Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, December 19, 2004
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster,

A Busy Week
Despite the approaching holidays there was little sign of slow down or reconciliation in labor movement or political struggles.

Some worthy fights:

•1500 UFCW-organized nurses hit the picket lines at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St Louis. Patient care and dignity at work are the main issues. On the first day of the strike union construction workers employed on expansion projects stayed off the job in sympathy–an action ruled illegal under Taft-Hartley. Demonstrating their spirit of the season, church-run management has hired professional scabs through U.S. Nursing Corp.

•Also in St Louis teachers and paraprofessionals in AFT Local 420 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against the St Louis School District. Wages, longer work days, and health care costs are the primary issues for 3750 represented employees there.

•Minneapolis Public Housing maintenance workers, members of Laborers Local 563, are striking because management failed to deliver on promises of wage increases in exchange for workers attending training classes to upgrade skills.

•The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA rallied in front of the White House against efforts by United and US Airways to use bankruptcy as "a license to steal."

•UNITE-HERE workers continued their campaign pressure to win common contract expirations at major hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington.

This week the Kansas City Star reported on how a persistent campaign by the UMKC American Association of University Professors (AAUP) led to the resignation of Chancellor Martha Gilliland. This union has shown how organization can empower workers even when denied collective bargaining rights under Missouri law.

Unfortunately, it was also a week for some set-backs that are difficult to describe in moderate terms.

A Pilot Program For Surrender
I’ve gone through a couple of plant closings as well as massive service cuts due to budget crises at the Kansas City ATA. When jobs are at stake, I know well the kind of pressure brought on union leaders to make concessions to the employer to try to salvage some hope for the future. I can empathize with others facing such a dilemma.

Unfortunately, I’m also aware that labor’s collective experience shows such efforts are almost always futile–and usually counterproductive. You can no more appease a boss who has tasted blood than Britain could appease Hitler’s ambitions by giving him Czechoslovakia.

The tentative agreement by the leadership of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) with United is not just a betrayal of their own membership; it opens the door to similar draconian give-backs throughout the airline industry, indeed throughout the working class.

The 14.7 percent pay cut for its 6,600 members--on top of 25 to 30 percent wage reductions that they took last year to "help United survive"–would be bad enough. Even much more ominous though is acquiescence to United’s termination of their defined benefit pension plan. In return, the pilots would get $550 million in 15-year convertible notes — debt securities that would be convertible into new UAL common stock — if/after the carrier emerges from bankruptcy protection. Sounds every bit as secure as Enron’s retirement plan.

As the ALPA leaders were prepping their members to bend over once more the IAM mechanics at US Airways were at least putting up a fight in bankruptcy court against that carrier’s attempt to terminate their contract. US Airways wants new terms that would axe half of the union’s jobs through outsourcing and work rule changes–along with slashed wages and benefits. They would also eliminate health care for retirees. If the United sellout goes through you can bet US Airways will also demand to scrap pensions as well to stay "competitive."

Of course the United deal comes in the midst of a general assault by bosses and Bush on all pensions, private and Social Security. It is a time when all unions should be creating a "lock-box" of our own for our hard-earned retirement benefits–not up for discussion.

Let’s hope the ALPA members at United reject this latest cave-in that threatens us all.

L.A. Labor Finds New Friend
In 2001 Antonio Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, strongly supported by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was narrowly defeated in a bitter contest with James K. Hahn, who offered a "better business climate," for mayor of Los Angeles. Most assumed there would be a rematch next Spring. But, in a demonstration of loyalty as impressive as their principled politics, the county fed shocked many by endorsing a new found "friend"–the incumbent Hahn. The Los Angeles Times reported,

"At a late afternoon news conference at the federation's headquarters near MacArthur Park, Hahn could hardly contain his delight about labor's backing. ‘This is huge,’ said the mayor, who beamed as he stood beside Miguel Contreras, the executive secretary-treasurer of the county AFL-CIO and the top union leader in Los Angeles. ‘Time and time again, I think, organized labor has proven how formidable they are."’

Among the reasons cited for dumping yesterday’s friend was Hahn’s enthusiastic support for efforts to "modernize" Los Angeles International Airport, and build more housing.

A Strange Bounce At the Arena
Brick and mortar politics is not unique to the Los Angeles labor movement. It has long been the sole political objective of local labor in Kansas City. The boondoggle new downtown arena could not have won tax-payer approval without a huge effort by area unions–especially the building trades. So the lads representing area hard-hats were somewhat peeved this week when it was announced by their good friends at City Hall that the Sprint Arena prime contractor would not be local--but in fact a nonunion outfit from Minnesota. Will old pals be able to work through this tiff? Stay tuned.

Speaking Of TIFs
A while back City Hall arranged for very lucrative tax-payer financed incentives for union-busting Farmland Industries to move corporate headquarters to a location near KCI airport. But then they discovered that Farmland’s former home was standing vacant on North Oak. As anyone who has driven through our urban core knows, our city officials don’t like blight. They have now come up with an even more generous tax give-away to the Cerner Corporation to take over where Farmland started out. The wife of Cerner’s CEO was the Republican candidate whose particularly vicious campaign nearly upset Rep.-elect, and former Mayor, Cleaver in the 5th CD.

That’s all for this week–and this year, for this weekly column.

Happy holidays to all!