Union spokeswoman left out in the cold

Union organizers try to recruit workers by saying that they’ll go to bat for them when things get tough for them. So it’s fair to ask how that contention squares with the story of Anyshya Sanders, a 35-year-old single mother of five, and former employee at All Pro Traffic Control in Las Vegas.

In 2006, reported The Las Vegas Sun recently, the Laborers’ union and the Change to Win federation (a group of unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005, recruited her as a spokesperson for the the deceivingly named “Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA), and was fired for her union activity — precisely one of the things unions are supposed to protect workers against. Having had a hard life, and even spent time in prison, Sanders worked hard to put her life on the right track.

In August 2004, she landed a job as a traffic flagger with All Pro Traffic Control, making $11 an hour. The pay wasn’t much, but with some creative financing it was enough to rent a modest town house. Work went well and Sanders said she quickly became a favorite in the workplace. Some contractors, she said, requested her by name.

It was about then that the Laborers’ International Union of America entered her life. Union organizers told Sanders the laborers could deliver better wages — $18 an hour — and health care benefits. “They promised me in an aggressive fashion that I would be OK,” Sanders said. “I soaked up everything like a sponge.”

Still, with five children to feed, the money wasn’t enough and in 2006 Sanders couldn’t make rent. She sent her four young sons to relatives in California while she and her daughter moved into a small one-bedroom apartment in a gritty downtown neighborhood.

Agreeing to speak out on behalf in support of EFCA, Change to Win flew her to Washington in 2007 for a week of meetings and appearances, paid her $300 for new clothes and another $300 to make up for lost wages. Things seemed to be going well, until she returned home.

When she returned to Las Vegas, she said, the union put her through steward training in anticipation of the promised new job.

In the meantime, she continued working at All Pro, where the organizing campaign had all but flamed out and her hours were reduced. Co-workers were told not to talk to her, she said. “My name was a cuss word there.”

Two months later, Sanders said, she was assigned to a road job in a remote part of the valley. She said she turned it down because she had no way of getting there — and the company fired her for “no show, no call.” According to Sanders, George Vaughn, the head of Laborers Local 702, told her to file charges with the federal labor board, seek unemployment and, failing that, welfare.

Weeks of no work turned to months, and Sanders said she called Vaughn again. After she vented for a few minutes, Sanders said Vaughn told her, “Your 15 minutes are over,” and hung up. When Sanders called back, she said, a receptionist told her there was no work — and even if there were, she owed dues money.

Sanders, frustrated, called national union officials in DC, who got Vaughn to give her $800 in cash, but what she really wanted was a job. Then around that time, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that All Pro had harassed employees, but for Sanders, there was still no work, and things quickly turned for the worse.

She ran out of money and now she and her daughter share the spare bedroom of a friend’s North Las Vegas apartment. The other children remain in California.

Sanders is angry at the union for breaking what she saw as its promises after she put her job on the line for its sake.

“I allowed the union to dictate every move. I made a change to win and I lost,” Sanders said. “I was a celebrity. They made me believe I was in it for the long haul. It was too good to be true.”

I don’t think this needs much comment (for that, see here and here), other than to note that Change to Win still features Sanders on its pro-EFCA web page. (For more on EFCA, see here.)