Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 31, 2005

Family Values
Associated Press reports from Arkadelphia, Arkansas (just south of Hot Springs) "About 30 children, some as young as 3 months old, were left without their parents this week after immigration officials raided a poultry plant here and took the parents away to face possible deportation. ‘A lot of those families had kids in day care in different places,’ said Mayor Charles Hollingshead, ‘and they didn't know why Mommy and Daddy didn't come pick them up.’" The local sheriff said the immigration officials failed to tell his agency about the raid. If they had, deputies would have made sure the officials knew about the children, some of whom had been in the local public schools for years, he said. 119 mainly Mexican-born workers were rounded up by la migra at Petit Jean Poultry after a woman charged with selling fake documents needed for work ratted out her alleged customers as part of a plea deal.

Contract Railroaded
For twenty years, aircraft fuelers at Aircraft Service International Group at Pittsburgh International Airport had a Teamsters contract. Then ASIG was purchased by a British outfit, BBA Aviation Services Group. The new bosses refused to honor the contract, arguing that this work should come under the jurisdiction of not the National Labor Relations Act, under which the workers had originally organized, but rather the Railway Labor Act that covers most airline workers. A federal mediator held for the company and essentially threw the fuelers back into the ranks of the unorganized. The company hasn’t yet cut wages but they have eliminated long standing agreements on overtime and seniority.

I Feel More Secure Already
After the London bombings there was much talk about increasing security on New York City’s subways. Transit cops were pulled off trains–where their visible presence might deter crime–to randomly check passenger backpacks. This comes after most station fare booths, where clerks had a view of what was happening, have been eliminated. Now the MTA has announced another wave of cutbacks of train conductors–the folks who have traditionally operated passenger doors, announced stops, and in general keep an eye on things. 313 jobs will be axed in phases beginning in 2007. Eventually, the transit bosses hope to run all trains with just a single operator–until they can figure out how to eliminate the last human crew presence on board as well.

Solidarity Up In the Air?
Northwest Airlines, following the success of United and others, is once again demanding draconian concessions from their unions. While the pilots, and ground employees represented by the IAM, are participating in give-back talks the carrier has met fierce resistance from the mechanics–and for good reason. The carrier wants to eliminate 53 percent of their jobs and impose a 25 percent wage cut for those lucky enough to remain.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is an independent craft union that won mechanics away from the Machinists at Northwest six years ago and has done likewise at United, Southwest, Alaska, and a few other smaller carriers. The AMFA has twenty days left in a 30-day "cooling off"period required by law before they can strike Northwest. They are appealing for support from other Northwest unions.

It seems unlikely they will get it. Minnesota Public Radio recently interviewed Bobby De Pace, head of the IAM unit representing baggage handlers, reservation clerks, and some other ground employees. It’s the biggest craft union at Northwest. But it used to be a lot bigger. It used to have the mechanics who defected to the AMFA. As Brother De Pace told MPR, "There's no love lost between us and AMFA."

De Pace went on to explain IAM members are still waiting for a $216 million-payback from Northwest for concessions the union made more than a decade ago. If Northwest were to go bankrupt because of an irresponsible strike IAM members would lose this big chunk of change.

In other words, the IAM, along with the pilots, are committed to further concessions in the hope of someday getting reimbursed for past give-backs–and screw the mechanics or anyone else that tries to interfere with this shrewd strategic bargaining.

Life After the Split
We concentrated a lot of our attention on the split that began in the labor movement last week in Chicago. With the significant exception of the victory won by US Labor Against the War in putting the federation on record against the occupation in Iraq it was not a very inspiring week. Nevertheless, life goes on.

So will the discussion. The Discussion On the Future Of the American Labor Movement page on this site is still open. I’ve just posted Art, Sparks and Labor Splits by Mike Alewitz, an accomplished artist as well as a labor and antiwar commentator and activist. Also new is Golden Anniversary Marked By Family Feud, a considerably expanded, updated version of my First Take article posted early last week.

Special Meeting In KC
I’d like to invite those of you in the Kansas City area to attend a special joint meeting of Kansas City Labor Against the War, and the Kansas City Labor Party, to discuss plans to build the labor contingent in the September 24 March On Washington against the Iraq war. For more information give me a call at 816-753-1672.

That’s all for this week.

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