Decertified Steelworkers boycott United Way

One of the Lehigh Valley's labor unions urged residents and leaders of organized labor to end direct donations to United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (PA). A news release by United Steelworkers Local 2599 came on the day United Way held its annual Day of Caring event, which kicks off the agency's annual fundraising campaign.

The rift between the union and United Way stems from the spring, when secretarial workers at Bethlehem-based United Way voted 5-4 to decertify their membership with the Steelworkers. The union has contended that United Way management, specifically President Susan Gilmore, pressured the decertification.

On Tuesday, the Steelworkers group encouraged residents to make contributions to charitable members of United Way directly instead of giving money to United Way, which funnels the donations to some 150 agencies across the region. The union also called for Gilmore's resignation, saying among other things in the release that Gilmore has told dissatisfied workers to leave if they are unhappy at the agency.

United Way released a statement saying it is "saddened by continued negative statements" from the union.

"United Way's president and management team conducted themselves within legal and ethical guidelines regarding employee choices in union representation," the agency said. "The National Labor Relations Board carefully reviewed every step of the process, approved the process and dismissed as groundless a complaint filed by the (union)."

As for the union's call that Gilmore resign, United Way Chairman Lou Liebhaber said its board of directors "unwaveringly supports" her.

"She has brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise and passion that will pay enormous dividends for our community," Liebhaber said of Gilmore.

The secretaries union was the only organized labor body at United Way. The decertification happened shortly after Local 2599 helped the nine workers reach a new three-year labor contract. United Way employs about 35 people.


NC gives away taxes to save Teamster jobs

A shuttered Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant would devastate a regional economy already tattered by the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Charitable giving would drop, and property taxes and utility rates could go up. Some laid-off workers would lose their homes and plunge into bankruptcy. Contractors, stores and restaurants would see business dry up.

Although Goodyear has no plans to shut down its 38-year-old plant on Ramsey Street, the debate in Raleigh, NC over incentives has helped rekindle fears that the company could one day decide to move overseas. The debate reached a resolution Tuesday, when state legislators agreed on a compromise to offer Goodyear at least $30 million over 10 years.

But, as history has shown, nothing is certain as industries find themselves beset by cheaper imports and foreign labor.

Since 1969, Goodyear has been the linchpin of Cumberland County’s manufacturing base. With about 2,700 employees today, the plant formerly known as Kelly-Springfield is one of the area’s largest and richest-paying private employers in a community dominated by retail, military and government jobs.

Only the Smithfield Packing Co.’s hog-processing plant in Tar Heel, with 5,500 workers, is bigger in the Cape Fear region. But the typical Goodyear worker earns more than $50,000 — about twice what Smithfield pays.

Goodyear’s annual payroll totals $142 million, plus $97 million in benefits. All that money trickles far and wide into the economy.

Gary Cooper, interim president of the Cumberland County Business Council, said a consultant estimated that a company Goodyear’s size sustains 4,000 other jobs, pours $100 million into North Carolina coffers and creates $1 billion each year in overall economic activity.

If Goodyear closed? “It would be totally devastating,” Cooper said.

Glenn McQueen, who manages the Fayetteville office of the N.C. Employment Security Commission, said a loss of that magnitude could throw the county into recession. Unemployment here is 5.8 percent; the statewide rate is 5 percent.

“We don’t have anything to replace those wages in the county,” McQueen said.
Region comparison

According to state labor statistics, the average worker in the private sector in Cumberland earns $28,496 a year.

Put another way, the region would have to recruit more than 6,000 jobs to replace the lost wages of a Goodyear plant, according to the Southeastern Economic Development Commission in Elizabethtown.

The impact would ripple into neighboring counties where many Goodyear employees live. At least half of the workers live in Cumberland County.

Neighboring Harnett County weathered a similar crisis with about 3,000 jobs lost from various plant closings between the mid-1990s to 2001. By then, the jobless rate had skyrocketed to 8.2 percent.

“It was a belly punch,” said Lee Anne Nance, director of Harnett’s Economic Development Commission. “It was devastating.”

She said county officials had to reinvent their economy, hiring two consultants and developing three industrial parks. Today, unemployment is 5.5 percent.

The Goodyear plant was built during Cumberland’s golden industrial age between 1965 and 1976. In those years, almost 13,000 jobs were created when Purolator, DuPont, Goodyear, Black & Decker, Rohm & Haas and several textile mills settled in this part of the region.

Some of those companies have since left, most recently last year with Black & Decker laying off 675 people. Most of the jobs went to Mexico; the rest went to Tennessee.

The former Black & Decker building off U.S. 301 remains vacant.

Goodyear would qualify for the incentives approved Tuesday in the General Assembly if the company invests $200 million in upgrades to its plant. Goodyear intends to build more high-end specialty tires here. Most lower-grade tires are made offshore, in places such as China.

The improvements, however, likely would lead to fewer jobs in the long run.

Darryl Jackson is president of Local 959 of the United Steelworker’s Union, which represents about 1,800 workers at Goodyear. The union could accept some job losses through retirements and attrition if the investments saved the plant, he said.

But Jackson is not worried about a plant closing. A three-year labor union contract approved last year restricts Goodyear from laying off 10 percent of its workforce.

Layoffs would be based on seniority, Jackson said.

The company and union officials will negotiate a new contract in 2009. The union will fight to keep the same layoff restrictions, he said.

Jackson said Goodyear has a strong influence on the local economy, pointing to last year’s 86-day company-wide strike over a new labor contract.

“During the strike, a lot of people in other industries took a beating and were very close to looking at doing something else, because they didn’t have anybody to support their businesses,” he said.
Uncertainty of work

Len Wallace has made tires at Goodyear since 1997, when he left a Food Lion job. He is 43 and lives in Eastover.

“I wanted to improve my standard of living for my family,” he said.

Wallace and his wife, Charleen, have three sons. He works a 12-hour night shift. On his days off, he does landscaping work and clears construction sites.

“So if Goodyear does close, I won’t be wondering where I’ll go to,” he said. “I’ll have something else lined up.”


Oregon tattooed with the Union Label

Detroit automakers recently began one of the most critical rounds of labor negotiations in their history. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are all teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, in part due to high labor costs.

For example, according to manufacturers, every car they make contains a $1,500 premium due to labor health care costs that their Japanese competitors don't face.

The United Auto Workers have historically been one of the most powerful unions in the country, but previously negotiated benefits are likely to be reined in during the coming months due to growing competition. If American-made automobiles remain too expensive, the companies face the very real threat of mass layoffs or even collapse. This is the ultimate bargaining chip held by management, because a great contract with a dead company isn't worth anything to labor.

Market competition is the primary reason why private sector unionism has diminished to the point of irrelevance in America. Union membership in private workplaces peaked at 24% in the 1970s but dropped to just 7.4 percent last year. It will continue to decline as globalization increases.

Does that mean that the union movement is dead? Not at all. For the past three decades, union membership has flourished in the public sector. Public employee union participation went from 23 percent of the workforce nationally in 1973 to 36 percent last year. Oregon's public sector union rate is far higher, at roughly 50 percent.

Government workplaces are the perfect environment for union organizing because government entities are sheltered from most competition, and they have a monopoly on tax revenue. Therefore government agencies can accommodate union demands with little fear that they will lose their customer base or revenue stream.

For example, the largest single item in Oregon's general fund is public education, a highly unionized sector of the economy. This year, with a union-friendly legislature and a former labor lawyer as governor, the K-12 budget increased by $1 billion, or 17 percent. None of this money is available for private school education or home schools. Unionized school employees know this, and they also know that they have a 90 percent market share of all students because parents cannot get any refunds for bad service from government schools.

Therefore school employee unions can continue to bargain for, and receive, steady increases in pay and benefits because there is simply no market discipline. Less than half of this budget increase will reach the classroom in the form of smaller class size or added programs; the rest will go to increased pay and benefits. Two years from now, the process will repeat itself, with no end in sight for taxpayers forced to pay for services they may not want.

For these reasons, Oregon public sector unions are far more powerful than the private sector UAW. The UAW has already seen its best days; labor costs have made the Big Three automakers so uncompetitive that they will either gain concessions from the unions or cease to exist.

In contrast, Oregon public employee unions will continue to grow. In fact, they now have a new pro-union law known as "card-check." This allows unions to organize government agencies simply by convincing half of the eligible workers to sign a card stating they want to join the union.

Another new law allows a public sector union to organize the owners of adult
foster care homes, apparently on the thin rationale that they accept state
payments for some residents. This will stretch the reach of public union jurisdiction into workplaces that are actually private.

We have no objection to people voluntarily banding together into a labor association for the purpose of bargaining for higher compensation. Employees should always seek the best deal they can get. But in a competitive market, there is always a check on overreaching, which diminishes the power of a union. In Oregon's public sector, there is no market, and therefore no restraint.


Tennessee Teamster cop lied to investigators

A former Shelby County (TN) detective is part of a federal probe into illegal spying at a Mt. Juliet summer camp because he helped supply the cameras through his family's surveillance business, his attorney said Tuesday.

Joe T. Everson, who has resigned as a deputy, faces charges of lying to federal investigators who were investigating the probe through a task force, said Memphis-based attorney Ted Hansom.

Everson at first lied when he told agents he played no role in installing video surveillance cameras at the camp in Wilson County, according to the federal charges filed last week. "He then and there knew, he and others installed video surveillance cameras and equipment at the camp," according to a charge filed by federal prosecutors in Nashville.

But Everson revised his statements to investigators working with a task force that includes agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor, which investigates union issues, Hansom said.

The investigation into Everson follows the July arrest of former Metro police Lt. Calvin Hullett in Mt. Juliet.

Hullett was caught at the camp for underprivileged kids, run by the Nashville chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police each summer.

TBI officials said officers found a sophisticated surveillance operation at the camp, with cameras and a hard drive containing about 80 hours of video hidden near a cabin.

Investigation widens

After Hullett's arrest, investigators found material that led them to widen the probe into his connections to officers in Memphis, a TBI spokeswoman said.

The connection between Hullett and Everson through the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is now part of the investigation.

Hansom said he wasn't sure if Everson had ever met Hullett. Everson has been a member of the Shelby County Deputy Sheriffs Association, which affiliated with the Teamsters in June, Hansom said.

Hullett had been the FOP president here before he joined the Teamsters.

"What you've got to understand is (Everson's) involvement had nothing to do with his membership in the deputy sheriffs association," Hansom said. "His family members had a part-time business involving surveillance equipment and security things like that."

Hansom added that "a referral was made (to Everson's family's business) because he was known to them," but Hansom provided no other details.

A federal magistrate released Everson on his own recognizance.

"He is now spending time with his family and working towards straightening out what he felt was a mistake he made," Hansom said, referring to Everson.


A future of labor strikes, without unions

When a human resource manager told immigrant workers at the Cygnus soap and detergent factory on Chicago's far south side on July 25 that they had to prove their legal status within 15 days or be fired, they took matters into their own hands. The next day, 118 workers walked out and formed a picket line, going on strike even though no union represented them.

What followed is a scenario that is likely to become increasingly common as the country forges ahead with a new immigration enforcement mandate without comprehensive immigration reform.

Cygnus employee Francisco Reyes says he was told that if he and other workers couldn't prove that they were in the country legally by Aug. 10, they would be fired because in 2005 the Social Security Administration sent Cygnus a "no-match" letter saying that social security numbers being used by their workers didn't jibe with agency records. Further, says Reyes, the fired workers were expected to train replacements that were being brought in. Cygnus managers did not respond to multiple calls for comment.

"We had no choice but to go on strike," says Reyes in Spanish. A 39-year-old father of two, he has lived in this country 18 years.

No-match letters originated as an administrative tool to correct Social Security records, but have since been used as a red flag that a worker is undocumented. (See "No Match, No Mas," September). Although the letters explicitly state that they should not be used as a basis for firing, employers have frequently used the letters as an excuse—albeit an illegal one—to get rid of workers who are organizing or making waves.

After Congress failed to pass an immigration reform bill this summer, on Aug. 10 Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a government plan to increase workplace enforcement based on no-match letters. Increasing numbers of no-match letters will be sent out and employers must resolve the issue or fire the worker in question within 90 days or risk a heavy fine.

The new rule ignores the fact that the Social Security Administration database is estimated by the Office of the Inspector General to be only about 60 percent correct, with numerous errors related to married names and multiple names traditionally used by Latinos. Many Latinos with citizenship or permanent residency are likely to get no-match letters and possibly be fired under the new plan. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez described the plan as a way to highlight the need for broader immigration reform; but until that happens, workers and employers will be caught between a rock and a hard place.

The likely result is that employers will continue to skirt the law, and further exploit immigrant workers in the process. Arnaldo Garcia, human rights project director for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, notes that many employers faced with no-match letters—including a microbrewery he recently dealt with—simply fire their workers then rehire them under new names and social security numbers for less pay.

"They'll say 'You're my buddy, I'm going to fire and rehire you.'" Garcia says. "So the process starts all over again. They'll rehire them in different ways, or subcontract them, or just exploit them by paying them under the table without benefits."

In fact, 110 out of the 118 striking Cygnus workers were subcontracted employees hired through a temporary staffing agency, Total Staffing Solutions, even though most had worked there for two to nine years. Along with demanding their jobs back, the striking workers asked for higher wages - most made just $6.50 an hour - and that the company hire them all as permanent employees.

Without the help of a union or strike fund, the workers manned a picket line daily, foregoing badly-needed wages and braving the hottest days of summer. They got some support from unions - the International Association of Machinists District 8 expressed interest in organizing them, the UFCW Local 881 donated $500 and Teamsters truck drivers refused to cross the picket line.

The strike made an impact. "Yesterday, seven trailers left empty," says striking worker Evo, a 25-year-old from Mexico City, in Spanish, as he peered through a chain link fence at Cygnus workers hosing away sudsy residue from a spill on Aug. 9. "The new workers cause a lot of accidents. Now they have three or four stevedores in one line where there used to be one, because they can't work as fast as we did. The line is very hard—whites and blacks will leave after the first shift."

Evo and other workers reported working 10 to 12 hour days with abrasive chemicals, no safety equipment and poor ventilation. Evo lifted his soccer jersey to show off scars from chemical burns on his arms and chest. He said he coughs constantly from inhaling dust from the ingredients in powdered soap.

After two weeks on the picket line, the workers won a ground-breaking victory. A negotiator summoned by Cygnus' parent company, New York-based Marietta Corp., flew out to meet with workers and Cygnus managers. The company first offered to hire back the eight permanent Cygnus employees, but the permanent workers had agreed it was all or none. So after about four hours, the company consented to hire everyone back at their previous wages.

"This was 100 immigrant workers with no union beating a Fortune 500 company," says immigrant rights organizer Jorge Mujica.

"I'm realizing there must be many other companies in this situation," says worker Salvador Peres, 22, in Spanish, hanging out on the steps next to the company as the negotiations stretched on. "If we have a victory here, it could help others in the same situation."

Mujica describes the significance of the Cygnus victory with a Spanish expression about a "garbanzo de libra" - a pea that weighs a pound. He says this situation and others like it should be an impetus for unions to do a better job of organizing immigrants, and for union contracts to include language on how companies will deal with no-match letters. More importantly, it sends a message to employers that they fire workers based on no-match letters at their own risk.

"This should be a lesson for other companies not to screw up like this," Mujica says. "They give you a no-match letter, you go on strike. If you fire an undocumented worker you have to replace him with another undocumented worker, because no one else will work for these wages."


Picketers single out reopened, non-union grocer

Jim Mathews said he never expected to be walking a picket line asking people to boycott the IGA store in Hubbard, OH at which he worked for 11 years. Mathews, along with more than a dozen other members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880, has been walking in front of Nemenz IGA since Sunday, claiming that longtime workers under former ownership were not given the opportunity to get jobs under new management.

The former store, Patton IGA, closed in February. The Nemenz Corp., which owns a number of supermarkets in the area, reopened the IGA in the spring as a non-union operation. "The previous owner, Robert Patton, paid a good salary and provided health and other benefits," said Mathews, 64. "The health benefits were very helpful."

Efforts to reach the Nemenz Corp. were not unsuccessful.

Two years ago, Mathews' wife suffered heart failure, and this year, shortly before the store closed, she learned she had cancer.

"It has been very hard, since we no longer have health insurance," he said.

Tammy Takash, 46, a 23-year employee of the IGA, said most of the employees were not given the opportunity to work.

"I applied twice," she said. "I didn't get a phone call to do an interview."

Supporters of Nemenz IGA, 880 W. Liberty St., distributed a letter to area residents stating that H.P. Nemenz Corp. "... made a commitment that no one was willing to make."

The sponsor of the letter, which calls itself, "McConnell Enterprises," noted that Nemenz IGA is not the only nonunion grocery store in the area. The letter identified Devine's Shop and Save, Giant Eagle on Belmont Ave., and Mr. D's in Brookfield as other all nonunion stores.

Since Nemenz's opening, Nemenz IGA has sponsored security in the Fun Fest and sponsored the St. Pat's Parade.

"They offered us jobs, tax income and utility usage, but most of all competitively priced merchandise which helps our money go further in this less than perfect economy," the letter said.

Only one former Patton IGA employee was hired by Nemenz Corp. to work at the Hubbard store. That person no longer works at the store, UFCW Local 880 President Gary Weitzel said.

The grocery store was a locally owned operation that during its prime employed more than 100 union employees. When it closed in February, there were 40 to 45 union employees, Weitzel said.

"That decision put a lot of Hubbard residents out of work" Weitzel said. "These people were loyal. They worked with the former owner. They attempted to work with him by not accepting scheduled pay raises."

Weitzel said the store's former owner agreed to pay his employees for severance and vacation, but did not pay either.

"We are pursuing litigation in federal court and filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board," Weitzel said.


Hungering for United Airlines workers' dues

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is leading an organizing drive aimed at taking over representation of United Airlines mechanics from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. The Teamsters are collecting authorization cards from mechanics and plan to file for an election.

The move by the Teamsters highlights the differences between a specialized union focused on a particular trade and a broader labor movement with different types of workers pooling influence and resources to gain leverage against employers.

AMFA, whose national headquarters is in Aurora, is a craft union focusing only on mechanics and related workers at several airlines around the country. Larger unions such as the Teamsters represent a variety of employees, such as mechanics, flight attendants and pilots for airlines. AMFA took over representation of United mechanics from the International Association of Machinists in 2003, in the midst of United's bankruptcy. Relations between the two unions have been tumultuous.

"AMFA focuses on mechanics' issues," said AMFA assistant national director Steve MacFarlane. In a union such as the Teamsters or the IAM, "your interest as a mechanic or your interest as a baggage handler is diminished because they represent many, many groups."

Supporters of the Teamsters believe the union has more power to try to prevent increased outsourcing of maintenance work. United has outsourced some of its maintenance work, furloughing many mechanics. The number of working AMFA members has been whittled down from about 8,000 in 2003 to roughly 5,500 now.

At Northwest Airlines, an AMFA strike failed to disable the carrier as Northwest brought in replacement workers. Many Northwest mechanics lost their jobs, and AMFA lost some clout and moved its headquarters from Laconia, N.H., to Aurora.

United is considering selling ownership of its maintenance division, which has put the effort "on the fast track," said Richard Petrovsky, a United mechanic in San Francisco and chairman of a group called the Committee for Change, which is working on the Teamsters campaign.

Teamsters organizer Anne Theurer said UPS and Continental Airlines workers represented by the Teamsters are helping with the organizing campaign at United. With United Airlines chief executive Glenn Tilton pushing for industry consolidation in recent years, Continental has been discussed as a potential merger partner by industry observers.

The IAM has collected cards among United mechanics but has no active campaign because of concern that an election could lead to deunionization of the mechanics at United, according to IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi. If less than a majority of members including furloughed mechanics vote, United mechanics would lose union representation entirely.

Scott Brown, a United mechanic based in Denver who is helping with the Teamsters campaign, said that risk is "a huge concern."

But, he said, "you either take a risk like this ... or you don't and you end up in the same boat in the next round of negotiations."

Brown said his interests in better job security and a pension are the reasons he is helping with organizing efforts for the Teamsters. He said he hopes if the Teamsters represent United mechanics, they could negotiate their multiple-employer pension plan into a new mechanics labor contract with United.

"Given their resources, (AMFA has) done what they can do," particularly while in the difficult circumstances of bankruptcy, Brown said.

Negotiating an agreement including scope language to prevent outsourcing is "a steep hill," Brown said. But, "we stand a better chance with a larger organization" with more resources such as attorneys and financial experts.

Petrovsky did not disclose how many authorization cards have been collected so far but said the group is aiming to collect cards representing more than 65 percent of members before filing for an election.

"I don't think it's just a matter of if it's going to happen; I think it's a matter of when," Petrovsky said.


SEIU hikes dues 50% in California

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