Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 27, 2006

Labor’s Friends In L.A. City Hall
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a former union organizer, once a player in the LA Federation of Labor. He was elected with enthusiastic labor support. One of his strongest backers was the Engineers and Architects Assn., whose more than 7,500 city employee members have been working without a contract since 2004.

After the Mayor and city council rammed through a pay bill that imposed a wage freeze for 2004, retroactive raises of 2 percent in 2005 and 2006, and a 2.25 percent boost in January 2007, the union decided to launch a two-day strike. Their friend Mayor went to court to get many EAA members declared “essential”workers, forbidden to join the walkout.

While the Mayor played the role of strikebreaker, longshore and Teamster members honored EAA picket lines wherever they were visible causing chaos in the Port of Los Angeles and stopping deliveries of thousands of UPS packages. An estimated 3,000 workers picketed City Hall.

The union is back to work for now—but this fight is far from over.

The Rule of Law
In response to highly publicized mine fatalities related to lack of sufficient air supplies mandated for underground miners, the United Mine Workers sued MSHA demanding that they require inspections of the equipment. In dismissing their action the judge wrote,

“The loss of lives, and the risks miners presently face, weigh heavily in public discourse and are taken seriously by this court,” said his honor. “But the tragedy of those events, and the need for greater protection described by plaintiff, cannot substitute for the requirements of the law.”

And Sometimes the Law Is Just So Darn Complex
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero issued a temporary restraining order Friday prohibiting Northwest Airlines flight attendants from striking. The banned strike was in response to a bankruptcy judge allowing the carrier to abrogate the existing union contract, imposing drastic take-backs. The order will remain in effect while Marrero decides whether to issue a permanent injunction against a strike.

Marrero urged Northwest and the union to resume negotiations and said he would give them until Wednesday to tell him whether fruitful talks were possible. If not, Marrero said he would decide the case at a date that was hard to predict “given the complexity of this matter.”

Denying workers the right to strike in a supposedly free society is indeed complex. This story ain’t over either.

Job Expansion In Motor City
Faurecia SA specializes in automotive modules for interiors, such as seats and exhaust systems. It supplies its parts to General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, BMW and Volkswagen. This French based company held a “job fair” for an unspecified number of openings last week in Detroit. This was for entry level, unskilled work paying ten dollars an hour, with partially paid health insurance and a 401(k) plan in lieu of a pension. Four thousand workers applied. Most had once been employed in the auto industry, either directly in the Big Three, or Big Three suppliers. Some were highly skilled tool & die makers.

Job Development In the Midwest
After members of IAM Local 1010 overwhelmingly rejected Gleason Corp’s demands for huge wage and benefit cuts the company announced it will close the plant in Ft Madison, Iowa. Wheel production currently done there will be shifted to another plant in Caruthersville, Missouri. That nonunion plant in Missouri’s Boot Heel region already has wages lower than the concessions rejected by the union workers in Iowa. But, what really tipped the scale for runaway was tax-payer provided subsidies for the move. Show-Me Governor Matt Blunt and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, created a million dollar incentive package for seventy jobs, which includes a $300,000 up front cash grant and another $600,000 in tax credits over the next five years.

And In Other Moves…
Shortly after I moved back to Kansas City Wal-Mart opened “Hypermart” on land where as a teenager I had gone on hay rides. With the help of generous tax-payer provided incentives, out of former pasture land of Benjamin Stables arose what some local boosters modestly dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Next January, only sixteen years after opening, it will join most of the other seven wonders as a site of interest only to historians and archeologists, not shoppers or workers.

This “mall without walls,” included a full service grocery, pharmacy, and fast food outlets, as well as the merchandise you would expect at a regular Wal-Mart. It was impressive at 270,000-square-foot, with an adjoining parking lot with space for 3500 cars. The ATA extended the busy Troost and Prospect bus lines several miles to accommodate transit dependent shoppers. At its peak Hypermart had over 800 employees and 53 check out lines.

But, after a decade of operation, management decided smaller was better for the bottom profit line and Hypermart was downgraded to a mere Super Center, reducing used space by a third and the workforce by half.

Even greater opportunity knocked for the Walton family a couple of years ago when the Blue Ridge Mall, straddling the Kansas City/Independence city limits, went belly up. Plenty of tax-payer gifts finally coaxed Wal-Mart to come in and build a new Super Center on the ruins of the old mall. With this new outlet, and no more hand outs available for the former Hypermart, the old facility will permanently close the night before the grand opening of the new. It stands across the street from the now largely vacant Bannister Mall, fresh examples of dozens of acres of suburban sprawl decay that obliterate land I once knew where horses grazed, dairy cows were milked, and city kids camped out in the summer.

Something Special Next Time
We’re planning a special expanded version of the Week In Review for the Labor Day weekend. Stay tuned.

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

That’s all for this week.

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