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have a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason to fire you.” Because of charges of cronyism within the agency, the SEIU is also asking that center director jobs be put on the open market and advertised. By eight in the morning, blitzers are straggling into the 1 1 th Street Cafe in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, lighting cigarettes as they tumble into the booths. A few are upbeat”We signed up to an independent company. When the hoppers stalled in their collection one day and New Orleans was strewn with decaying garbage in the July heat, a different sort of heat quickly persuaded the company to negotiate a contract. The blitz workers begin at six every morning, picking up their day’s assignment from Local 100 headquarters, and heading out to intercept the teachers as they arrive at one of the sixty Head Start centers around Houston. Under the ground rules negotiated with William Lawton, director of GCCSA, the organizers are required to do their talking outside the buildings, so as not to interfere with the school day. Since Head Start has about 800 employees and GCCSA only 100, Head Start has been the focus for most of the organizing energy. .4.W.L4k*. Local 100 considers Project Head Start badly in need of some organizing and reform, from the bottom up. The federal Head Start program was initiated with great promise in 1965, as part of the Great Ak Society’s “arsenal of weapons to fight w poverty,” and nationally it has been one of the few government programs that can point to measurable success in improving the performance of disadvantaged students. But Houston Head Start has been the target of several investigations since the late ’70s ranging from allegations by a federal grant-screening body that the cost per Head Start student in Houston was much greater than that found elsewhere, to various newspaper exposs of mismanagement. Executive Director Ruth Marshall has worked at Houston Head Start since its inception, and has been in charge of the agency since 1975. Asked if she supported the formation of a union, Marshall would only say, “I don’t have any information on it.” As to any objections to her employees unionizing, she said, “I’ve had a lot of complaints from my staff, so I’d just as soon not make a comment.” But Head Start employees are blunt about the source of poor working conditions at the agency. “It’s coming down from the top,” says Carolyn Manning, the educational coordinator at Eliot Head Start, who was one of six staff members who wrote a public letter and filed a lawsuit protesting Head Start employment practices. “It’s a very good program, but people are really scared of voicing their opinion because they’ve been dictated to for the whole time they’ve been working. They’re afraid they’re going to lose their jobs.” As Orell Fitzsimmons explains it, what he’d like to see bargained for in a Head Start contract are due-process provisions under which employees can be dismissed: “Right now they can “.*Kklft e five at Haverstoch! Alright alright alright! I’m happy now.” Most are already drooping”I went to four centers and didn’t get a damned soul.” Several are surprised at the uphill battle. Most come from states where unions are more commonplace and accepted, and they had joined unions that were already organized and strong. They didn’t have to fight for that first vote. “It’s real hard to get people to be involved in a union when they don’t know what it is to be involved,” says Mynette Theard, who works as a security guard in an Oakland, California, school. “Also, there’s no involvement in their families. Most of us have other family members who have been in the union. We’re used to it.” In Texas and throughout the South, most people’s knowledge of unions seems to consist of Sally Fields looking defiant in Norma Rae, or the millionaire ballplayers’ unions of professional sports. “Once you leave Atlanta, you pretty much don’t run into anything else of substance [in terms of organized labor] until you get to San Antonio, where there’s a hospital or two,” says Wade Rathke. Now national SEIU leadership is targeting the South: members from the South are on the national executive board for the first time, and plans are afoot to start an annual Southern SEIU conference, commencing next spring. “We’re the David, not the Goliath,” Rathke