Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 19, 2010

Kaiser Flagrante
The Sacramento Business Journal reported,

“An administrative law judge has ruled that Kaiser Permanente violated federal labor law by withholding scheduled raises and other benefits from Southern California workers who voted to leave Service Employees International Union to join a rival this year — and ordered the health care giant to pay workers what they are owed.”

Since these illegal actions were the main threats advanced by Kaiser and their SEIU partner in defeating a representation challenge for a bigger–43,000 worker–Kaiser unit by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the ruling may well lead to the NLRB upholding the NUHW’s demand for a new election.

Six-Shooter In Florida
It seems every week I have to update the scoreboard for National Nurses United organizing victories in Florida. 300 nurses at Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville, near Tampa became the sixth win in the Sunshine State this month. The running total of new RN members is more than 2100. The cumulative vote in these elections ran 3-to-1 in favor of NNU.

Lame Ducks Flip Unions, Climate the Bird
* With an incoming Republican Governor calling for decertification of Wisconsin’s public sector unions the outgoing Democrat Gov and state legislature rushed to lock in union contracts. However, the legislation failed on a tie vote in the senate after the Democrat majority leader and one other donkey voted no. The leader said he wasn’t comfortable voting for it “because the people had spoken.” If he had felt that repudiated he could have shown the decency of not voting at all–which would have allowed the measure to pass. Instead he voted with the GOP to kill the union deal and call in to question the future of public worker collective bargaining.
* We reported a few weeks ago that accidental, lame duck Democrat Governor Mark Parkinson fired the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Roderick Bremby, who had steadfastly rejected a permit for at least one new huge coal-fired power plant in the southwest part of the state. Bremby had been following the position of former Governor Kathleen Sebelius--who got elevated to head the Obama administration’s promotion of the health insurance robber barons. Lovers of carbon dioxide will be pleased to hear that, because of Parkinson’s timely reversal of administration policy, Sunflower Electric Power Corp now has their permit–just in time to avoid stricter EPA rules taking effect January 2.

Essential Service Versus Essential Right
The new right-wing Mayor and City Council has declared the Toronto Transit Commission an “essential service,” even over the objections of the TTC’s top boss. This legal definition does more than recognize the importance of transit to the city–it also prevents Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, representing nearly 9,000 TTC drivers, ticket takers, operators and maintenance workers, conducting a legal strike, such as they did for two days in 2008. Local 113 president Bob Kinnear said, “We believe we have a charter right to collective bargaining and we hope to maintain that.” A union court challenge is expected and some are studying up on “work-to-rule” tactics successfully used by TTC workers twenty years ago.

Is Bankruptcy In Your State’s Future?
There is increased speculation that new administrations in several states may be considering the “nuclear option” of declaring bankruptcy. Following the lead of a number of private sector employers over the past decade–and with the active assistance of the Obama administration in the cases of GM and Chrysler–bankruptcy would allow them to rewrite union contracts, drastically reducing public worker wages, benefits, and pensions. They could also do a number on whatever social programs remain.

This may turn out to be a pipe dream. Unlike municipal governments, there is no clear legal authority for such action on a state level. Even if Congress set the table for such drastic measures the world financial markets could become spooked as never before. But the fact that such escalated attacks are taken seriously by some business bloggers confirms the ruling class is still thinking in blitzkrieg terms, far from content to consolidate their already considerable gains at our expense.

And why should they? Despite an eight-hour speech by Bernie Sanders, the President’s tax compromise with the GOP passed the lame duck Congress with comfortable margins. The majority liberal Democrat’s strongest display of opposition was boycotting the White House signing ceremony.

Just Like Public TV
The Los Angeles Unified School District is nothing if not innovative. The news recently had focused on such unpleasant things as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa condemning the teacher’s union that had once employed him as a field organizer as the primary obstacle to improving schools. The school board is demanding pay cuts, and “value added” evaluations to replace tenure. So, for a refreshing change of pace to reclaim public attention the team running the country’s second biggest school system is now promoting corporate sponsors as a partial answer to their budget crisis. According to a Los Angeles Times blog,

“Sponsors would not be able to sell or market specific products to children; instead they would have ‘branding’ opportunities. Examples could include signs on scoreboards or naming rights to auditoriums or athletic fields or a brand name on a drum purchased with a corporate donation.”

I can see a discreet sign now–Through These Doors Donated By Taco Bell Go Our Best And Brightest.

While On the Right Coast...
Business plans by ousted chancellor Michelle Rhee to rejuvenate schools in our nation’s capital have, of course, received even more adoring attention than LA. This week a story in the Washington Post reported,

“More than two years after an outside contractor was hired to run one of the city's most venerable schools, D.C. officials said Tuesday that Dunbar High remains plagued by a litany of troubles: Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they've already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe.”

In general, the assertion that an efficient private sector can do things better than public has been proven a fraud in every example. But the real crisis in education goes deeper than the need to defend public schools, important as that is. Education of working class kids cannot be separated from the condition of the working class.

According to census figures compiled last year, the majority of Blacks in DC are without a job. Except for those lucky enough to be in much maligned public sector jobs, most employed African-Americans inside the Beltway are working poor. Thousands of kids are going hungry. Public health care has been cut. Transit fares have gone up. And the authorities are unable or unwilling to deal with the scourge of drug addiction. That some kids are able to get a basic education in such an environment is a great tribute to those individuals and their dedicated teachers. The obstacles will prove too great for most.

These same conditions exist in the urban cores of every metropolitan area and are spreading in to suburbs and rural communities as well. The Labor Party’s program lays out demands for the fundamental changes needed to turn things around.

* National financing of all public education (instead of property taxes) so that each child, not just those of the rich, has the resources necessary for a good learning environment.

* National legislation and funds to reduce the student-teacher ratio to 15 to 1 in all public schools.

* National legislation and funding to extend public schools for pre-K children starting at age 3 on a voluntary basis.

* Parent education at public schools to help parents from all backgrounds learn more about how to help their children learn at home.

* Free public university and technical education of all kinds for everyone who wants it. Each of us should be able to go to school as far as our abilities can carry us.

* Like the GI Bill of Rights, everyone 18 years or over should receive a minimum livable wage for four years when attending a post-secondary educational institution.

This perspective should be our answer to charter schools, standardized testing, corporate sponsors, and teacher union busting advanced by Big Business and the White House. Of course, at the same time, improved lives outside the class room will also be needed for any meaningful educational progress.

Those of you subscribing to the WIR e-mail list with Comcast addresses didn’t get
last week’s Week In Review. I attempted to send personal messages to each of you but I have no way of knowing whether those got through either. All ISPs drop the ball once in a while but Comcast has by far the worst record of failing to deliver mail like their customers pay them to do. A link to the current WIR is always available on the kclabor.org home and news pages. The free webmail accounts at Yahoo and Google are the most reliable e-mail providers.

KC Labor Forum Details Set
You can view a
PDF of the leaflet we have sent to our union printer announcing the launch and first event of the KC Labor Forum.

Reprieve for the News
Since we saw a modest uptick in visits to the
Daily Labor News Digest during our "sweeps weeks" I’ll keep it going for now. We are beginning a year-end holiday break. The next News Digest update will be Monday, January 3 and the next Week In Review will come out around the same time.

Solidarity and Holiday Greetings!

That’s all for this year. 

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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