Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 26, 2007

The Good Guys–and Gals–Win One For a Change
I’m glad to have a rare opportunity to lead a column with a victory. 3500 members of the California Nurses Association have ratified a master contract covering nine Tenet hospitals that provides raises of 25.5 percent over four years and writes patient/nurse ratios into the contract, enforceable through the grievance procedure. On top of that, CNA, and their National Nurses Organizing Committee, secured a no contest agreement with Tenet in organizing drives affecting an additional 3000 RNs.

Silence Is Golden–But For Whom?
Industry analysts have concluded that the lack of public posturing in UAW/Big Three negotiations indicates that harmony prevails behind closed doors. They take that to mean the union team is haggling over final numbers in the proposal by GM and Ford to seed a fund for retiree health care and turn over all future responsibility to the UAW. Similar deals have been cut by the Steelworkers with Goodyear and the UAW at parts makers.

There’s rumored to be one major complication: Cerberus, the “flip and strip” private equity outfit that acquired Chrysler, isn’t interested in the long term benefits of eliminating the “legacy burden.” Tom LaSorda, recently demoted from CEO to Chrysler president, told Bloomberg, “There is a big focus on cash and daily cash reporting.” Cerberus is unlikely to lay out the billions required to pass off Chrysler retirees. They’re looking for more immediate rewards in wage and work rule concessions. Giving a fundamentally different contract to one of the Big Three would be contrary to the tradition of pattern bargaining and wouldn’t be well received by either GM/Ford or the UAW ranks.

Historically, auto contracts have been the pace setter for American industrial unions. That once meant others trying to ride their coat tails to improved wages and benefits. Today it’s just the opposite–all employers are using UAW give-backs to extract concessions from their workers. John Gallagher in today’s Detroit Free Press talks to an old friend of ours, Peter Rachleff, about this new trend,

“If anything, UAW concessions this year may set a pattern for further givebacks by other American workers. Peter Rachleff, a professor of labor history at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., has worked extensively with unionized postal workers. He said that UAW contracts have influenced what postal workers got both on the way up and on the way down.

“‘When I started, you went into contract talks and the arbitrators would say, 'The auto industry and the steel industry, here's what they just did, and you guys can get more or less the same.'

“But for the past several years, Rachleff said, ‘Postal negotiators have been saying, 'This is what the auto and steel workers have just given up, and you're going to have to give it up, too.’”

Predictable Behavior
An important part of the European Union’s strategy for fighting global warming is requiring polluters to buy carbon permits–20 Euros per ton of carbon dioxide released. Electric power companies are exempted from the permit requirements. Nevertheless, European electrics charge their customers for the permit fees they didn’t have to pay. This even includes customers who get their power from water, wind, and nuclear generators that don’t produce carbon dioxide at all. All told this fleecing of consumers adds up to about twenty billion dollars. The man in charge of the EU’s program doesn’t think this is a big deal. “It is free money. It's how you'd expect companies to behave.”

This Just In–The Rich Are Getting Richer
Analysis of 2005 income tax returns just released show average income in the USA, adjusted for inflation, was one percent lower than in 2000. That’s bad enough but, because income of the rich helps determine the average, that one percent doesn’t reflect the real growing concentration of wealth. Less than a quarter of one percent of all taxpayers reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.

Video Progress
The labor movement is finally beginning to catch up with the video revolution that young people sparked around You Tube. Over just the past week I noticed these quality efforts:

Spots by the California Nurses Association aimed at the Democrat presidential front runners in Iowa: Obama, Clinton, Edwards

A Cole Porter musical style protest by Southwest Airlines TWU flight attendants.

Several University of Minnesota AFSCME members speak out on their strike vote.

By the way, those University AFSCME workers voted 72 percent to strike. Expect to hear a lot more about this battle shaping up.

A Conference Canceled, A Mini-Conference Announced
Keynote speaker scheduling problems unfortunately led to a cancellation of the Labor & Sustainability Conference that had been slated for October 5-6 in Kansas City. Efforts are being made to reschedule the event early next year.

The Kansas City Labor Party has decided to move up its Fall meeting to October 6 in order to utilize Labor Party National Organizer Mark Dudzic, who had been part of the program of the cancelled event. Mark will be speaking on the Labor Party perspective of Just Transition–guaranteeing jobs and incomes of workers displaced by environmental restructuring of the economy. Other topics for the mini-conference will include the Kansas City Transit Crisis, led by Tony Saper, ATU 1287 representative to the Regional Transit Alliance, and yours truly will speak on the Post-SiCKO Fight for Health Care. More details on this event, starting at 10AM, Saturday, October 6 at the North Kansas City Library, will be posted soon on the KCLP web page.

That’s all for this week.

 

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