Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 13, 2010
A Worthwhile Journey
We’re returning to routine after a brief road trip. The Daily Labor News Digest was updated this morning–rather a lot because of some stories that piled up during our absence. But it’s like a buffet–you need only take what you want and have room for.
I was in the Twin Cities attending a Midwest Socialist Educational Conference, hosted at MayDay Books by friends in Socialist Action. I’ve known some of them for decades but others are young enough to be my grandchildren. Among the presentations: a talk on Eco-Socialist perspectives for dealing with environmental crises by Christine Frank, a trade unionist and coordinator of the Twin Cities Climate Crisis Coalition; a segment entitled “What Would Debs Do?” where UTU leader and labor historian Dave Riehle reviewed working class approaches to electoral politics; and an excellent analysis of the present state of immigrant workers rights by Lisa Luinenburg, an activist in that movement on both the local and national levels.
A late addition to the speakers list was Jess Sundin. As an antiwar and international solidarity activist, and a workplace leader in feisty AFSCME Local 3800 representing clerical workers at the University of Minnesota, she could have spoken on a wide range of topics. But she was there last Saturday as one of those whose home was raided by the FBI and who was subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury investigating alleged support to foreign terrorists.
She first made clear that since she has a tough time making her mortgage payments she has nothing to spare for terrorists. She freely admitted she has worked to build solidarity with workers in the most dangerous of all countries for trade unionists–Colombia–where worker leaders are killed not by terrorists on the U.S. watch list but by thugs hired by the bosses operating with impunity. She, and the other victims of the Justice Department’s attack, have also been in the thick of the movement against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Those in the Twin Cities were prominent in the mass antiwar demonstration at the 2008 St Paul Republican convention--and have pledged to do the same if the Democrats choose the Twin Cities for their 2012 conclave. Those antiwar, solidarity--and union activities--are the real reason for the war-making bosses’ government going after Jess and a dozen or more others. Those attending the conference from around the Midwest registered their enthusiastic solidarity.
Setback At Kaiser
The title of Mark Brenner’s article in Labor Notes summed it up pretty well–Fear Wins as Service Employees Fend off NUHW at Kaiser. SEIU–who spent millions of dollars and brought in hundreds of organizers to defend their hold on 43,000 Kaiser workers–had the active support of the employer. To back up the Purple lie that workers risked everything by switching, Kaiser illegally withheld raises from workers who had switched to NUHW in other units. This violation was so blatant the NLRB sought a rare 10(j) injunction for relief.
Kaiser and Chairman Andy’s successors also continued to get the blessing of New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse. Steve Early wrote a good letter of complaint to the NYT “Public Editor” which you can read here.
There will undoubtedly be challenges to the election but the wheels of labor law justice require lots of time and money lubrication.
New At NNU
800 California Nurses Association RNs are in the midst of a three-day strike at Children’s Hospital Oakland. As you might expect with the new health care reform the main issue for these health care professionals is–health care, and other benefits. The bosses are demanding substantial give-backs. The CHO nurses previous contract expired July 13.
NNU nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor have also been clashing with their employer over health care. Their contract expired last month and they have been engaged in informational picketing.
1600 embattled nurses at Washington Hospital Center voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with National Nurses United to pursue a fight centering on work rules and unfair discipline.
Pope Up For Election
No, the Holy Father isn’t being challenged but Sandy Pope is taking on the top of the Teamster Old Guard hierarchy in next year’s IBT election. Pope is currently President of Local 805 in New York which represents workers in industries from warehousing to janitorial. A long time supporter of reform movements such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union and Labor Notes, she announced her campaign for IBT President–currently held by Hoffa–at a press conference last week. Her campaign website is here.
More Innovation From
Part of the revision of the GM-UAW contract dictated by the White House before bankruptcy was a pledge to use innovation to help General Motors build a profitable small car. The UAW tops have followed that directive from Obama by agreeing the reopened assembly plant at Lake Orion, where about 1600 currently laid off workers will build the Chevrolet Aveo and Verano, will have a two-tier workforce. Forty percent will receive the half-pay wage rate that normally would only apply to new hires off the street. Fresh from a humiliating defeat at the hands of members at the Indianapolis stamping plant–who three times rejected a give-back deal–King’s men have concluded they need not put their “innovation” to a vote of those affected. Not all are accepting this edict with good grace. A demonstration at Solidarity House is scheduled this Saturday.
Strikes and demonstrations focusing on the Sarkozy regime’s raising French retirement age are not only continuing–they have grown. It’s estimated at least 3.5 million joined in actions yesterday. For the first time workers were joined by substantial numbers of students. And opinion polls show the general public solidly supports the strikes even though they cause mass disruption. Even if Sarkozy succeeds in driving through the final stages of his “reform”–expected to save the government seventy billion Euros–it’s unlikely the workers and students will regress in to passivity.
The Badger State
Perhaps Wisconsin got the name from the behavior of their employers. Following recent examples of Harley-Davidson and Mercury Marine who also threatened run-away, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports, “Kohler Co. has become the latest large Wisconsin manufacturer seeking to establish a two-tier wage system and make extensive use of ‘flexible’ employees working at lower pay and for much of the time without health benefits, an official with the United Auto Workers said.” The 14.50 per hour lower tier would be applied not only to new hires but also workers returning from long lay-offs.
Kohler has always been a tough customer. Two were killed in a 1934 strike to organize the plant that was smashed by cops and the National Guard. The longest major strike in U.S. labor history began at Kohler in April, 1954. It was called by UAW Local 833 after the company refused to recognize the union, despite a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. Repeated findings by the courts and the NLRB concluded that Kohler had violated labor laws, but the second Kohler strike went on for nine years before the company was finally ordered to recognize the union, reinstate many workers, and pay substantial lost wages awards.
One Million Climate Jobs
British trade unionists are updating and renewing their One Million Climate Jobs Campaign. A news release says,
“The economic crisis threatens to destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers. Already, in towns and cities across Britain there are too few available jobs for those looking for work.
“We also face a worsening environmental crisis. Increasingly scientific evidence is demonstrating that climate change is not only a reality, having the potential to wreck havoc on the lives of people across the globe, costing economies billions of pounds....
“The solution is to create climate jobs....These jobs – in renewable energy, refitting buildings, public transport, industry and education are the key to drastically reducing emissions of Greenhouse gases and helping avoid irreversible climate change.”
In addition to being backed by several national unions, the Campaign is supported by Labor and Green MPs, environmentalists and Eco-Socialists. They plan to rally at the House of Commons Thursday.
Put 144 in front of nine zeros and you get the compensation paid out at America’s largest banks, investment banks, hedge funds, money-management firms and securities exchanges. That’s a four percent raise over the 139 billion the previous year.
Put 958 in front of the decimal point and you get my monthly Social Security payment (after deduction for Medicare B). That’s the same as I got last year. And, since the magic of the CPI tells us there was a decline in the cost-of-living it will be the same amount next year as well.
I don’t dispute the accuracy of figures compiled by the competent, hard working folks at the BLS. Higher authority established the weight given to various components of the market basket. Silly me–instead of buying up lots of computers I foolishly chose to spend on more lavish products–such as food, fuel, and health care.
For example, the “retiree + spouse” Blue Cross plan I get, that includes my self-employed wife, is going up over fourteen percent next year to 1165 dollars per month. It’s not a Cadillac plan–more in the Ford category. Obviously Mary pays the lion’s share since it amounts to more than my total income.
As workers who have been stuck with wage freeze agreements come to realize, the loss is not just for the years of freeze. Since there is nothing to compound your loss lasts for the rest of your life. Should the CPI ever go up again SS recipients would get a percentage raise based on our level in 2008.
The politicians like to say “nothing is too good for our seniors”–and that’s what they give us.
That’s all for this week.
Alliance for Class & Climate Justice
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