Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 24, 2011

ACLU Goes To Bat Against Seniority
On Friday, a California court upheld a Constitutional protection previously unknown to me. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times,

“In a case that pits the constitutional rights of students against the job protections of teachers, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge approved a groundbreaking settlement Friday that limits the effect of layoffs on the district's most vulnerable students....That could lead some experienced teachers to lose their jobs.”

Leading the argument that teacher seniority violates student civil rights was the “liberal” American Civil Liberties Union. Apparently there is no such protection against massive reductions in the overall size of the faculty and ancillary staff. Even the ACLU’s Mark Rosenbaum had to acknowledge that his valuable assist to union busters and privateers everywhere amounted to “The court today handed these children an umbrella in a hurricane.”

Teachers have to have college degrees and state certification before they can even apply for a teaching job. They have a much longer probation period than most unionized workers during which they can be dismissed at will. Even when they obtain tenure by demonstrating their teaching mettle, they usually have continuing education requirements. And, of course, they are subject to discharge for just cause.

Teacher unions accept those high standards but resist–as any union should-- arbitrary firings and layoffs. Union teachers are no more the cause of failure of our education system than UAW members were responsible for the bankruptcy of General Motors.

The attacks on public education and teacher unions are ominous enough. Orchestrated by the White House and Education Secretary, they have been adopted by the likes of GOP fiscal hawk Governor Christie in New Jersey, moderate Republican New York City Mayor Bloomberg, and Working Families Party Governor Cuomo in New York. But singling out the fundamental principle of seniority is a threat to all organized workers.

Seniority–all other things being equal–is the fairest way yet devised to deal with worker job rights. It is the reinforced thread that keeps the union fabric strong in the workplace. All bosses hate the degree of job security that seniority provides. There is no doubt in my mind that success in rolling back seniority among teachers will invite imitation by all employers–public and private. Unfettered exercise of management rights to fire, promote and demote should be every workers’ worst nightmare. We stand with the teachers and say shame on the ACLU.

Invest In Sandbags?
Many of us have been shivering in unusually frigid weather in North America. I’ve got a new snow shovel this season but those muscles powering it have not improved with age since last winter. It’s too bad I can’t talk Mary in to moving to a spot where it is getting warmer all the time and snow and ice seems to take care of itself. I’m of course talking about Nuuk, Greenland.

Nuuk is experiencing the warmest winter temperatures since they started keeping records more than 140 years ago. The average summer temps for the entire huge island of mostly ice rose 3degreesC (5.4F) just last year. Not surprisingly, an AFP report says,

“Greenland's icesheet, feared as a major driver of rising sea levels, shed a record amount of melted snow and ice in 2010, scientists reported Friday, a day after the UN said last year was the warmest on record. The 2010 runoff was more than twice the average annual loss in Greenland over the previous three decades, surpassing a record set in 2007...”

If all of Greenland’s icesheet melted it would raise sea levels about 23 feet. That’s not going to happen any time soon–there’s one hell of a lot of ice up there. But it wouldn’t take even twenty percent of that figure to irreparably destroy the homes and jobs of hundreds of millions of people–prosperous and poor alike. And that can begin to happen within the lifetimes of today’s children.

This isn’t disturbing breaking news–it’s disturbing old news. Scientists have long recognized and predicted rising sea levels as one of the most devastating consequences of human created global warming. This is just additional empirical verification of a hypothesis that has become a scientific conclusion. Regular readers know we have even harped about it more than a few times in the WIR

But not only is nothing being done to confront this challenge–we’re starting to move backwards on controlling even more conventional forms of pollution. The re-invented business friendly White House has set up a task force to examine all government regulations of business--and environmental protections of course figure prominently.

Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported,

“A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Obama administration's request to delay by more than a year controversial new regulations targeting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from industrial boilers. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman is a setback for the White House, which is trying to demonstrate to business leaders that it is prepared to moderate the pace of new regulation.”

There is nothing controversial about the effects of mercury, and other heavy metals on living things, or their impact on air and water. The controversy spurred by the polluters is about big government telling them how to run their business. While their business often includes the unintended consequence of killing workers and innocent bystanders, they brand environmentalists as “job killers.”

By happy coincidence, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka has adopted the theme expected to be presented tomorrow night by the President of the United States in his State of the Union Address–it’s all about jobs. And, unlike last year when there was heckling by a GOP Congressman, and a Supreme Court Justice communicating displeasure to lip-readers, there will be fraternization between the two parties gathered to politely listen to America’s head of state–all of them for jobs too.

In fact, what will be coming out of the White House, Congress, and every state legislature and city hall will be more public sector job cuts. Never has the distinction between labor’s “friends” and foes as employers been so blurred.

To stimulate private sector job growth President Obama has renamed a group chaired by Paul Volker the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. It is now headed by Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric. There is no company that has eliminated more union jobs in the USA than GE, through automation, spin-offs, and offshoring. GE will be in national and coordinated local negotiations with the IUE, UE and other unions this spring. I’m sure they will have plenty of “competitive” proposals to advance there.

Yes, we need jobs. And not just for the 26 million searching for full-time work. We need to produce alternative jobs for the millions working in war industries and the even more millions whose work directly contributes to the melting of Greenland’s ice. Far from slashing regulations we need to create a vast new public sector to plan and implement conversion from our failed, destructive present economic structure to one of peace and environmental sustainability. (For more check out the Alliance for Class and Climate Justice,)

Before he embraced the cycle of doubling down bets on the donkey to save us, a youthful Rich Trumka showed considerable courage and the ability to effectively mobilize workers. Can he summon those traits again to fight for the kind of vision I’ve described? That remains to be seen. But with him or without this is the goal we must soon adopt, in my opinion. If we fail, better start investing in sandbags.

Attention Civil War Buffs
Unfortunately, I just haven’t had the time to put together the kind of substantial prepublication review that Steve Early’s new book, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor, deserves. This work primarily focuses on the Service Employees International Union as it became the biggest non-teacher union in the USA. Internal differences within SEIU were frequent, sometimes going public. These were accompanied by trusteeships, reorganization of union bodies, splits, expulsions. Soon this discord spilled in to other unions, sometimes escalating in to raids and even physical confrontations.

But Early’s book is not a mere expose of some of labor’s most embarrassing scandals. He analyzes the strategy, tactics, and politics that, in addition to occasional bumping egos, were the driving force behind all the trouble and turmoil. With a journalistic, almost scholarly restraint, he succeeds in presenting divergent views honestly. I give it both thumbs up. The book is due out February 1. You can get more information at the publisher’s site by clicking here where you can also order a copy.

Mexican Atmosphere Without All the Mexicans
Chipotle is a high-end burrito chain spun off from McDonald’s. With a slogan of “Food With Integrity,” they serve only free range pork and BGH-free beef. There are no tiny dog bobble-heads or caricatures of banditos in sight. They exude the charm of a serious Mexican eatery.

But back shortly before Christmas Obama’s la migra got on their computers and did an “audit” of the Minneapolis Chipotle workforce that had disturbing results. 150 were suspected of–being Mexicans. Chipotle management was as shocked as the Prefect of the Casablanca police learning of gambling at Rick’s. They promptly fired the lot of them.

The fired workers have been meeting with union and religious folks. Last Thursday there was a protest at a downtown Minneapolis Chipotle where eight were arrested. Greg Nammacher, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Local 26 said, “We are here to remind Chipotle, and every other company that reaps enormous profits from an immigrant workforce, that they are on watch. Immigrant families and their allies will not stand by while corporations continue to exploit to benefit from a broken immigration system.”

In Brief...

¶ In case you haven’t heard, union membership suffered the biggest drop in the USA in seventy years. Unions reported a total of 14.7 million members in 2010, down 612,000 from 2009. Union density in the private sector declined from 7.2 to 6.9 percent. In a reversal of a decades long trend, density in the public sector slipped as well, from 37.4 to 36.2.
¶ We’ve heard a lot about confidence in the “recovery” driving car and other major purchases by consumers. A new report on savings suggests otherwise. For the first time in 57 years, there was a net withdrawal of funds by Americans from their savings and investment accounts. That’s how they are paying for cars, refrigerators, washing machines, etc. that need to be replaced. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “That’s helping the economy now, but could leave it less prepared to withstand shocks in the future..”
¶ Let’s close with a good news headline from the Kansas City Star, “As jobs vanish, so do area traffic woes.”

That’s all for this week.

The KC Labor Forum
Launching February 13

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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