Talking Non-Union AlllgiN THE BACK COVER of a recent issue of The Nation is a full-page ad for Working Assets, the San Franciscobased progressive financial services company. In 1991, Working Assets started a long-distance phone company. “Be socially responsible,” the ad exhorts. “Talk on the phone.” The copy continues: “What if you could help build a better world just by talking on the phone? And what if you could save money at the same time?” The ad goes on to state that 1 percent of the company’s revenues are doled out to nonprofit good guys like Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace. What it doesn’t say is that Working Assets leases lines from Sprint. Why does a fu -rn that purports to be “socially responsible” do business with a notoriously antiunion company? “We have been watching the whole Sprint-La Conexion Familiar thing,” says Peter West, a Working Assets manager. “We’ve had a lot of customers calling to express their concerns. And yes, it’s put us in a tough situation.” Laura Scher, the company’s chief executive officer, downplayed the matter of doing business with. Sprint. “We have nothing to do with La Conexion,” she said “We want to be in the phone industry because we think that what we’re doing has a positive impact on the world around us. Were well aware that none of the big carriers are ideal. But we feel the benefit we provide outweighs the evil of doing business with them.” Would Working Assets consider switching to a union carrier? “We might,” says Scher. “We certainly listen to our customers.” To be heard, call Working Assets at 800-788-8588. If you call dur ing a busy period, you will get a recorded message that bills the firm as “the only phone company that helps you build a better world with every call you make.” When you reach an operator, you might remind him or her that Working Assets itself could start by disconnecting its line to Sprint. ment bill was thwacked in the U.S. Senate this summer; labor law reform and OSHA reform bills have stalled in committee; NAFTA-fueled manufacturers giddily declare their American workers obsolete while shipping production to semi-slave laborers in Mexico and overseas. Organizing the unorganized, in the face of hostile law, free trade, and emboldened anti-union employers, remains, as this dispatch from the telecommunications frontier makes plain, a great uphill battle. But there are glimmers of hope. Union membership, which shrunk steadily for 14 years, actually increased nationally last year to 16.6 million, from 16.4 million in 1992. And unions in Texas, of all places, are swelling the ranks with innovative and aggressive organizing. “We concluded that the old way of doing things wasn’t moving us forward,” said Rick Levy, staff counsel for the Texas AFL-CIO. “Leaders as well as rank-and-filers have realized that the very survival of the labor movement depends on a renewed commitment to organizing, a commitment that must be shared by each and every member.” The commitment has resulted in some dramatic gains. From major victories by the United Rubber Workers in east Texas and building-trades locals throughout the state, to rapid growth in the public-employee and service-worker ranks, to expanded alliances between American and Mexican unions, to sophisticated corporate campaigns and en hanced coalition-building with community organizations, labor is stirring for the first time since Ronald Reagan planted his bootheel on the throat of the nation’s air-traffic controllers. 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