Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 11, 2006

It’s All About the Family
That’s what we ceaselessly hear from our politicians. Why just this past week the President, and many on both sides of the aisle in congress, sought to pass a constitutional amendment that would define marriage to suit both their religious beliefs–and employer benefit plans.

Nothing is more important than our children, they tell us. This past week an advisory committee to the FDA recommended approval of a new vaccine shown to be effective in fighting the virus that causes, among other things, cervical cancer. If widely administered, such as those against measles and polio, to pre-adolescent girls this new breakthrough could virtually eliminate most cervical cancers within a few generations. Such a program is strongly opposed by groups such as Focus on the Family. Says their spokeswoman, “We see it as a parental rights issue. This is a sexually transmitted infection. It can be prevented by practicing the best health behaviors by abstinence and faithfulness in marriage.” If you mind your parents and just say no until marriage you won’t need no stinkin’ vaccine, honey–unless your marriage partner passes the virus on to you.

Another illustration of our government’s commitment to family was the Supreme Court’s approval of the deportation of Myrna Dick. Myrna came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was a child. She’s married to an American citizen and her 19-month old son is a citizen. They can stay but she must go. La migra alleges she lied about her citizenship status at a border crossing in 1998 when returning from a family visit to Mexico–a charge she denies. It seems one value that trumps family is truthfulness. We all know how much our government abhors lying. The punishment for a false statement to a border guard is a lifetime ban from the United States.

What Happens There Won’t Stay There
One of the two unions I pay dues to–the United Auto Workers–is holding a convention this coming week in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, what happens there won’t stay there.

The election of top officers will be as exciting as the choosing of the Chinese Communist Party politburo. Since the Reuther caucus consolidated its power during the days of the Cold War the UAW has been strictly a one party regime. All the races are virtually uncontested.

The Detroit News ran a series of articles entitled UAW: Can It Survive? It’s a fair question. They repeat some grim statistics:

*Since its high point in 1970, the UAW's membership has fallen from 1.6 million active workers to 557,000 last year. GM and Ford have announced plans to reduce that number by at least another 60,000. (One of the plants slated for shuttering is GM’s Atlanta assembly–rated the most productive auto plant in North America.)

*Since 1980 34 auto assembly plants in the U.S. have been closed, or are slated for closing—all UAW organized. Over the same period 28 new plants have opened but only 14 are under UAW contract. The other 14 are so-called transplants of Japanese, Korean, or German based companies, none of which have been organized.

They review some of the recent concessions agreed to by the UAW leadership:

*In the last auto industry contract, agreed in 2004, a two-tier wage structure was accepted at the Delphi and Visteon part makers spin offs. New hires start at $14 an hour and can reach a peak wage of $18.50, depending on their job. That compares to veteran workers, whose base pay starts at about $24 and rises to $36.

*For the right to represent workers at Daimler Chrysler’s new engine plant in Dundee the UAW allowed Japanese-style teams and outsourcing functions unrelated to vehicle production, such as building maintenance.

*The cost to the union for getting Daimler Chrysler to build a new Jeep plant in Toledo was permitting independent suppliers–many of them nonunion– to run the factory's chassis line, body shop and paint shop with their own employees.

*There was a truly mammoth give back on health care, costing both active workers and retirees, at GM and Ford and negotiations are under way to extend it to Daimler Chrysler as well.

And, of course, bankrupt Delphi plans to eliminate eighty percent of UAW jobs and is asking a judge to allow them to impose a new sub-tier of $12 per hour.

What plans will be proposed by the leaders to address this crisis as the Big Three contracts expire next year? What will the few dissidents among the delegates offer? Stay tuned. We’ll have a post-convention update next week.

Some Encouraging News On the Environmental Front
I was encouraged by a report from Christine Frank in Minneapolis about the newly formed Climate Crisis Coalition of the Twin Cities (3CTC). They recently had their first major public event, a Town Meeting that attracted about 100. Christine writes,

“we received 13 endorsements from labor bodies, including the two city-wide labor assemblies and the councils of AFSCME & the SEIU. This is virtually unprecedented for any event in this area. The program of eight speakers included two eye witnesses to the impacts of warming in the polar regions. We also had two excellent labor speakers. Phyllis Walker, President of AFSCME 3800, U of M clerical workers, who is a native of New Orleans, chaired the meeting and gave a moving account of the displacement of her family and the abandonment of the poor of the city in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster, underscoring the continued failure of the federal government to carry out the promised reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Her remarks helped to put a human face on global warming. Lynn Hinkle, Health & Safety director of UAW 879 (also an endorser) spoke about the closing of the Ford assembly plant in St. Paul. The factory was built on the condition that it would receive its own power source. It has been run on clean hydroelectric power ever since. Brother Hinkle raised the issue of keeping it open to produce clean mass transit cleanly. He also talked about how unions can negotiate sustainability issues into their collective bargaining agreements and why we need to do more of that.”

This past week Steelworkers president Leo Gerard and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, held a joint press conference about plans to ramp up the Blue/Green Alliance. “We're going to work together to try to blow up the myth that you can't have a clean environment and good jobs,” said Gerard. The two of them are planning a national speaking tour to talk at town hall meetings and college campuses. Former Steelworkers district director Dave Foster will be the executive director of the Alliance, with headquarters in Minneapolis.

Privacy Alert
A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the government's authority to force high-speed Internet service providers to give law enforcement authorities access for surveillance purposes.

As usual, much of this column is based on reports posted on the
Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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