it's really even true. I mean, how long has it been since unions in the US were a bulwark against the "ill effects of globalization and other economic changes"? If ever? What are those ill effects, anyhow? Labor and the left have rarely offered anything more sophisticated than keep-jobs-in-America/Trumponomics, in response. Which is fine and dandy. Except when it's successfully adopted as trade policy, it's basically trade policy called "fuck you, I got mine" on a national level to underdeveloped nations willing and able to enter global markets. Keeping their skills from being utilized as well as they could be. and their growth potential from being realized. And keeping prices artificially elevated for consumers of US products.


Unions are responsible for the long weekend and the effect of that is they made working holidays expensive. If you hadn't been asking people to come in on their days off it would have been a lot cheaper.


This is what I was referring to by "what have you done for me lately?" Not only that, it kind of sounds to me as if someone were to say, "What do you black folks want, anyhow? We let you out of slavery, and what thanks do we get?" You might say, if that's what you've got to offer, it kinda falls flat, to put it mildly.

In addition, that interjection is a nice way to divert attention to the point being made, that some unions grossly raise costs and squander good will by forcing absurd requirements such as the ones HappyHippo illustrated. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Last union job I had offered a Sunday premium of $.20/hr. Double that if it was a holiday. And those hours were given on a seniority basis. I guess that's about what you can get around here when your union represents largely unskilled labor, and can't get meaningful backing from more powerful unions.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


So 22 people doing the job of 6. I have many other stories like this which take place in what are know in my business as "union towns" Chicago Vegas Philly and NY mainly. They have simply become a cost of doing business. Which is kind of a shame.

Unfortunately, this is true. I was born and raised in and still work in Philadelphia and have seen the "one guy working, four guys watching" mentality.

Americans hate unions because: We know next to nothing about labor history. We have a culture that venerates the individual and wealth, we don't identify with economic class coherently, we would rather draw our power from above than below.

Partly, but some Americans hate unions because they have gone from protecting exploited workers to protecting shitty workers, which in turn endangers good workers because they're supported by the union, but not by society... and without the support of both, unions will inevitably die. The other unfortunate thing is that people like cops, firefighters, and teachers get lumped in with teamsters and roofers. If unions reformed and put practices in place that got rid of loafers and violent dickheads, they wouldn't have this issue.
posted by prepmonkey at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


2N2222: "This is what I was referring to by "what have you done for me lately?" Not only that, it kind of sounds to me as if someone were to say, "What do you black folks want, anyhow? We let you out of slavery, and what thanks do we get?" You might say, if that's what you've got to offer, it kinda falls flat, to put it mildly. "

Well the long weekend isn't protected by the constitution and far from a settled issue. My trade union fights to retain overtime and holidays with every contract. A fight that we are actually losing, in Canada no less. It's likely our next camp job PLA will nix double time on weekends in exchange for straight 6&4 which will cost us 20-30 hours of compensation a month. There is also a chance we'll also lose our Labour Day off (the only work done by my local on Labour Day is to prevent injury or death).
posted by Mitheral at 1:10 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was a famous airline strike in 1980 where I think a lot of people trace this to?

1981 Air Traffic Controllers strike by PATCO. Strike was broken, union decertified.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2016


11,345 Air traffic controllers were fired. They were put on a permanent federal Do Not Hire list which was revoked by Clinton I. And somewhat ironically PATCO had actually endorsed Reagan for President along with the TEAMSTERS (a big hindsight WTF?!?). Reagan promised things would be better for them under a Republican President than under Jimmy Carter's FAA.
posted by Mitheral at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2016


Management--feh.
posted by Sassenach at 3:24 PM on September 15, 2016


Unions are responsible for the long weekend and the effect of that is they made working holidays expensive. If you hadn't been asking people to come in on their days off it would have been a lot cheaper
Yes it would have been a lot cheaper if it wasn't Easter or a Sunday. But it still would have been more expensive than it needed to be because it took the union 22 people to do the work that was normally done by 6.
posted by HappyHippo at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2016


I feel like a "sometimes" might fit in there somewhere.
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on September 17, 2016


What are those ill effects, anyhow?

Well, for instance, you have major players in the Republican Party calling for an end to child-labor laws. You have many, many corporations circumventing overtime laws by classifying workers as exempt, often illegally. You have Walmart's long list of violations of labor laws, going back decades. There is no shortage of examples.

The relationship between corporations and workers is inherently adversarial, and without organizing, workers are at a severe disadvantage. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate few whose work experience has not reflected that disadvantage, because of your valuable skills or other privilege. For the vast majority of workers in the U.S., exploitation is the rule.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:18 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Unions may protect bad workers, but they also protect good ones. For every union job being done by too many people, I'm willing to bet there's at least one like my last job where I was doing the work that previously had been done by four full-time workers, and then got busted down to part-time with no work reduction.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:12 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


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