SEIU: The New Toxic Danger

More SEIU stories: here.
More CNA stories: here.

Barack reaches across the aisle for labor unions

U.S. Senator Barack Obama today released the following statement after the Senate took the first step to passing the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007 (S.2123). Senator Obama is an original cosponsor of the bill and voted in favor of beginning debate on it.

"Our nation's firefighters, police officers, and public safety officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our neighborhoods and keep our communities safe. They represent some of the best our country has to offer, and they deserve the same right to bargain collectively that most other workers have.

"In too many communities, our brave first responders are unable to bargain over wages and working conditions and are denied access to outside mediation. By providing these men and women with collective bargaining rights, we can increase the dialogue between employers and employees over workplace issues, which ultimately leads to improved safety and the more efficient delivery of services to the public.

"Passing this legislation will mark the most meaningful action in years to restore the right of workers to organize for fair treatment, but we must go further and also pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Workers should be free to choose whether they want to join a union without fear of intimidation, coercion, or threats to their livelihoods. This bipartisan effort would make the process of organizing less vulnerable to employer violations by requiring card-check recognition and increasing penalties on employers that violate the law.

"Strengthening our workers' right to organize is important to restoring widespread prosperity and ensuring fair treatment in the workplace, and I hope my colleagues will join me in standing with America's workers."


Congress curbs non-union green-collar jobs

There is a new front in the lobbying war between business and labor — “green-collar” workers. The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program is expected to train as many as 35,000 workers in green “skill sets” like how to install solar panels, maintain wind turbines, or retrofit buildings with energy-efficient lighting. But there is a catch, according to critics. When Congress authorized the $125 million pilot program it only provided for training programs with some labor affiliation.

With presidential candidates promising to spend billions to grow green jobs, a coalition of homebuilders, construction workers, roofers and electricians worry that it sets a dangerous precedent that could give unions a leg up over non-union shops in a cleaner world.

“As Congress moves forward with many proposals to help curb the effect of global warming, lawmakers need to be acutely aware that this effort cannot be done without the help of each and every person, business, industry or organization, regardless of union affiliation,” the Associated General Contractors of America , National Association of Homebuilders , Associated Builders and Contractors , Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing and Independent Electrical Contractors wrote House appropriators in March.

Opponents are marshaling their considerable lobbying and political action committee (PAC) budgets to convince lawmakers to deny appropriations for the program unless all training programs are eligible for the aid.

“All we want is equal access to the money,” said Brewster Bevis of Associated Builders and Contractors.

ABC represents 24,000 construction and construction-related companies, according to its website. It spent $1 million to lobby Congress last year.

Unions dispute the contention that the program blocks the participation of non-union training programs. The training program requires only some consultation with labor groups.

“This is not a very high hurdle,” said Jim Spellane, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which is lobbying to protect the distinction.

Spellane said the participation of labor groups would ensure that workers participate in the structure of the training programs.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a champion of the language, said the restriction was appropriate because unions are more experienced in running job-training programs. He said it would also encourage better pay.

“At the end of the day, as we are working toward energy efficiency and sustainability, we also want to make sure that jobs pay people a living wage,” he said.

“I will do my best to see that it is not changed,” Sanders said.

Not all of the $125 million, allocated as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, would go to support training programs. Some of the funds would be spent to determine which green jobs faced labor shortages. But opponents worry it sets a pro-union precedent.

Brian Worth, a lobbyist at the Independent Electrical Contractors, which represents non-union shops, said participation in the federal green training program could eventually become a requirement for winning federal contracts.

“This could get us more and more cut out of these jobs,” Worth said. “If you have a green training program, that might be a standard for green work on federal buildings.”

Opponents also contend that unions were looking to the program to grow the rolls of union membership at the expense of environmental progress.

Around 86 percent of construction workers, for example, are not affiliated with unions.

Craig Silvertooth of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing said unions often use their training programs to market themselves to workers.

The green training program could provide another incentive for workers to join.

Opponents of the language have met with Republican leadership staff in both the House and Senate in hopes of blocking any appropriation for the program. Rep. John Kline’s office said the Minnesota Republican was considering offering a bill that removes the restrictions on the grant money.

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), one of the sponsors of the green jobs training program, noted in a statement that the energy bill passed with broad bipartisan support.

But he added that he hoped “interested parties will work together in partnership to maximize training possibilities.”

Each side brings plenty of political power to the debate.

Building trade unions alone have spent nearly $9 million on federal candidates so far this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Ninety percent of that money went to Democrats.

AGC and the homebuilders both operate sizable PACs. Contractors have given candidates $356,000 so far this cycle, mostly to Republicans.

Home Builders have donated $977,000 so far, according to Center for Responsive Politics , despite the fact that the group suspended campaign contributions for a time to protest what it saw as an inadequate congressional response to the home mortgage crisis.


AFSCME preps for statewide strike

As many as 4,000 San Francisco Bay Area medical and campus service workers at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco are among 20,000 workers statewide scheduled to vote starting Saturday on authorization for a potential strike, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Tuesday.

The vote, scheduled to take place between May 17 and May 22, will determine if AFSCME members threaten to strike five University of California medical centers and 10 UC campuses statewide. The union's Oakland-based Local 3299 said the vote follows 10 months of negotiations with the University of California's Office of the President.

Bill Schlitz, a union spokesman, said Tuesday that the local represents 3,000 Bay Area workers, including approximately 2,200 at UCSF Medical Center and some at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A strike, at this point of undetermined length, could affect medical centers at UCSF, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego, as well as all 10 UC campuses: Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Davis, Merced, Irvine, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego, Schlitz told the San Francisco Business Times. The last strike by service workers was in 2005, lasting a couple of days, he said.

In a web bargaining update, the University of California said the two sides met May 10 in a bargaining session at which AFSCME said there was no point in continuing to bargain.

UC officials said they've bargained in good faith, offering multiple offers with wage increases between 4 percent and 15 percent during the first year for medical center workers, and other contract improvements. "While we acknowledge that there are some disparities in salaries for (medical center workers), our proposals have been designed to address those disparities," said Nicole Savickas, human resources communications coordinator for the UC Office of the President.

On the service workers side of the ledger, UC says those workers have been given several salary increases in recent years, but that future increases haven't been worked out yet. "While we are committed to raising salaries to market-levels, the service unit is State funded, and as our bargaining team has attempted to discuss with the Union, the University is facing a severe budget shortfall next year," Savickas said. "Because we don't know what this will mean for state-funded employees, UC proposed some wage increases along with a reopener on wages once the budget is finalized."

The union, however, accuses UC of "misplaced priorities," referring to controversial executive pay policies and allegedly uncompetitive wages and benefits for its members. It represents workers such as vocational nurses, medical technicians, respiratory therapists, cafeteria workers, security guards and dormitory custodians.

AFSCME claims the UC system is losing patient-care staffers to better-paying hospitals and that many of its campus service workers "live in poverty," with wages as low as $10 an hour. Other hospitals and California community colleges, including employers such as Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West and Oakland's Laney College, pay 25 percent more for the same work, according to the union.

The union's patient-care members have been working without a contract since late September, and service workers since January, according to UC. Labor and management differ on the number of workers involved. AFSCME says a total of 20,000, including 11,000 medical center workers and 9,000 in other UC campus jobs; UC says 18,000 AFSCME workers were employed statewide as of May 2007, including just 7,000 service workers.


OK: Teachers union out, co-operation in

Related story: "Oklahoma teachers quitting union"

Teachers in another Oklahoma school district have elected a non-union bargaining agent for upcoming negotiations. Monday, teachers selected the Strother Professional Association (SPA). It was the third decertification in recent weeks and the fourth in state history.

The independent teachers association will replace the union in Strother and implement the Collaborative Communication Model supported by the Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), a statewide independent professional association based in Norman.

POE describes the Collaborative Communication Model for negotiations as a more open and inclusive process allowing all teachers to have a voice in negotiations that affect their employment, regardless of membership or affiliation. This model uses a team approach, focusing on what is best for students.

“The action in Strother ratifies growing enthusiasm for an alternative to confrontational models of negotiating. We frequently get feedback from teachers across the state saying that they feel left out of discussions regarding their own employment,” POE Executive Director Ginger Tinney said. “The Collaborative Communication Model brings these discussions into the light so that teachers can be sure that their best interests are being represented.”

ImageTinney said the model is all about teacher empowerment. “Teachers want to be a part of this process,” Tinney said. “We need a system that allows them to stay informed and involved so that they can work with school administration to make the best choices for students. The Collaborative Communication Model offers that.”

Tinney said she was “affirmed to see another group of my colleagues in teaching choose independence, collaboration and professionalism over the divisive models of the past.” SPA will be recognized as the official bargaining agent for teachers at the next school board meeting, required to be held within 14 days of the election. Officers of the Strother group are Connie Wingfield, Christie Cheatwood, Susan Taff and Nicki Gray.

This is the fourth Oklahoma school district to decertify union representation. Last month, teachers in Dibble and Macomb kicked the union out. Teachers in the Bridge Creek system were the first, decertifying the union in 2005.


Governator set to pay-off state unions

Schwarzenegger, unions negotiating collective bargaining pacts

Unions representing thousands of state employees have begun hammering out labor contracts: The state has presented its initial proposals, the unions are poised to respond and both sides are preparing for the first round of face-to-face negotiations.

One of the state’s 21 bargaining groups, the California Highway Patrol, has negotiated a new agreement and 18 others are in the midst of doing so. The two remaining groups, the correctional officers and the state’s attorneys, are working with expired contracts.

The state has about 189,000 rank-and-file employees covered by union contracts or about 235,000 employees when supervisors, managers and exempt employees—typically political appointees—are included. When higher education, judiciary and legislative employees are tallied, the number totals about 340,000.

The contracts vary in length, but the beginning of the fiscal, July 1, is often viewed as target for the effective date of new contracts because it coincides with the latest state budget—a document that is often approved, despite constitutional requirements, after the deadline.

In the case of the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, its 31,000 members are working without the prospect of regular raises pegged to those of the CHP. The expired contract—it expired in 2006-- contained such a provision, but the state and the union were unable to agree on a compromise and an impasse was officially declared by the Public Employment Relations Board. Since the impasse, the state imposed provision in which that piece of the earlier agreement was removed.

The prison officers’ agreement is projected at $240 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year, a figure that could change depending on the strength of final state budget, which has not yet been approved. In 2007-08, the price tag was about $260 million.

“We are in a holding pattern to see what the Legislature is going to do to approve the funding elements of our terms and conditions of the contract,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the Schwarzenegger administration.

The group representing the state’s 3,200 attorneys and administrative law judges have been without an agreement since last year. Unlike the CCPOA, an impasse has not been declared and discussions are under way.

“We are continuing to bargain,” said Brooks Ellison, chief negotiator of California Attorneys in State Employment, or CASE, which includes hearing officers and administrative law judges. He noted that CASE, unlike other groups, is limited because its members represent the legal interests of the state.

“We’re the attorneys for the state, and we have to make sure that the state is in ‘safe harbor.’ Because of that, there are certain things that are otherwise available. We can’t strike, we can’t walk out or take any other kind of job action that would affect our clients,” he noted.

The initial bargaining period is called the “Sunshine Phase,” a period in which both sides present their positions in writing. The state already has submitted its paperwork; the unions are in the midst of presenting theirs’. The disclosures are required by the Dills Act, which governs the state’s collective bargaining arrangements, and are a prerequisite for more direct, detailed meetings between the parties.

“It’s still really early. All that’s really happened so far is that we are establishing the ground rules. We represent nine separate bargaining units within the state, ranging from analysts to clerical workers to nurses at state hospitals and prisons. The substantive negotiations, for the most part, haven’t really begun,” said Jim Zamora, a spokesman for the 95,000-member Local 1000 of the Service Employees’ International Union.

SEIU Local 1000 is the largest single local of state government employees.


Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas DINO

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Organizations supporting corporate interests contend that Democrat Kansas Representative Nancy Boyda's support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) means she wants to force unions on workers without the right to the use of secret ballots in organizing elections. This represents a blatant mischaracterization of her position, with the intent to mislead people into thinking that Members of Congress who support EFCA are against workers' privacy and rights.

"The nation needs more brave elected representatives like Congresswoman Boyda," said Jim Hoffa, General President of the Teamsters. "When it comes to defending the interest of working Americans, she backs up what she says in public with action."

Instead of being a barrier to improving rights for workers, EFCA would fix a broken system that only frustrates and intimidates workers who want to exercise their right to form a union. Some basic facts highlight the need for EFCA.

- Almost 60 million American workers would join a union if provided with the opportunity to do so, according to a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

- According to The Center for Economic Policy and Research, almost one-in-five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign.

- Every 23 minutes, a worker is fired or harassed for trying to unionize.

- A 2005 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development found:

- 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers;
- 49 percent of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to unionize;
- 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants;
- 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union meetings one-on-one with supervisors;

- Forming a union is an American right and a human right.

- EFCA is landmark legislation that would put democracy back in the workplace and protect workers from the abuses of anti-union employers.

- EFCA would create real penalties for employers who violate the rights of workers, including:

- Mandatory injunctions to protect workers from illegal firings and discrimination.
- Back pay for workers who are illegally fired during union organizing campaigns.
- Allows for civil fines of up to $20,000 per violation against employers found to have willfully or repeatedly violated employees' rights.

"Corporations are spending millions to misrepresent the Employee Free Choice Act and attacks members of Congress who support the Act," said Bill Moore, President of Teamsters Local 696. "However, working Americans and representatives like Boyda see through these tactics. We all know it is time to even the playing field and end the unfair system that regularly prevents workers the freedom to form a union and bargain for better improved working conditions, health insurance, and pay."

Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States and Canada.


IBEW defends labor-state Davis-Bacon Act

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 648 went to bat for eight non-union electricians who this week collected an estimated $8,500 in back pay and $25,000 in unpaid 401(k) contributions in a settlement of a "prevailing wage" suit the union filed against their employers.

"The IBEW represents all electrical workers," said Frank Cloud, business agent, explaining why the union took on the non-union workers' complaint against their employers, Sigma Capital Inc. of Roselawn and Schmid & Associates, doing business as AC Electrical Systems Inc., in Harrison Township (OH).

Other than reimbursement for attorneys' fees, the union received no money in the settlement.

The firms last year won electrical contracts from Miami University at its Oxford and Hamilton campuses. The union took up the workers' complaint and filed a lawsuit last fall in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against their employers. The companies agreed to an out-of-court settlement last month.

"Sigma Capital takes its commitment to its employees seriously," Sam Mays, Sigma Capital's president, said Wednesday in a statement. "Ohio prevailing wage law is complex and detailed. Sigma Capital believes it did its best to pay its employees fairly and appropriately under the law, and in accordance with the published prevailing wage rates that had been provided by Miami University."

He said mid-project changes in the contracts, which totaled more than $215,000, caused "very minor errors" in pay totaling $6,825 for the workers, less than the $8,500 the union claimed.

Sigma, which didn't admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, said the $25,000 in 401(k) payments wasn't triggered by the union's lawsuit.

"Those funds would have been deposited with or without the intervention of Local 648," Mays said.

A spokesman for AC Electrical didn't respond to a call for comment.

What is Ohio's mini Davis-Bacon Act?

Ohio's prevailing wage law applies to construction projects undertaken by public authorities and requires that the public authorities pay the locally prevailing wage rate, typically union wage rates, to workers on the project.

"It's the law," said Cloud, who pointed out the companies were paid from tax dollars based on the prevailing wage rates but weren't paying those rates to the workers.

Jeff McGuffey, an organizer for the union, said non-union employers often pay workers less than the prevailing wage knowing the workers can't afford an attorney to bring a lawsuit.

Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper and Sheriff Richard Jones attended the union's check presentations to the workers. Piper thanked the union for bringing the lawsuit.

"When you protect one worker in Butler County, you protect them all," Piper said.


AFT organizers penetrate U.S. charter schools

Mike Meehan believes it takes commitment to stick as a teacher in a charter school. He is one of just two dozen teachers at the Construction Careers Center, sponsored by the St. Louis (MO) Public Schools, and in less than seven years he has seen other teachers come and go.

It's a tough job, he said."You have to be really committed to our mission - really believe in it - and you have to be a really strong teacher to succeed," he said. "The kids have to compete post-high school for college and in the job force. We need to be the best teachers we possibly can."

Meehan, a social studies teacher, and the other staff at the school at 1224 Grattan St. have arranged to join a union - the American Federation of Teachers St. Louis, Local 420. They believe it will help them obtain professional development to become better teachers and provide stability through a pay schedule that could help them attract and retain better teachers.

The school becomes the first charter school in Missouri to unionize. More than 70 of the other 4,000 charter school in the nation also have unionized.

Mary J. Armstrong, president of Local 420, said the local was glad the board of the Construction Careers Center agreed to recognize the union as representing the employees, which include teachers, teacher assistants and the secretaries and clerks. Armstrong said she thinks other charter schools in the state also might join.

Local 420 also represents teachers and staff in the St. Louis Public Schools.

Byron Clemens, first vice president of the local, said some of those other charter schools already have inquired about joining.

Meehan said the 32 employees of the Construction Careers Center feel like they will have a real say in how the school is operated.

"Charter schools were originally started by teachers and parents. A lot of other charter schools have gotten really away from that," he said. "We want to have everyone involved in the decision making process."

Armstrong said Albert Shanker, the late president of the AFT, proposed charter schools in 1988 and wanted them to be "teacher-led laboratories of reform" that would promote flexibility and innovation. She said the local teachers' union still opposes the opening of any new charter schools, but it has never viewed charter schools' staffs as enemies.

"Our policy regarding St. Louis Public School charter schools has been consistent. We think they should be part of the district," Armstrong said. "We think they should be held accountable like other public schools."

Diana Bourisaw, superintendent of the St. Louis Public schools, said there is a national trend for charter schools to unionize. She said it makes sense that a charter school specializing in training students for union careers should have a unionized staff.

"Teachers are concerned about working conditions and concerned about compensation. They want fair compensation and working conditions. I think this will help them achieve some equity with other educators," she said.


Socialists: Gettelfinger shocked, shocked

Related American Axle stories: here.
More UAW stories: here.

Over the weekend, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger gave his most extensive comments to date on the American Axle strike during an interview with Detroit radio station WWJ. Over 3,600 workers in Michigan and New York have been on strike for more than two-and-a-half months against the auto supplier’s demand for drastic wage cuts and the elimination of at least 2,000 jobs.

The UAW president told auto reporter Jeff Gilbert that last week’s announcement that General Motors had offered $200 million to American Axle to help pay for buy-outs and buy-downs had not led to a quick settlement, as many had anticipated. Instead, American Axle responded to GM’s move with even greater concession demands, Gettelfinger said, including the closure of the Cheektowaga, New York machining plant, which employs 116 workers in the Buffalo area.

This demand, he said, “came totally out of left field.” The company “gave every indication we were extremely close on an agreement” last Friday afternoon, he continued, but after he and other top UAW negotiators came back from dinner “the company gave us a notice that they were going to close the Cheektowaga plant.”

Gettelfinger said he was shocked that company negotiators had answered every concession offer by the UAW with even more egregious demands.

But why should this come as a surprise?

From the beginning of this struggle, American Axle CEO Richard Dauch has proceeded with utter ruthlessness. He has repeatedly threatened to shut his US plants and move production to Mexico unless workers accept a 50 percent wage cut. The company has threatened to hire scabs and has kept workers on the streets for nearly twelve weeks to achieve its demands.

What is behind Gettelfinger’s incredulity? It is true that the UAW bureaucracy—which for years has promoted the nostrums of labor-management “unity”—has hardly distinguished itself for its powers of foresight and strategic thinking. However, another, at least equally probable, explanation is that he is feigning shock as part of an effort to condition strikers to accept as inevitable the sellout agreement being prepared.

Gettelfinger all but boasted that the union was ready to accede to the bulk of the company’s demands. He said, “We have literally made hundreds of changes in this contract and throughout these negotiations ... all to the company’s advantage.” He added, “In the past two years, mid-contract, we agreed to Buffalo being phased out. And that’s a major savings to the company.” He was referring to the closing of a plant which once employed over 2,000 UAW workers.

“We also negotiated a two-tier wage agreement,” Gettelfinger continued, “and we agreed to buyouts to help them. And if you look at the proxy statement that was filed by American Axle, the chairman and CEO’s pay was based on the improvements made in that contract.”

In other words, well before negotiations began for the current contract, the UAW had imposed draconian concessions on its members that guaranteed multi-million-dollar payouts to Dauch and other top executives.

In the current talks, Gettelfinger acknowledged, the UAW had already accepted the company’s demands to close the Tonawanda, New York and Detroit forges, eliminating another 760 jobs.

The union had also accepted huge wage cuts. Gettelfinger said the UAW had agreed to a separate contract at the Three Rivers, Michigan plant, which would impose even deeper wage cuts than the estimated $5-$8 an hour cut for workers in Detroit.

“[I]n Three Rivers,” Gettelfinger said, “members of our bargaining committee, in order to save that facility, have agreed to a wage rate that is so low that they will have to work for six months just to earn what the company gave their board of directors in an increase on their retention pay which is, $10,000.”

Here you have the president of the UAW—who nominally represents half a million auto workers—declaring in his defense that he has agreed to wages for American Axle workers that are below the official poverty level for a family of four—$21,200 a year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

How can a union that carries out measures that impoverish its own members be defined as a workers’ organization?

From the beginning, the UAW has negotiated concessions behind the backs of the members, forced strikers to subsist on poverty-level strike benefits and deliberately kept the struggle isolated. Far from opposing wage cuts, the UAW has imposed such cuts on workers throughout the auto industry in order to boost the profitability of the corporations.

Every word out of the mouth of the UAW president drips with cowardice and prostration before the interests of corporate America. There is not a trace of class consciousness or working class solidarity in these remarks. On the contrary, they underscore the unbridgeable chasm that exists between workers and the privileged bureaucracy that controls the UAW.

Whatever complaints Gettelfinger made about “greedy bosses” were combined with nationalist poison. Thus, Gettelfinger told the interviewer, “We’re dealing with some very, very greedy people here. In fact, I’m not sure how they could even call themselves ‘American’ Axle anymore. To me, it’s more like ‘Axle, Mexico and elsewhere.’”

Hostile to any struggle to unite US and Mexican workers against the globally-organized auto giants, the UAW wants to convince its members that they have no choice but to accept far lower wages in order to retain US manufacturing jobs. This is the overriding concern of the UAW, which is dedicated not to the jobs, conditions and living standards of auto workers, but rather to the maintenance of an income stream for the union bureaucracy from union dues.

For all of its treachery, the UAW has not been able to crush the resistance of the American Axle strikers. The bureaucracy’s biggest worry is its ability to force through a sellout agreement in the face of rank-and-file opposition. Gettelfinger acknowledged this in a second interview Sunday on WJR radio, saying, “Look, let’s not kid anybody here. No matter what we do as a result of these negotiations it is going to be difficult to get ratified.”

Those in the know in the corporate boardrooms and Detroit news media see Gettelfinger’s remarks as an effort to lower expectations, demoralize the strikers and present a sellout as a fait accompli.

Detroit Free Press columnist Tom Walsh, in a comment Tuesday entitled “UAW’s Wrath Sends a Signal,” noted the cynical motives behind Gettelfinger’s radio appearances. The union president, he wrote, “wants Axle strikers and every UAW member within earshot of a Detroit radio station to know that these are brutally tough negotiations; that the company can close plants at home and build parts in Mexico or somewhere else, because it has happened before. He’s creating an expectation for the rank-and-file—if it wasn’t there already—that the next contract will be a bitter pill for American Axle workers to swallow.

“And then hopefully in the next few days, Gettelfinger can surprise them with positive news. Like an end to the strike sooner than expected. Maybe a deal to keep the Cheektowaga plant open. Or a $5,000 signing bonus, plus big checks to ease the transition to retirement or a lower-wage job.”

Getting the contract ratified at American Axle is much harder than the union’s efforts on behalf of GM, Ford and Chrysler last year, Walsh noted, because the UAW is now asking current workers to vote “in favor of slashing their own pay.”

For Gettelfinger, he continued, “to succeed in the tricky business of getting a concessionary contract at American Axle ratified, he must be the one to set the expectations if he hopes to be able to exceed them when he takes a tentative deal to the members.” Speaking for the corporate and political establishment in Detroit, Walsh concluded, “The hope here, for the future of all parties involved, is that he pulls it off.”


State gov't in end-run insult to voters

Sneaky anti-rent control measure on Calif. ballot

Janitors in West L.A. went out on strike. Autoworkers in Kansas went out on strike. An entire Spanish pro soccer team just went out on strike. California voters should hit the picket lines too. We vote, again, on June 3. Only two initiatives are on this ballot, but they are way, way beyond our "citizen first class" pay grade.

The vox-pop ballot plebiscites that ask us up-or-down questions about medical marijuana or the death penalty are swell. But when 15 million voters are asked to say yay or nay on complex matters that need months of hearings in the Legislature, or that wind up after the election mired for months in courts, let's just say no.

It's time to strike for better voting conditions, including:

* Ballot measures that don't require rocket science, brain surgery or forensic analysis to figure out.

* Gutsier legislators. Sacramento, stop these voting-booth train wrecks before they get to us. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger understood, after we whacked his initiatives, that voters are saying, "Don't come to us for every little thing ... you guys work it out." Sacramento, you've got the scalpel. All voters have is the blunt- instrument ballot. Don't make us club you again.

* Cartoons in the official voter information guide. (Seriously. A graphic novel telling of the real consequences of our vote would help immensely.)

Why a strike, with only Propositions 98 and 99 on the ballot? Because I'm tired of being played for a sucker on election day. Aren't you?

Proposition 98 sucker-punches us. It tantalizes us with something we like ("limits on government authority"). Then it scares us with words that make us uneasy ("eminent domain"). And then it flatters us that we don't have to be old dudes in buckled shoes to be Founding Voters ("initiative constitutional amendment").

It says 98 is all about limiting eminent domain, yet the proposed law barely whispers what it really wants to do. Its real mission is to end rent control in California forever, starting literally the morning after the election!

Proposition 98 isn't a Trojan horse -- it's a Trojan Rolls-Royce. Hiding in its belly are attack-ready platoons of multimillion-dollar property and landlord interests that are spending thousands to con us into giving them more millions. Because they haven't been able to browbeat lawmakers into repealing rent control laws, they're making an end-run to us voters, hoping we're too easily spooked to see through them. Insulted? It's only an insult if we prove they're wrong.

John Peterson is a Los Angeles lawyer, and the way he explained it to me, Californians already have more safeguards from eminent domain abuse than the rest of the nation. Property has to be found "blighted" before it can be targeted. Some cities won't use eminent domain on single-family homes, and some rural towns won't do eminent domain redevelopment. And some elements of eminent domain law are so "confusing and prone to being misinterpreted" that they have to be decided by a judge, not a jury (let alone a jury of 15 million voters).

This man, who represents people whose property faces being taken by eminent domain, thinks that Proposition 98, "as it's constituted, is really dangerous."

Here's another reason to sink Proposition 98. Like too many initiatives, it carries the "nuclear option." If it passes -- even by a single vote, no matter how low the turnout -- it automatically amends the state Constitution. Know what it takes to amend the U.S. Constitution? A two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and the approval of three-fourths of the 50 states.

But once something's in the state Constitution, you have to dynamite it out with a nearly impossible two-thirds vote of the Legislature and another majority vote of the public.

Initiatives like 98 shouldn't be getting to us voters in the first place. Proposition 99 is an alternative eminent domain measure with no rent control hidden agenda, but it's only on the ballot because Schwarzenegger and Dianne Feinstein and their allies had to give us a less thermonuclear alternative to 98.

The initiative process has been kidnapped. No more paying the ransom -- it's time to rescue it. Schwarzenegger agrees. When I interviewed him on KPCC-FM (89.3) radio recently, he told me, "I love the initiative process ... but the initiative system is also being abused," and it's time to change it.

So my final demand: a California constitutional convention. Hiram Johnson, another GOP governor whose ideas irked his own party, gave us the initiative, along with the recall and referendum. That happened on Oct. 10, 1911. For the 100th anniversary in 2011, let's repair the initiative so it can't be used as an instrument of deceit and a tool of the deceitful.


UAW strike v. GM Lansing ends week 4

GM cancels medical benefits for striking Delta Township workers

General Motors Corp. has cancelled the medical and life insurance benefits of workers on strike at the automaker's Delta Township factory near Lansing, the latest salvo in a month-long walkout at the factory. The United Auto Workers is picking up the tab for workers who show for picket line assignments, and their families. Members, however, have no dental or vision coverage. The last time GM canceled benefits for striking workers was during the Flint strikes of 1998.

The factory's 2,300 hourly workers walked off the job April 17, halting production of GM's popular crossover SUVs. They stopped receiving benefits as of midnight Wednesday, GM spokesman Dan Flores said this afternoon.

"We are well within out contractual rights to discontinue benefits for the duration of the strike," Flores said.

The UAW's national contract with GM allows the automaker to cancel benefits on the first of the month following a walkout. Under the provision, GM could have canceled the benefits as early as May 1.

GM is ensnared in labor disputes with several UAW locals across the country over plant-level contracts. A Kansas City, Kans. factory that builds the hot-selling Chevrolet Malibu sedan went on strike May 5 and another plant in Mansfield, Ohio has set a strike deadline of 10 a.m. Thursday.

In an online notice to members of UAW Local 602 in Delta Township, local President Doug Radamacher on Monday said union found GM's latest proposal "unacceptable."

"Our membership has met and surpassed every challenge set before us to launch this new plant and these new products," Radamacher said in an online statement. "We deserve more than verbal commitment that's only honored when convenient."

Striking workers who've lost their benefits are eligible for benefits under COBRA, the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which allows the employees to remain on their company's health plan for 18 months if the worker picks up the full cost of the monthly policy premium formerly paid by the employer.


SEIU Sues Own Members

Related Posts with Thumbnails