Employee costs dumped on UAW

The auto industry, including the parts sector, has decided to dump health care coverage on the unions. The July 6 agreement between the Dana Corporation, a major worldwide producer of axles and other vital parts, has begun the process, which presents a danger and a challenge to the organized labor movement.

Central to the proposed settlement, through which Dana hopes to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by year’s end, is the establishment of a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA), which will be controlled and administered by the union.

For decades autoworkers have engaged in collective bargaining over not only wages but a wide range of benefits from pensions and health care coverage to vacations, holidays and income security during layoffs. It is generally understood that benefits are a form of deferred wages - compensation different in form but not in essence.

Because health care is so important for workers and their families, the UAW has over the years made wage concessions—deferrals—to offset rising medical costs and maintain the level of coverage members are accustomed to. Most recently workers at Ford and GM agreed to forgo a dollar an hour in previously negotiated annual raises and cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) increases.

Since 1964, in all but two contracts, the union agreed to divert part of the COLA and apply it to health coverage. With all of the horse trading that has gone on in negotiations over the years, it’s been with a mutual understanding that employers were responsible for insuring employees to shield them from prohibitive medical costs. At what cost? The concessions have led to the overall downsizing of the living standards of auto workers.
What is a VEBA?

VEBA is a trust established to fund workers’ and retirees’ benefits. A trust is a transfer of something of value to another party—in this case the UAW. VEBA will be responsible for the dispersing of funds for health care. The UAW will become the trustee of those funds giving the union control of the assets. The retirees and disabled will be the beneficiaries of those assets. They must be protected if the deal is consummated. Dana is contributing $700 million in cash and $80 million in stock in seed money to start up the VEBA.

While legal since 1928, VEBAs were relatively uncommon and became a topic of widespread discussion only with this year’s settlement of the Goodyear strike. Goodyear agreed to make an initial contribution of $1 billion to establish the fund, but the fund is to be run by the United Steel Workers and relieves the company of all future pension liabilities.

Dana is the first auto parts supplier to require its unions to take full responsibility for providing health care to retirees and disabled. Dana’s plan in creating a VEBA is to dump the rising health costs onto the union, which they believe will save them millions when they come out of bankruptcy in September. Dana plans to close eight North American plants and sell several manufacturing units if the deal goes through.

Centerbridge, a Wall Street private-equity firm and one that lost the bidding war over Chrysler, is paying Dana $500 million to acquire a 25-percent stake in ownership. The union must challenge this ownership of a private equity corporation. Herein lies the struggle over property rights and control.

The bosses are all too happy about the potential of VEBAs as long as the UAW bureaucracy blesses them. JP Morgan said that profits will rise if auto companies convert union retiree health care liability into a fund run by the UAW. (Detroit News, July 10). They believe that VEBA will force the UAW to impose health care cuts.

For the unions, the risks are tremendous, as the VEBA could become underfunded, forcing a union that is the administrator of the trust to make benefit cuts.

If the union remains passive on this critical issue, the squeals of joy in Detroit boardrooms and on Wall Street will be deafening. If the trend becomes widespread, this could put the health care of a half-million UAW workers at the mercy of huge debt to cover the rising costs. The Big Three, bankers, private equity companies and the medical-industrial complex will be the big winners. Collective bargaining between the Big Three and the UAW begins next week when Ford and Chrysler meet with the union. GM follows a few days later. VEBA will be at the top of the agenda.

For the UAW to promote VEBAs is a form of class collaboration that is dangerous to the organized labor movement. However, the assets contained within the VEBA, combined with the value created by the decades of labor power of retirees and their deferred wages and benefits, can be translated into a form of property rights, an early stage of workers control. Through the VEBA the UAW should exercise its rights over Dana’s property as collateral for rising health care costs and an underfunded benefit.

It is time for the labor movement in defense of the UAW in the coming negotiations to mobilize the vast numbers of rank-and-file workers and retirees to protect health care and jobs—a property right—by any means necessary. The health care crisis is permeating all sectors of the workers and the oppressed nationalities, including community groups, immigrant rights organizations and the anti-war movement. Health care is a universal right and demands a universal and united response.


Teamster police union rep is a convicted felon

Nashville-Davidson County Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said he had no idea a convicted felon is one of the union representatives for many of his officers. He said, “I don't know his name. I've never met him.” Joe Bennett is the man at the center of the latest controversy involving the Teamsters. Bennett was booked into jail over a decade ago and now works to represent Metro's men and women in blue.

News 2 obtained documents showing details of Bennett's arrest in Hickman County. In 1989, he was convicted of conspiracy to take human life and solicitation to commit murder for hiring a hit man. He served time in prison. Chief Serpas said, “The Teamsters were elected by the officers over a year ago to be their reps in relationships with the government.”

When the Teamsters were elected, many police officers didn't know the Teamsters local chapter employs a convicted felon. “Not only is it morally wrong to be involved in an organization who employ convicted felons, it's also against our policy to associate with convicted felons,” said one Metro officer who is a member of the Teamsters.

Chief Serpas said he's never heard of Bennett, but stands by his policy that his officers should not associate with convicted felons.

News 2: “If there are convicted felons that deal with Metro Police, are you concerned because it is policy to not do business with convicted felons?
Serpas: “Yeah, that's the first I’m hearing that. I’m never met with him… so he's not presented himself to me as a representative of the police officers.”

Bennett is the teamsters local 327 secretary-treasurer.

“To know a man who conspired to commit murder have access to my financial information bothers me. He might use that money for personal gain,” said the Metro officer.

News 2: “Police doesn't do business with convictedfelons?”
Serpas: ”I believe that to be true.”

Bennett and the Teamsters were not available for comment.


SEIU taking over in Ohio

In the past four years, the SEIU in Ohio has grown by about 5,000 members. Local 1199 has about 27,000 members, including roughly 15,000 health care workers in the private sector. Most of the rank and file come from Ohio, although about 2,000 members are from West Virginia and Kentucky. Included in the membership rolls is an affiliate, SEIU Local 3, based in Cleveland.

Growing political clout: Political action committees for SEIU 1199 and other SEIU units have given large donations to statewide and legislative candidates in Ohio. In 2006, the PACs gave $134,800 to Ted Strickland as well as about $1.6 million to the Ohio Democratic Party.


SEIU fights to protect sick-time routine

A La Crosse, WI city workers union is fighting the city’s attempt to impose a stricter attendance policy. “You can’t change the contract unless you bargain it,” said Rich Smith, president of Service Employees International Union Local 180. “We’re going to ask for something in return.” Smith said the union, which represents about 185 workers, is going to file a prohibited labor practice complaint against the city.

Smith said the policy in the existing contract says SEIU employees have to call in when they take sick leave. Each department handles call-ins differently, Smith said. Under Geissner’s new policy, an employee would have to notify their supervisor or the supervisor’s designee before the start of a shift, unless incapacitated.

Earlier this month, the La Crosse Common Council authorized Personnel Director Jim Geissner to institute a new attendance policy for SEIU workers after getting a report showing workers in that bargaining unit took more sick leave than transit workers and non-union workers.

Geissner said the attendance policy doesn’t change the entitlements in the union’s contract, it just spells out how they’re administered. The proposed policy also includes penalties for employees who are chronically late to work and limits when employees can leave their jobs for medical appointments.

Geissner said a similar policy the city put in place for the transit workers union is working.

In 2006, transit workers took sick leave an average 3.3 times, while SEIU workers took it 8.3 times and non-union workers took it 2.7 times. However, SEIU workers took fewer hours of sick leave each time. Non-union workers took an average of 8.7 hours, while transit workers took 8.5 hours and SEIU workers took 5.3 hours.

SEIU workers took an average of 44.1 hours of sick leave in 2006, while transit workers took 27.9 hours and non-union workers took 23.6 hours.

SEIU workers earn one day of sick leave each month, up to 120 days, and when they retire or die, the city will make a lump sum payment equal to 45 percent of those unused days. Police and firefighters can also accumulate 120 sick days, but beyond that they get annual bonuses based on extra unused days.

Police and firefighters were not included in the study because Geissner said absenteeism isn’t a problem.


Gov't unions step up cash gifts to local politicos

Races for Niagara County Legislature this year already seem to have the usual sleepy contests where little if any money will be spent. Then there’s the 3rd District, which features three candidates, one of which has raised over $10,000 this year. The position itself pays $15,075. “I’m actually very happy I was able to raise that amount of money,” said Jason Cafarella, a Democrat who is not his party’s chosen candidate. “I think it’s important to be able to run the campaign I want to run, but by and large this race is more about meeting the voter and going door to door.”

The district is located in the center of Niagara Falls. Cafarella is a lawyer and a city firefighter. Of the $10,984 he raised — far more than any other Legislature candidate who filed financial disclosure reports so far — he received $3,400 from four firefighter organizations, $5,934 from individuals and $1,000 from Laborer’s Local 91. He also received $125 from Mayor Vince Anello’s campaign fund. He has $4,356 on hand.

Meanwhile, the endorsed Democrat, Mario Tonellato, raised just $983 and spent more than $2,000, leaving him with a deficit of $1,087.

Tonellato said he isn’t discouraged.

“We’re competitive with our message and we’re competitive with what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re campaigning very hard.”

Republican Randal Ubriaco, who is running in the Third District, has not filed disclosure forms with the board.

In another race that’s expected to be competitive, in the 15th District, Independence Party member Tony Nemi raised just over $6,000 and has $1,325 on hand, while incumbent Democrat Harry Apolito has just over $1,000 on hand.

Financial disclosure reports from active candidates and political committees across the state were to be filed or postmarked by Monday, according to the state calendar.

If candidates didn’t file financial statements it could be because they haven’t spent or raised enough money, according to elections officials.

In the war between the county’s two major political parties, Democrats have double what the Republicans have in the bank but raised far less overall.

Niagara County Republicans have been busy fundraising, bringing in $163,616 over the last six months, while Democrats brought in just $25,228.

Republicans spent a lot of money on donating to various candidates, holding fundraisers and paying consultants, and have $24,340 heading into the fall campaign season.

Democrats have over $49,000 on hand.

Among donations to Republicans from politicians and the many lawyers who benefit from county employment was a few others, including $29,000 from Smokin’ Joe’s and $15,000 from Laborers Local 91.

Other donations were from Auctions International, a Cheektowaga company that donated $5,000 and conducted the county auction of surplus equipment for the past two years and $5,000 from Damon and Morey, a law firm that handles Mount View matters for the county.

Flexcare donated $5,000, as did Anthony McKenna of Wendel Duchscherer.

Democrats received $5,000 from former Congressional candidate Jack Davis, $1,500 from SEIU, a union representing health care workers and $2,000 from the United Auto Workers.

In the Legislature’s First District, incumbent Jason Murgia has $4,138 on hand. He was helped by a $200 donation from county Republicans, who have endorsed Murgia, a Democrat, over Republican Richard Marasco.

Murgia also received a $100 donation from former State Sen. Marc Coppola, a Buffalo Democrat.

Murgia’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Jerry Genova, has $1,330 on hand.

Genova raised $2,095 so far, in part because of contributions from City Councilman Lewis “Babe” Rotella and Council candidate Nicholas Ligammari.

Marasco has not filed papers with the board.

In the Second District, challenger Candace Corsaro, a Democrat, raised $1,300 so far but has just $114.51 on hand.

Incumbent Renae Kimble hasn’t raised any money and has $81.25 on hand.

In the Sixth District, located in the town of Niagara, challenger Robert LaBarbera and incumbent Danny Sklarski didn’t raise any money, or spend any money.

LaBarbera has $24.77 on hand and Sklarski has $979.72 on hand, but has $2,763 in outstanding loans.

In the Seventh District, incumbent Republican Gerald Farnham has not filed any report, and challenger Roger Chenez has received $1,100 from county Democrats and loaned his committee $1,500. Chenez has raised $4,833 and has $2,747 on hand.

In the Eighth District, incumbent William Ross filed a notice that he hasn’t raised or spent $1,000.

In the Ninth District, located in North Tonawanda, Andrea McNulty, a Democrat who was appointed to the seat by Republicans, raised $2,287 total, including $300 from outgoing Legislator Rebecca Cuddahee and $150 from Sen. George Maziarz. McNulty has not spent any money.

In Lewiston, Democrat Jerry Mosey, who is running for Legislature in the 12th District against Republican John Ceretto, raised $3,160 and has $2,177 on hand.

Matthew Murphy loaned his campaign $6,300 and so far has spent the money on supporting other candidates and other campaign expenses. Murphy is seeking a county judgeship and is running on all lines.


SEIU national janitor campaign arrives in Cincy

Next week could be make or break time for Greater Cincinnati's burgeoning "Justice for Janitors" movement to get better wages and benefits for the workers who clean area office buildings.

The local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) voted July 14 to authorize a strike if ongoing contract negotiations with cleaning companies aren't successful. Negotiations will next occur in a two-day session July 25-26, according to Lynda Tran, a union spokeswoman.

About 200 janitorial workers attended the strike authorization vote, and the vast majority favored granting the authority to local SEIU leaders in a visual vote, Tran adds. The decision means the union representing more than 1,200 janitors who clean the majority of the region's office space could call for a strike at any time, if deemed necessary.

Janitors have been called "America's invisible workers" because they often perform their tasks in high-rise corporate office towers before white-collar employees arrive for the business day or after they have left.

SEIU has coordinated similar campaigns to organize janitors in various U.S. cities over the past few years including Boston, Indianapolis, Seattle and Houston. Without better wages and benefits for the workers, the United States is increasingly beginning to "resemble a Third World country," one union leader says.

The union's local chapter formed in December and has been negotiating with area cleaning companies since March.

Leaders are seeking increased pay and better access to health care for its members.

Words fly as writers union bargaining slows

After just two contract negotiating sessions, a war of words between the Writers Guild of America and studio producers has gone public, yet the guild's negotiating committee chair insisted Wednesday that he remains optimistic about reaching an agreement. "We are confident that if our management partners in the negotiations bargain reasonably, we can bring to our membership a strong contract for approval," committee chair John Bowman said.

The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers won't meet again until next week at the earliest as they seek to strike a new minimum bargaining agreement to replace a film and TV pact set to expire Oct. 31. The parties took Tuesday off for separate caucusing about the exchange of proposals that marked Monday's opening bargaining session, then reconvened at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.

Bowman offered his assessment in a hastily called news conference marking the end of Wednesday's session. But despite those remarks, virtually nothing else said at the news conference -- a highly unusual event so early in guild-producer contract talks -- indicated any basis for optimism.

The notion of a press blackout during the talks -- something that has marked most recent Hollywood contract talks -- "hadn't come up" since the negotiations began Monday, Bowman said.

Asked why the guild was going public so early with its brief presentation of the WGA case for various compensation boosts, he said, "When you have the facts on your side, you like to communicate that."

Meanwhile, the AMPTP has called for a study on new-media compensation before discussing Internet residuals, but that was "more of a stall than a study," the WGA committee chair said. An alternate management proposal to revise current formulas for film and TV residuals was "more of a threat than an actual realistic position," he said.

Late Wednesday, AMPTP president Nick Counter said that the study proposal had been withdrawn.

"While we believe the WGA's rejection of a study is short-sighted and self-destructive, we did give them that option," Counter said. "The study would not only give us valuable insight into the new world and its impact on traditional media but also would give us insight on how to deal with the challenges and opportunities, while continuing to compensate writers under the current provisions and side-letters to their 2004 contract."

The AMPTP intends to bargain in good faith on the remaining proposals, he added. "We are committed to negotiating a deal that is fair to everyone," Counter said.

Bowman dismissed -- with support from a slide presentation showing certain profit projections for studio conglomerates -- any suggestion that the entertainment business is less profitable than before. He also denied that new-media businesses are too fledgling to tap for additional residuals.

"The future is here," Bowman said at the news conference, held at WGA West headquarters in Los Angeles. "It's right now, and it's very bright."

Bowman, a veteran of past WGA-AMPTP negotiations, said he felt that talks were going "about as usual" so far.

"It's very early," process first-timer and WGAW president Patric Verrone told a reporter. "We didn't want to negotiate early because we felt they wouldn't be ready to negotiate seriously. And even 3 1/2 months early, they don't seem ready to negotiate."

WGAW exec director David Young didn't attend the news conference, having lingered in Encino to try to work out a date for the next bargaining session. That wasn't immediately possible, however, as AMPTP has to work around contract talks it already booked with the Teamsters for next week.

Bowman was joined at the news conference by negotiating committee members including writer-director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls"), who criticized the proposal to move to profit-based residuals.

"On my last statement for (the 2002 hit movie) 'Chicago,' it's $70 million-$80 million in the red," Condon said. "That's very typical."

The AMPTP has based its proposal not on the net profitability of film and TV projects but on the recoupment of production, distribution and marketing costs. That's still too complicated an accounting process to tie to residuals, Bowman said.

"There's a lot of stuff that's dumped into production costs," he said. "The idea that we could all agree on what the production costs are is absurd."

It's understood that Wednesday's bargaining session became heated at times, though much of what was discussed was a fairly formal exchange of perspectives.

The day's presentations included one by Carol Lombardino, the AMPTP's executive vp business and legal affairs. She pressed the studio's case for delaying the payments of any residuals until costs on individual film and TV projects can be recouped.

"The source of our difficulties lies with the rapid technological and commercial changes that have been and are occurring within this industry," Lombardino said. "We as an industry feel compelled to respond to the competition that grows around us everyday, to manage our businesses in a prudent and responsible way, and to do everything in our power to continue the operation of our businesses and to support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.

"That is why, as we respond to your proposals, no one should think (that) the industry blames writers for the current business conditions or that the industry's unwillingness to agree to new financial commitments reflects a lack of regard and appreciation for the job that writers do," she said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. No one should entertain even for a moment the notion that we consider the talents and efforts of writers to be insignificant."

The AMPTP issued copies of the executive's statement to the press.


No guarantee of peaceful UFCW deal in NoCal

The labor peace that's descended on Southern California's contentious supermarket industry may or may not spread to Northern California. After seven months of often difficult negotiations, Southern California's big grocery chains reached a tentative agreement late Tuesday on a four-year contract with the union representing 65,000 employees, avoiding a repeat of the disastrous strike of 2003-04.

Although details weren't released, a labor analyst said the contract appears to reverse some of the concessions the union made in the last walkout. The analyst, Kent Wong of UCLA's tax-funded Center for Labor Research and Education, said Tuesday's tentative settlement could effect contract negotiations later this year in Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Mainstream grocers seem to be holding their own against low-cost rivals like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and have become "less strident" about cutting labor costs than they were during the last contract negotiations, he said.

A report by Willard Bishop consultants said traditional grocers' sales jumped 2.6 percent nationwide last year, thanks to a focus on specialty items like organic foods.

"A chance of a Northern California walkout is somewhat less likely" because of the pattern set in Southern California, said Burt Flickinger III, an independent retail consultant from New York.

But a peaceful settlement isn't guaranteed in Northern California. Ron Lind, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers in San Jose, said the recent shakeout in the industry means there's only one grocery chain serving both Southern and Northern California: Safeway Inc. Three years ago, a number of supermarket chains covered both territories.

And Flickinger said low-cost competitors like Wal-Mart appear to have made greater inroads in Northern California than in Southern California. That could prompt grocers in Sacramento and the Bay Area to take a tougher line on negotiations, he said.

Jacques Loveall, president of the UFCW local in Roseville, said grocery workers are entitled to "substantial gains in their contract." Loveall's local, UFCW 8-Golden State, represents 30,000 workers in the Central Valley.

During the last contract negotiations in Northern California, a strike was avoided and workers agreed to some concessions, although they weren't as steep as in Southern California.

Current Sacramento-area contracts expire in October (for Raley's, Safeway Inc. and Save Mart Supermarkets) and December (for Raley's Bel Air subsidiary). Bay Area contracts expire in December.

Despite the tense nature of the Southern California contract talks, both sides clearly wanted to avoid another strike. The 2003-04 walkout cost the grocers billions in revenue -- as shoppers went elsewhere for food -- and left the workers with a contract they clearly disliked.

"Nobody wanted a strike here," said George Whalin, a retail consultant in San Marcos. "The cost of going through another strike was too high."

The Southern California grocers -- Safeway's Vons, Supervalu Inc.'s Albertsons and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs Grocery -- confirmed a settlement was reached but wouldn't discuss details.

The contract is "mutually beneficial" and will help grocers "remain competitive in the Southern California market," said Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for the companies.

Employees will vote Sunday on the tentative contract.

The agreement partially erases the two-tier structure that became a sticking point last time. The structure leaves newly hired workers with permanently lower wages and benefits.

Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the UFCW in Southern California, confirmed that the gap between the two tiers has been narrowed but wouldn't provide details.

Shimpock said the old contract resulted in huge employee turnover, hurting customer service. "It only makes sense that (the grocers) would want to stabilize the work force," he said.


Can Ohio Gov. decree a management union?

By signing Executive Order 2007-23S, Gov. Ted Strickland brought forth a new collective-bargaining group in Ohio. Can he really do that? Republican lawmakers question whether it's legal for the governor to give independent home health-care workers the option of forming a union that would be recognized by the state. "What he has done, despite all the fancy footwork, is to attempt to authorize by executive order a union of business owners," said Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican and lawyer.

"An association of independent contractors getting together to collectively determine reimbursement is called price fixing. That brings federal antitrust laws into play." Seitz questions Strickland's assertion that Tuesday's executive order alone can exempt the union from federal antitrust laws. But Strickland said yesterday, "We think we're on very solid legal grounds here."

The Democratic governor also brushed aside GOP criticism that he was rewarding labor-union contributors and supporters. He already has gotten heat after his appointees paved the way for union-scale (prevailing) wages in school-building contracts, and when he unsuccessfully pushed a moratorium on new charter schools, a move highly popular with teachers unions.

"I guess I'm not surprised at the criticism, but the fact is that I think what I've done is reasonable and makes a lot of sense," Strickland said. "The people that provide these in-home services, I think, deserve the same opportunity to have representation that the workers who work in the nursing-home facilities have."

Many of the state's 7,000 independent home health-care workers -- the ones who look after low-income elderly and disabled Ohioans -- say Strickland's order gives them a long-awaited opportunity to address concerns about pay, benefits and working conditions.

Russ Kamin of Toledo said he and other home-care workers meet each year with state officials in Columbus for updates on changes in Medicaid-funded care programs.

"Each year we would ask about a raise and getting insurance and, basically, they were telling us it wasn't going to happen," he said. "A lot of us got ticked and a lot of us quit."

The more the workers shared stories about their jobs, the more apparent it became that creating a union to get some leverage with the state might be the answer, Kamin said. Workers are paid $24 for the first hour and $12 for each subsequent one, before taxes. They get no health insurance or other benefits.

"The state isn't going to listen to four or five people trying to raise their wages, but they are going to listen to 7,000 of us," he said.

Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey acknowledged that allowing union representation through executive order sets a precedent for Ohio, one that could be undone by a future governor.

"Perhaps this is novel in Ohio, but it occurred in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan by executive order," Dailey said.

The governor's right to set up the collective-bargaining framework for these unrepresented workers stems simply from his authority as the state's chief executive, Dailey said.

Home health-care workers were on the Strickland administration's radar six months before the executive order.

His administration, citing a legal loophole, is ignoring the GOP-controlled legislature's exclusion of home care (and farm) workers from the state minimum wage.

Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment last fall boosting the hourly minimum from $5.15 to $6.85.

GOP lawmakers protested loudly, but nothing came of the dust-up with Strickland.

Jennifer Farmer, spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union District 1199, said Ohio is not the first state to allow independent workers to organize.

In May, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed an executive order allowing thousands of child-care providers to organize, and two years ago, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich did the same.

In other states, including Washington, Oregon, California and Michigan, workers have gained similar rights through ballot initiative, intergovernment agreement and legislative action, Farmer said.


One view of why unions are in decline

Dear Editor: Most Americans earn between $15 and $20 dollars an hour, while union members draw as much as five times as much. So why is trade union membership falling so swiftly? Less than 8 percent of the private sector workforce belongs to a trade union. You would think that all workers would want to get a $100,000 a year wage increase. Signing a union wage and benefit package has turned into a “kiss of death” for many employers. Ironically, it’s not the employers who refuse to pay union wages; it’s the consumers, who are unable or unwilling to pay “union” wages.

Toyota, which has 10 plants in the United States, is not unionized. Toyota buyers get their Camrys assembled for $1,500 dollars less than Ford Taurus buyers pay to get their Ford assembled. What do the Ford buyers get for that extra $1,500 dollars? Not a higher quality car. Raising the cost of foreign made products will not save the unions. They cannot compete in the domestic market, let alone the global market.

Jim Purtzer


Steelworkers strike, shut NY box manufacturer

The Climax Manufacturing Co. shut down its Lowville plant indefinitely after 150 union workers went on strike Wednesday. "We have no future (contract negotiation) dates planned at this point," said Michael Bellmore, the United Steel Workers International Union, Local 1888 boss. The plant's labor contract expired June 30, but both sides agreed to an extension to allow time for a new agreement to be reached, Bellmore said.

But on Wednesday workers voted down a final offer from the paperboard and packaging company. Company officials have since "indicated to me they weren't interested in extending the contract" and pulled their offer, Bellmore said. The main conflict for union members was wages.

Company officials were unable to be reached late Wednesday. The 103-year-old company, now in its fifth generation of family ownership, has had its headquarters in Lowville since 1988. The company has about 275 employees, most of whom work in Lowville. A West Carthage plant employs about 70 people, many of whom are also represented by USU.


Nurses union pickets Mass. hospital

“Be fair to those who care.” Those are the words of about 100 nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital. Wednesday, the union picketed outside the hospital to send a strong message to the management. The union has been negotiating a new contract with the hospital since January. And with no solution in sight yet, some nurses who've worked there more than 30 years say they feel let down.

This is the first time in ten years employees with the Massachusetts Nurses Association say they've been forced to the picket lines at North Adams Regional Hospital. Union members and hospital management can't come to an agreement on the workers' pension plans. Nurses say the new plan would force them to pay more toward their retirement, up to 5% and they can't afford it. Hospital spokesman Paul Hopkins wouldn't get into the details but says it's going to cost the facility more than a million dollars to keep the current plan going, money he says, that's not there.

Through signs, chants and billboards, the nurses are trying to get the attention and support of the patients they serve. One nurse told me there's a shortage in her field as it is. And if these changes go through, the hospital could have a tough time recruiting new nurses and keeping who they have.

“We all have that option. There’s other hospitals close by and we all need to protect our financial security,” said Ruth O’Hearn, a registered nurse.

“We’re conscious of the fact that there are other hospitals within our region and that nurses are in demand. And we understand our obligation and we take it seriously to continue to provide competitive wages and salaries, benefits and a retirement plan,” said Hospital spokesman Paul Hopkins.

About nine months ago workers at a hospital in Worcester went on strike for a similar issue. Nurses at North Adams do not want it to come to that here, though they say they'd be prepared if they had to. There is another negotiation session scheduled for Thursday.


Solidarity rally for PA strikers

More than 140 garment workers at Tama Manufacturing, who have been on strike for more than a month to demand better wages and benefits, were congratulated and encouraged today by their union peers for their stamina and display of unity. About 200 people, including union officials representing firefighters, postal workers and steelworkers, attended a rally at Coplay Parkway to energize the workers who have been walking a picket line outside the Hanover Township, Lehigh County plant through heat and thunderstorms. Several workers said they are proud of the union solidarity they have displayed, but the prolonged strike is taking a financial toll.

"It's driving me nuts," said Kathy Eisenhard, of Northampton, who has worked at Tama for 19 years as a trimmer. "Money. Not getting a paycheck every week."

Northampton resident Audrey Bancroft, a pocket-setter who has worked at Tama for 22 years, said workers have bonded on the picket line.

"Everybody's spirits are up," she said. "But some of the girls are talking about how much their money will last."

The strike underscores difficulties in the area's dwindling textile sector, which has been decimated as more clothes purchased in America are made in other countries with cheaper labor.

The workers said they have taken pay cuts and made other concessions over the past several years to help Tama get through tough times. Now that the company has a $21.9 million contract to make uniforms for the Department of Defense, the company has to share with its workers, they said.

The privately held, family-owned company has been in business since the 1940s. It makes women's slacks and skirts, including items sold under the Alfred Dunner label, at its Race Street plant.

The average employee makes about $18,000 a year, according to the Unite Here union. The company has offered 2 percent raises in each of the next three years, union members said. But workers said they would lose ground because they'd be required to pay $170 a month for medical benefits that are now entirely paid by their employer. So the average worker would get an extra $360 pay in the first year, but shell out more than $2,000 a year in health insurance premiums, workers said.

Related Posts with Thumbnails