Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 24, 2009

After four days on the road a little late and a little short.

The Peace President
A few headlines from the past week: Obama authorizes 17,000 troop increase for Afghanistan; Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas; Feinstein comment on U.S. drones likely to embarrass Pakistan; Groups caution Obama not breaking from Bush secrecy; Afghan Civilian Deaths Show Limits of Air Power; Commander in Afghanistan Says 60,000 GIs Needed for 3-4 Years; Soldiers still waiting for tour bonuses.

Even after the promised “withdrawal” from Iraq in 19 months the plan is there will still be 50,000 GIs there.

As long as GIs are killing and being killed in places they don’t belong a honeymoon with the commander-in-chief is inappropriate. A coalition of groups including US Labor Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Progressive Democrats of America, ANSWER, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Code Pink and the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations, are organizing a March on the Pentagon March 21 demanding troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

One Smiling Partner–Two To Go
If you read our
Daily Labor News Digest, you saw the photo of Ron Gettelfinger and Bill Ford Jr clasping hands across the bargaining table with Pepsodent smiles from ear to ear. The UAW hopes the deal they cut with Ford will be the pattern for GM and Chrysler as well.

Right after negotiating the 2007 contract the UAW chief crowed about job security claiming he had won “unprecedented product guarantees.” Fifteen months later GM is selling or folding its Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer divisions and has shed tens of thousands of jobs through layoffs or buyouts. But ever the optimist, Gettelfinger now says of the latest deal, “The modifications will protect jobs for UAW members by ensuring the long-term viability of the company.”

The sticking point has been VEBA–the union run fund based on company contributions committed to maintaining retiree healthcare. Ford agreed to the terms dictated by the Bush administration in exchange for bridge loans–though Ford has not requested any government help so far. Ford will contribute up to half of their VEBA obligation in dubious stock rather than cash. General Motors had been asking for even more stock options.

Though no official details have yet been released all other issues had already been settled with GM and Chrysler, and now extended to Ford. Purportedly pre-2007 contract hires would maintain their current wage rate. Gone are lump sum bonuses, cost-of-living adjustments, Jobs Bank, Supplemental Unemployment Benefits, restrictions on plant closings, as well as likely changes in other benefits and work rules. Under the terms of the 2007 agreement, any new hires will get 14 dollars per hour–ten dollars less than workers at the Japanese owned “transplants.”

If the Ford pattern is accepted by the other companies it must then be ratified by UAW members and the VEBA changes must get court approval as well. But even this sweet Ford deal may not be enough for GM and Chrysler–and perhaps insufficient for Obama’s auto committee.

Instead of a car czar Obama established the Presidential Task Force on Autos, nominally led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers. But the real point man will be Steven Rattner, a one time New York Times reporter who went on to build a highly successful private equity company wheeling and dealing in media. Rattner’s wife, Maureen White, is a former national finance chair for the Democratic party.

Both the companies and the Task Force are looking at bankruptcy options. They are carefully weighing whether these further concessions now will be more valuable than greater ones eventually emerging from the bankruptcy process. If the Big Three’s creditors and dealers prove to be less generous than the UAW bankruptcy may be the only option. GM’s Saab unit has already filed for bankruptcy after the Swedish government balked at demands for bailout money and the threat to do the same at Opel in Germany is palpable.

Organizing the Abandoned
The new National Union of Healthcare Workers, formed in response to the trusteeship imposed by the SEIU bureaucracy on United Healthcare Workers West, has mainly concentrated on getting UHW members back. Thousands of UHW members have signed decertification petitions that can give them an opportunity to join the NUHW. The Stern gang has sent over 100 organizers to California for this fight.

Now NUHW has filed their first petition for unorganized workers--Environmental Services workers at Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles, employed by a subsidiary of Compass. These workers were victims of a secret deal negotiated between Compass and SEIU and UNITE-HERE. In return for company recognition of a small percentage of their workforce the two sweetheart unions agreed to put the rest of the company off-limits to organizing.

A Unity Surprise
At least it was a surprise to me when I read the announcement last week that the California Nurses Association/National Nurse Organizing Committee is fusing with the United American Nurses. The independent Massachusetts Nurses Association is also coming in to the unification. The new organization, to be known as United American Nurses-National Nurses Organizing Committee (UAN-NNOC), will represent 150,000 RNs.

CNA/NNOC has been a unique adversarial union that has won significant bargaining, organizing, and political victories through mass membership mobilization. They have been a leader in the fight for single-payer, and played a role in US Labor Against the War and the Labor Party. We hope their union culture can survive and prosper in the new union.

Conference Update
The April 3-4 New Crises, New Agendas
conference in Kansas City was listed in a recent Labor Notes e-blast and is included on their Troublemakers Schools web page.

Expenses for the conference are substantial but we’ve made some adjustments in our sliding scale of registration fees. If you work full time at a decent paying job it’s forty dollars; if you’re full time in a low paying job we’ll settle for twenty bucks; part-time/unemployed/students are asked to pay the price of the conference lunch–ten bucks. Strikers are in free and no body will be turned away for lack of money.

We’ve learned a couple of lads from Superior, Wisconsin will join a caravan coming down from the Twin Cities, a car load is coming up from Wichita, and serious interest has been expressed by folks as far away as Chicago, Hartford, Connecticut and Tucson, Arizona. How about you?

That’s all for this week.

 New Crises, New Agendas
Save Jobs, Save the Planet
Kansas City, April 3-4
Click for conference site
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Labor Notes Troublemakers Schools
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