Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 14, 2010

They Handled the Overweight Baggage
You may have noticed reports buried in business sections that the Teamsters won bargaining rights to represent over 7,600 ground workers at Continental Airlines. Their winning margin in the election was impressive–4,102 out of 4,129 votes cast.

Two years ago, the Transport Workers Union racked up a similar lop-sided majority of votes in the same unit–and lost. Airlines are governed by the Railway Labor Act and current rules established by its National Mediation Board require a new union to win a majority not just of those voting but of all eligible to vote. The TWU fell about 300 votes short of this super-majority barrier. The Teamsters, who also represent Continental mechanics and put enormous resources in to this drive, managed to exceed the eligibility obstacle by about 300.

We congratulate the Continental workers for persevering in their struggle to win union representation at a carrier where most unions were busted by the infamous Frank Lorenzo in the Eighties. But their exceptional victory shouldn’t slow down efforts to reverse what even the present NMB acknowledges to be unreasonable, unfair rules.

When the Sun Rises On the Graveyard
President Obama had been whistling his way in the dark past the cemetery, assuring all that his great health care reform, like Monty Python’s parrot, was not dead, but only resting. But as the vampires took cover from a rising sun it became clear a more suitable television analogy was Saturday Night Live’s characterization of the improbably long final illness of the Spanish dictator Franco–grave but stable.

A spokesman for the Republican leader in the House responded to Obama’s invitation to a bipartisan health care summit, “Are they willing to start over with a blank sheet of paper?” “Let's let the states come up with the solutions,” chimed in Missouri state Senate President Charlie Shields. “There's a lot of solutions out there, but the solutions vary state by state.” (The main solution advanced so far by the legislature in my home state was a final one–purging thousands from Medicaid rolls.)

Billy Tauzin, who served 26 years in Congress, first as a Blue Dog Democrat, switching to the GOP after the failure of the Clinton health care reform, has “retired” from being chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. Tauzin, who had forged a less than transparent deal with the White House for his drug pushing clients, frustrating liberal Democrats, has decided it’s time to move on.

And the insurance robber barons, who mostly supported “reform” that promised them millions of new captive customers, are taking solace in the fact that they were able to make record profits even while losing millions of plan members.

Even the UAW, now fully responsible for the VEBAs covering Big Three retirees, showed remarkable adaptability to the insurance business--by immediately cutting off coverage of grandchildren living in retiree households.

Of course, some of those happy campers we heard so much about who love their present insurance have started whining. Everyone knew premiums would go up this year but few anticipated the squeeze from Wellpoint’s Anthem Blue Cross subsidiary in California on individuals buying insurance outside employer group plans–topping off at 39 percent. An AFL-CIO Blog wrote,

“Deborah Burger, RN, and co-president of the National Nurses United (NNU), says Anthem Blue Cross’s ‘disgraceful behavior may be particularly offensive, but it is not out of character for an industry that engages systemically in price gouging and denial of care.’”

The blog does not mention that the NNU–and indeed the AFL-CIO–is on record for single-payer. The Doctor Jekyll Medicare for All resolution passed at last Fall’s federation convention was accompanied by Mr Hyde support for the Obama plan.

The blog goes on to quote Obama, and HHS Secretary Sebelius, blasting Wellpoint. Coincidently, Wellpoint was the only major health insurer to support Tea Party disruptions attacking “Obamacare” at Town Hall meetings. Over the weekend, Wellpoint, under pressure from the state insurance commission, agreed to delay their most outrageous rate hikes two months.

Wellpoint “earned” the greatest dollar amount of insurer profits last year–4.7 billion. But when it comes to percentage increase Cigna put Wellpoint to shame with an astounding 346 percent rise during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. No wonder Wellpoint, whose profit improvement was a mere 90 percent, had to ratchet up premiums. Humana profit was up only 60 percent while poor UnitedHealth registered a meager 30. All this while losing substantial numbers of customers due to mass layoffs–Humana 11 percent; Cigna 5; Wellpoint 4; United 3.

Fellow countrypersons, lend me your ears; it’s high time to bury the perfidious Democrat health care reform, not to praise it. There is little good to be interred with its bones and its evil seeks a new host. The forces of redemption will be gathering at the National Labor College March 5-7 to discuss where we go from here.

And now--with apologies to Michael Palin, Chevy Chase, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bill Shakespeare–something completely different.

South Of the Border
Most of the news we get in the mass media from down Mexico way concerns rampant violence by gangsters. The government seems helpless in this regard. What we don’t hear much about are the successes of the Calderon Administration and the courts. Last Fall, we reported on the breaking of the independent Electrical Workers union through government intervention.

Now Calderon is preparing to send the Army in to smash a strike by 13,000 miners at Grupo Mexico in Cananea, one of the largest copper mines in the world. The Steelworkers, who have dealings with Grupo Mexico in the U.S., are supporting the Cananea miners and have issued this appeal,

“Please send appeals to Santiago Canton, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, urging him to ask the Mexican government not to use force against the Cananea miners, lest they become the mourned Cananea martyrs. Email Dr. Santiago Canton at cidhoea@oas.org"

Also this week Chrysler announced they are getting 400 million dollars in assistance from the Mexican government to start building the Fiat 500 at its Toluca plant. The new kid in the hemisphere has now received handouts from all three NAFTA governments. The company projects annual production of 130,000 units for sale in the USA and Latin America.

And North of the Border
Tommy Douglas was a Scottish-born prairie preacher who helped form Canada’s labor party, served as Premier of Saskatchewan, and is credited with leading the successful fight for Canadian single-payer health care. A national poll once picked him as the greatest Canadian of all. The Canadian secret police spied on him for more than forty years.

A Canadian Press reporter, Jim Bronskill, with the support of Douglas’s daughter, actress Shirley Douglas, filed the Canadian equivalent of a Freedom of Information request to get the RCMP Security Service files. The agency, now renamed Canadian Security Intelligence Service, is digging in their heels, arguing that full disclosure of the file on Douglas could endanger the lives of confidential informants and jeopardize the agency's ability to conduct secret surveillance. The dispute is now in the courts.

Tommy Douglas died in 1986.

I Believe My President
A Bloomberg article appearing in the Washington Post begins,

“President Obama insisted that he and his administration have pursued a ‘fundamentally business-friendly’ agenda and are ‘fierce advocates’ for the free market, rejecting corporate criticism of his policies.

“‘The irony is that on the left we are perceived as being in the pockets of big business, and then on the business side we are perceived as being anti-business,’ Obama said in an interview this week with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. ‘You would be hard pressed to identify a piece of legislation that we have proposed out there that, net, is not good for businesses,’ he added. He predicted that legislation he will sign this year would cut corporate taxes by about $70 billion.”

Fierce For Nukes Too
The White House will announce this week that it will not only start issuing permits for building new nuclear power plants for the first time in nearly thirty years; the President is also proposing a total of 54.5 billion dollars in loan guarantees to finance their construction. First in line will be two new Southern Co. reactors to be built in Burke, Ga.

By the way, Vermont’s top health official said Tuesday it's “reasonable to assume” radioactive tritium leaking from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is reaching the Connecticut River–flowing south through Massachusetts and Connecticut to Long Island Sound.

Friday Deadline
This Friday, February 19, is the cut off date for
Early Bird registration for the Labor Notes Conference, slated for April 23-25 in suburban Detroit.

Union Holiday
I won’t attempt to explain the significance of President’s Day, observed by a minority of the adult population, to our readers outside the USA. Suffice it to say it is a recognized holiday in the contract of ATU Local 1287, to whom I pay retiree dues. Being a good union man I’m taking Monday, February 15 off. We’ll resume updating of the
Daily Labor News Digest on Tuesday.

That’s all for this week.

Coming Events...
Labor Campaign for Single-Payer National Conference
National Labor College, Silver Spring, MD, March 5-7

Tenth Anniversary Of kclabor.org
North Kansas City Library, March 21

Labor Notes Conference
Detroit, April 23-25

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