Labor Advocate
Kansas City's Online Labor Newsletter

Published in the interests of the working people of Kansas City

Contact us at: laboradvocate@kclabor.org

May, 2000

www.kclabor.org/laboradvocate.htm

The New Labor Advocate Online

 

Labor Advocate started out as Labor Party Advocate, newsletter of the Kansas City Area Labor Party, six years ago. For the first few years it appeared on a fairly regular monthly schedule, mailed to area Labor Party members, and those who signed up on the LP mailing list, and distributed at union meetings and public events. It combined routine announcements of official LP business with news affecting the labor movement as well as analytical discussion articles. We generally got high marks from our readers.

 

But eventually finances caught up with us. While all of our writing, typesetting, and mail assembly was done with volunteer labor we still had to pay a union printer and the U.S. Postal Service. The small local dues charged by the LP Chapter didn’t cover the costs of a monthly mailing to our members—much less trying to reach out to new people. We started scaling back both the size and frequency of the newsletter—but that only lowered the satisfaction level of our readership without putting us on a workable budget.

 

This February Kansas City Area Labor Party members decided to suspend the printed and mailed edition of the newsletter. We chose instead to launch Labor Advocate as an online publication, a part of the kclabor.org site. We aim to go back to a monthly publication schedule. We’ll still carry Labor Party news but will also have a lot more analytical and opinion pieces too. We can even liven things up a bit with graphics. And we can do all this on a shoe-string budget.

 

If you have comments, or want to submit news or an article, send it along to: laboradvocate@kclabor.org.

 

AWG Workers Deserve Our Support

Associated Wholesale Grocers have acted in a particularly despicable manner in trying to fire 1200 Teamsters employees. The Teamsters have charged AWG with bad-faith bargaining and there can be no doubt of this unfairness to any reasonable person.

 

Whether the Union’s charge with the National Labor Relations Board will be upheld is another matter. Labor laws in this country weren’t enacted to ensure fairness. They are stacked in favor of the bosses. An NLRB victory by AWG workers is by no means certain. Even if they do prevail appeals could drag out for years.

 

We need to change the labor law. One of the Labor Party’s central campaigns is for a Workplace Bill of Rights. But we can’t ask AWG workers to sit back and wait until we get better laws. They need help now.

 

Working people buy the most groceries. A boycott of AWG-supplied stores can be effective. The entire labor movement should be educating their membership on this issue and asking them to not shop at Price Chopper, Sun Fresh, Hen House, or Thriftway until the Teamsters get a settlement.

 

Unfortunately, we hear some vacillating and grumbling from some union leaders. “It’s a complicated issue,” they say. “We don’t want to hurt our UFCW brothers and sisters at the AWG-supplied stores. And, after all, the Teamsters have never affiliated with the central labor council.”

 

It’s disturbing how far some union leaders have drifted from the most elementary concept of solidarity. The Teamsters may not pay per capita to the central labor council. But they have an excellent record of supporting all unions on strike by refusing to cross their picket lines—support that can often make the difference between victory and defeat. There have undoubtedly been times when Teamsters members have lost pay because of other workers strikes—but they’ve never whined about it.

 

Let’s get back to basics. An injury to one is still an injury to all. It’s our duty to boycott scab-supplied grocery stores.

 

Safety First

by Mary Erio

[From the April 27 Heartland Labor Forum radio show.]

 

1. On the legislative front, asbestos bills threaten the legal rights of tens of thousands of injured workers and their families.

 

Two bills introduced in the 106th Congress would severely limit the ability of tens of thousands of injured asbestos workers to receive fair compensation from asbestos companies.  The House Bill is HR 1283, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Henry Hyde, and the Senate Bill is S 758, sponsored by Missouri Senator John Ashcroft.  This bill's supporters claim this legislation will make the asbestos compensation  system easier, less litigious and fairer for injured workers.  In fact, the bills would cut costs for asbestos companies and insulate them from much of their liability by wiping out certain kinds of suits and making it harder for injured workers to get compensation.  The bills are a substantial step backward in the effort to vindicate the rights of workers exposed to asbestos.

 

According to the analysis from the Public Citizen website, at http://www.citizen.org/, these bills would wipe out many existing claims and would adopt overly restrictive medical criteria.  New layers of legal procedures would increase the cost and delay to injured  workers.  These bills would also consistently disfavor the plaintiffs.  For example, a cap would be set on most plaintiff attorney fees, while no cap is placed  on asbestos company attorney fees.

 

Public Citizen points out that the bills dodge the real issues in asbestos litigation, namely, how liability should be allocated among the various defendant corporations.  Because most asbestos injured workers were exposed to multiple products, asbestos litigation  often involves 10 or more defendant companies.  Astonishingly, the asbestos bills ignore this problem.

 

Many leading physicians and scientists have publicly opposed these bills.  The documents can be found on the Public Citizen website, as well as additional information about these bills by clicking on the "asbestos" section.

 

Under election year pressure from the Missouri AFL-CIO and other labor groups, Senator Ashcroft recently agreed to take the asbestos bill off the Senate's agenda.  His decision is regarded on Capitol Hill as an effort to defuse the issue until after November.  However, the House Majority Whip, Richard Armey, told reporters that he intends to move the House Bill 1283 through the house with such a strong positive vote that the Senate will rethink its position and take it up again before November.

 

Contact your representatives at http://www.house.gov/.  Senators can be contacted through http://www.senate.gov/.  The house and senate  switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.  Let them know that you oppose these asbestos industry bailout bills.

 

2. Don't forget Worker's Memorial Day, Friday, April 28th.

 

Worker's Memorial Day will be marked all over the world by unions and safety and health activists to remember those who have suffered and died on the job.  In the U.S., Workers Memorial Day events are planned in at least 22 states at 46 locations.  Throughout the U.S., activists are calling for urgent action to reduce the toll of disease and injury that claims more than 65,000 lives each year, six thousand of them resulting from traumatic injuries.

 

In this area, a permanent marker and tree planting dedicated to workers killed or injured on the job is located at the UAW Local 31 Union Hall.

 

The event will also be an opportunity to focus attention on the need for a strong OSHA ergonomics standard, which will prevent hundreds of thousands of potentially disabling injuries each year.

 

OSHA published its ergonomics proposal in the November 23, 1999 Federal Register.  The agency received more than 7,000 comments during the 100 day comment period and will be listening to more than 1,000 witnesses during nine weeks of hearings scheduled to conclude May 12.  OSHA expects to publish a final standard by the end of this year.

 

‘Outmoded’ Tactics Strike Again

The expert commentators keep telling us strikes are a relic of a bygone era, that where unions still exist they should be jointly pursuing win-win solutions with the employers.

 

Apparently the flipside of the strike coin—the lockout—is still considered good business sense, however. Even though the Teamsters came up with significant concessions in work rules at AWG they failed to put enough win in the win-win for the company. The bosses just kept saying “no, that’s not enough”—while lining up professional scabs to replace their entire workforce. In so doing AWG joins a long list of employers, such as Kaiser Aluminum for example, that have taken the initiative in not just trying to break the union but ridding themselves of long-term employees with bad habits—such as wanting decent wages and a say in their working conditions. Where are the editorials denouncing this throwback to the “bygone days of class warfare?”

 

But what about strikes, where the workers take the initiative in walking off the job? Are they obsolete, even counterproductive?

 

Certainly striking can be tough. The Teamsters have been out at Union Pacific’s Overnite Transportation for over six months, fighting to get a first contract, and the end is not yet in sight. There are a number of other strikes around the country that have been dragging on for months, even years. It can’t be denied that some strikes ultimately end in defeat or without a clear cut winner. 

 

But most strikes do win something for the workers. That’s why workers keep striking. And that’s why the bosses and editorial writers try so hard to convince us that they’re passé. Let’s look at some strikes over just the past few weeks.

 

   

 

Boeing

Perhaps the bosses at the aerospace giant really started to believe the propaganda that unions only have diminishing power among the blue collars and have little appeal to white collars and professionals. They clearly underestimated the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. SPEEA adopted the slogan, “No Nerds, No Birds,” and they backed their words with action.

 

SPEEA doesn’t have a union shop agreement. They have to go out and convince individuals to voluntarily join. Before the strike they had only about 40 percent of the 20,000 eligible employees signed up. Incredibly, that number increased to 65 percent during the course of the strike. There were few scabs and the management people pressed into service couldn’t come close to keeping up. Completed aircraft started piling up, unable to move without the approval of the striking professionals.

 

The blue collar IAM members at Boeing, who have some experience with past strikes, gave some helpful hints to the Nerds on basic things like setting up picket lines, soup kitchens, and the like. But the IAM veterans also learned a few things as well.

 

The first thing SPEEA did was set up a strike web site. They had e-mail lists and discussion boards going strong. They supplemented traditional union strike methods with new technology that they had learned to use in their work.

 

After six weeks a shocked and battered Boeing management agreed to a settlement that can only be considered a big victory for SPEEA. The triumph of the Boeing Nerds will undoubtedly inspire many other professional and technical workers, who were watching the struggle with great interest, to pursue union organization.

 

Justice for Janitors

The Service Employees International Union has put together an impressive campaign to organize, and win first or improved contracts, for tens of thousands of janitors in cities across the country. These are among the lowest-paid workers. A high percentage are immigrants—many of them recent and not fluent in English.

 

The Justice for Janitors campaign is being fought on many fronts. They have done a good job in publicizing the plight of janitors and winning public sympathy. They have involved high-profile clergy and politicians—such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson—in marches and rallies. They have applied pressure on their employers’ clients, many of which are sensitive to public opinion. And, in several cases, they have also used the strike. A three-week strike in Los Angeles, brief walkouts in New York and Chicago, and credible strike threats in several other cities, have won decent contract settlements.

 

More traditional strikes continue as well. IAM aerospace workers shut down Lockheed’s Ft Worth plant for several days to get an acceptable deal.

 

The bygone days of class struggle never really went away. Class warfare continues even as the employers make more money off the labor of their employees than ever. The strike is not a magic weapon that can solve all of labor’s problems. It can’t be successfully applied at all times. But the strike remains a valuable tactic within labor’s overall strategy of dealing with the bosses’ war on workers.

 

Strengths of D.C. Actions

The actions around China trade relations, and the World Bank/IMF, in the nation’s capital in April were marked with important achievements.

 

Internationalism versus Protectionism

Contrary to the smears by Big Business, the protests organized by labor, environmental, faith, and human rights groups did not call for a reactionary “Fortress America” answer to the challenges of globalization. On the contrary new links in international solidarity were forged and old ties strengthened. 1930s-style protectionism would be a dead-end but the global response to global challenges gives working people a fighting chance.

 

Educating the Public

We tip our hats to the efforts of the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and others, who did an excellent job in getting out the facts about the real issues involved, helping to shape public opinion.

 

Sorting Out Alliances

While never underestimating the potential power of organized labor we need to be mindful that unions only represent about ten percent of the working class. Alliances are needed. Progress was made in working with environmental, family farmer and faith groups.

 

We are also seeing an important revival of student activism. Students are noted for their energy and are open to new ideas. Student volunteers played an important role in the labor upsurge of the 1930s. Students were the base of the mass civil rights, womens’ rights and antiwar movements of the Sixties and Seventies and have helped spread environmental awareness. Now students are getting involved around the issues of globalization and some are working closely with unions.

 

Now we face a new challenge—the 2000 elections. Much effort of the alliance will be diverted to supporting candidates. It’s important that we not allow the educational and action work to atrophy.

 

Education and protest are another—and higher—form of politics that must not be neglected during the electoral season.