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KC Labor Newsletter
The Week In Review, Monday, February 16, 2004

A Bold Step Forward In Minnesota
"‘[Minnesota] Residents already have a constitutional right to a lawyer, to a public education, and to hunt and fish,’ said Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. ‘The right to basic health care should be just as important,’ he said."—from
Workday Minnesota

The state fed is proposing an amendment to the state constitution—and it’s not about gender balance in marriage. They would add this language to Article XIII,

"Health care is a right. Every Minnesota resident shall have the right to basic health care. It shall be the responsibility of the Governor and the Legislature to implement all necessary legislation to [ensure] affordable basic health care."

If approved by state voters, the proposal would require the Legislature and governor to create legislation implementing the amendment by July 4, 2006.

Of course it remains to be seen what kind of implementation legislation would be acceptable to the legislature. There is also a problem that employers will threaten, and sometimes actually carry out, moving operations out of Minnesota to states with a better "business climate." We really need a national health care system, such as the Labor Party’s Just Health Care proposal to counter such threats.

Nevertheless, this initiative, if it goes forward to a real campaign, can have a positive impact on the health care debate. Voter approval of health care as a right, in even one state, would be a giant step in the right direction.

SPEEA Beats Back Boeing Ballot
As if it weren’t enough just to threaten to sell off or close their Wichita plant, Boeing carried out an engineering job not connected with aviation of aerospace—lining up stooges to petition for a decertification of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) on the eve of contract negotiations.

Kansas is a "right-to-work" state that prohibits union shop agreements. Boeing knew that less than a majority were voluntarily paying dues to SPEEA and figured the union was vulnerable. Indeed, the vote was close, the union prevailing by only 65 votes in a bargaining unit of 3,500. Clearly a substantial number of freeloaders voted to keep union representation.

SPEEA is to be congratulated for fighting off this attack. But now comes the tough part—negotiating a decent contract. For the SPEEA bargainers to have some power at the table the bargaining unit has to unite behind them. That will be no easy task—but few tasks for labor are easy any more.

MASS AFL-CIO Gets It Right on Marriage
Most everybody has heard about the brouhaha over gay marriage in Massachusetts. The state fed there has taken a sensible position on threatened constitutional amendments enshrining the sacrament of holy matrimony. They see it as a threat to them negotiating benefits not only for gay couples among their membership but also the much more numerous male-female partnerships not sanctified by state or church as married.

In a letter to state legislators they say,

"If this amendment is passed, it will be the only amendment in the Massachusetts Constitution to deny rights to citizens of Massachusetts. Massachusetts has a long history of protecting the rights of the minority. As you all know, we were one of the first states to call for the abolition of slavery in the United States constitution.

"The Mass AFL-CIO asks you to oppose H 3190 and any amended version. Placing this amendment in the state’s constitution will be a step backward for all citizens in the Commonwealth.

"The Massachusetts AFL-CIO may consider your vote on this matter a Labor Vote"

DoD Workers Need Help In Their Defense
Rumsfeld may be ducking for cover from attacks on his failed strategy in Iraq—but he is bolder than ever in his attacks on Department of Defense workers. At a press conference last week, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) president John Gage said:

"‘Despite our objections, Congress gave Secretary Rumsfeld broad powers to ignore federal law with regard to personnel policy, because the secretary told them he needed this authority to invoke in instances where national security was at stake,’ said Gage. ’At a hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Secretary Rumsfeld assured Congress that he would not use these powers to end collective bargaining. But in his list of proposals, he does just that."

Gage was referring to proposals for a new "National Security Personnel System." The new system would essentially eliminate collective bargaining, replacing it with a worthless system of "meet and confer." No contracts, no binding grievance procedure, no right to organize new workers.

This will be one of the topics to be discussed at the upcoming Worker Rights At Home and Abroad conference March 19-20.

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In solidarity,

Bill Onasch
webmaster, kclabor.org