Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 23, 2008

Bargaining Notes
* Unlike other parts suppliers, such as Delphi and Dana, that managed themselves in to bankruptcy, American Axle made a healthy profit last year. That didn’t stop them from demanding the same concessions the UAW granted these “competitors.” In fact the UAW leadership has indicated a willingness to make substantial give-backs--but not the fifty percent wage cut that Axle sees as the new industry pattern.

All indications are that Axle is settling in for a long strike. They have shifted enough equipment to Mexico to keep Chrysler supplied and have begun to move a lot of GM work as well. They also have white collar workers out on the shop floor though that is probably more a psychological ploy than useful production.

Apparently GM–by far Axle’s biggest customer–has such a huge inventory of unsold trucks and SUVs that they are willing to accept plants being idled for a long time. Extensive solidarity will be required to help the 3600 strikers last “one day longer” than Axle/GM.

* The California Nurses Association launched a ten-day strike by 4,000 Bay Area RNs against Sutter as 10,000 CNA nurses were voting on a hard won contract victory at ten University of California hospitals. 20,000 AFSCME patient care and service workers at UC are still battling for a new contract.

* The Farm Labor Organizing Committee has renewed its unique multinational agreement with North Carolina growers covering 7,000 Mexican “guest workers.”

* Millions of workers went on strike in Greece to protest a government bill to raise the retirement age by as much as five years. The right-wing government exercised its one vote majority to drive it through parliament but unions say they’ll continue the fight.

An Upward Trend
There were no banner headlines, no mention at all on the NBC Nightly News. Carbon dioxide emissions increased three percent at U.S. power plants last year. CO2 of course is the principal greenhouse gas emanating from human activity that is causing unwelcome climate change. Power plants, largely fueled by coal, produce thirty percent of the greenhouse total. The Bush EPA long argued that CO2 is not a pollutant as defined by the Clean Air Act and that regulatory limits would be illegal as well as unnecessary. The courts are calling that nonsense but, in the meantime, the coal fires boost global warming.

Enron Redux
There is much discussion about what the collapse of the giant investment bank Bear Stearns means for the future of the American finance sector. Little attention has been paid to its 14,000 employees who are by no means all fat cats. As many as a third will lose their jobs as a result of the Fed-engineered acquisition by JP Morgan Chase. Like at Enron, Bear Stearns 401(k) funds were heavily invested in the company’s stock. As recently as a few months ago that stock was selling for over 130 dollars a share. JPMC is paying no more than two dollars a share. Former Bear Stearns CEO James E. Cayne, who was paid more than 232 million between 1993 and 2006, is expected to receive around 13.4 million in the deal.

Solidarity Between the Lines
During a lunch break Wednesday I turned on the TV and started surfing. I was pleased to find a spring training game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays on ESPN. Except it wasn’t yet a game because the players were refusing to come on the field.

The world champion Sox were scheduled to depart after the game for Japan where they are to open the American League season this Tuesday against the Oakland A’s. This is a very big deal that is expected to produce a ton of money for Major League Baseball. The player’s union had negotiated a 40,000 dollar bonus for their members making the unusually long road trip.

But the players were outraged to find that the team coaches–who have no union–were receiving no bonus for their part in this international extravaganza. Without consulting their union or agents the Red Sox players voted to refuse to take the field for the game–or go to Japan–until the bosses also compensated their coaches. This was undoubtedly a serious breach of the player’s contract and American labor law. It was also a highly effective tactic. MLB soon relented and coughed up some cash for the coaches–who are technically “management.” The televised game started two hours late and everyone later headed off to the land of the rising sun.

I know people who don’t consider pro baseball players to be real workers. They view them as greedy prima donnas. Recently witch-hunting politicians have targeted them as drug using perjurers. That’s all grist to the baseball baron's antiunion mill. The pompous egg head turned sports commentator Howard Cosell once challenged Reggie Jackson, who had just signed a highly lucrative free agent deal with the Yankees, to justify why he, mere athlete, not only made more than school teachers but even brain surgeons. Reggie, with an intuitive grasp of class relations, replied that while he couldn’t justify such discrepancies in rewards he knew if he didn’t get the money it wouldn’t go to teachers or surgeons–it would stay in the pocket of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Baseball players are highly skilled workers who, after a century of being treated like slaves, organized to get a piece of the huge revenues generated by their labors. They sometimes go on strike or get locked out. They also on occasion show some solidarity with others, as they did for the coaches being short changed.

Not all of us have the marketable skills to allow us to get either the handsome remuneration, or the ability to defy management in a job action, as the players have done. But they deserve praise not resentment when they get away with doing the right thing. Ball players are supposed to be role models. Let’s hope they pass on the lesson of solidarity to our kids as well as entertaining us with their performance on the field.

In Case You Missed It...
* We posted an
obituary for Bob Mast that his daughter Cynthia submitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

* Thousands rallied across Canada on the anniversary of the Iraq invasion. The Canadian governments didn’t think they could get away with helping Bush in Iraq but have increased their intervention in Afghanistan. The protests focused on the call “Canada out of Afghanistan now!”

As usual, much of the material for this column was based on stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7AM Central, Monday-Saturday.

That’s all for this week.

KC Labor Home

Rebuilding Labor's Power
Dearborn, MI April 11-13

National Assembly To End the Iraq War and Occupation
Cleveland June 28-29

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