Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Bill Easing Unionizing Is Under Heavy Attack

Posted in labor, worker rights by allisonkilkenny on January 9, 2009

New York Times

Workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, N.C., in 2006. They voted to unionize last month. (Raul Rubiera/Fayetteville Observer, via AP)

Workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, N.C., in 2006. They voted to unionize last month. (Raul Rubiera/Fayetteville Observer, via AP)

WASHINGTON — Intent on blocking organized labor’s top legislative goal, corporations are quietly contributing to lobbying groups with appealing names like the Workforce Fairness Institute and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.

These groups are planning a multimillion-dollar campaign in the hope of killing legislation that would give unions the right to win recognition at a workplace once a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. Business groups fear the bill will enable unions to quickly add millions of workers and drive up labor costs.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a federation of 500 business groups, ran a full-page advertisement on Wednesday that sought to discredit the legislation, called the Employee Free Choice Act. The advertisement said that if secret ballots were good enough to elect Barack Obama then they should be good enough for union members, too.

Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist, has created a business-backed group, the Center for Union Facts, that is planning to run millions of dollars’ worth of television spots over the next few months to pressure moderate Democrats to oppose the bill.

During last fall’s presidential campaign, groups opposing the legislation spent more than $20 million on television commercials in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and other states in an effort to defeat Democratic Senate candidates who backed the bill.

At a confirmation hearing set for Friday, Republican senators are expected to challenge Representative Hilda L. Solis of California, President-elect Obama’s choice for labor secretary, over her support for the legislation.

Business leaders denounce the bill because it would largely eliminate secret-ballot elections to determine whether workers want a union. (The union win rate has traditionally been far higher through majority signups than elections.)

“If you know anything about politics, it is a game changer,” said Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. “It is a total game changer for the next 40 to 50 years if the Democrats are able to get this legislation that eliminates the right to a secret ballot. We are fighting it hard.”

Senate Democrats have not decided when to bring up the measure. Given its divisiveness, it will not be one of the first bills they bring to the floor. But the legislation has the strong backing of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, who is expected to bring it up once Democrats are confident they can overcome any filibuster.

In 2007, the House passed a similar bill, but it failed in the Senate on a procedural vote.

Republican leaders and business lobbyists say the Democrats do not have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But union leaders voice optimism, noting that Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill and that Democrats have close to 60 seats in the Senate, though two remain in dispute. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who once was a co-sponsor of the bill, has not decided whether he would support it this time, an aide said.

Whether it is Wal-Mart or the National Restaurant Association, many companies and corporate groups financing the opposition fear that their companies and industries will be among labor’s earliest organizing targets should the bill become law.

Labor leaders say they are setting their sights on several industries, like banks and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, where unions have had virtually no success.

“We’re going to organize in the basic industries of our unions: construction, hospitality, health care, retail, food production and manufacturing,” said Tom Woodruff, director of strategic organizing for Change to Win, a federation of seven unions that includes the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers. “Those are jobs that are going to stay in the country. The question is whether those jobs are going to be decent middle-class jobs.”

Mark McKinnon, a media adviser to the presidential campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush, is a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute. Mr. McKinnon said the institute was focusing on drumming up grass-roots support from business. He would not say which companies are financing the institute, founded by several longtime Republican operatives.

“This issue has really become very high on the radar screen,” he said. “Businesses are hearing about it, and they are ready to riot in the street about it.”

The measure “is the most radical rewrite of labor legislation since the 1930s,” Mr. McKinnon said. “It is a political nightmare and a public policy disaster.”

Opponents fear that the legislation will enable labor to become a wealthier and more powerful political force. Union leaders see the bill as crucial for reversing labor’s long decline — unions represent just 7.5 percent of private-sector workers, down from nearly 40 percent a half-century ago.

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that if Wal-Mart’s United States work force of 1.4 million were unionized, that could mean $500 million in additional union dues collected each year — tens of millions of which might be used to support Democratic causes and candidates.

Acknowledging that Wal-Mart presents a formidable challenge, labor leaders say they hope to unionize up to 100 of Wal-Mart’s more than 4,000 United States stores for starters, which might add 30,000 members.

“We are against any bill that would effectively eliminate freedom of choice and the right to a secret ballot election,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar. “We believe every associate” — Wal-Mart’s term for employees — “should have the right to make a private and informed decision regarding union representation.”

Labor leaders say they do not oppose secret-ballot elections, but rather the bitter two-month management-versus-union campaigns that often precede elections. Union leaders say those campaigns are usually unfair because corporations often fire union supporters and press their anti-union views day and night in one-on-one sessions and large meetings while union organizers are prohibited from company property.

Labor leaders said that last month they won one of the biggest unionization victories in years for the nearly 5,000 workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., by insisting on what they said were fairer rules.

If the bill is enacted, unions say they will try to organize workers by quietly getting a majority to sign pro-union cards before companies can begin an anti-union campaign. In theory, a union organizer or pro-union employee would have an easy time signing up a majority of, say, the 25 workers at a McDonald’s, the 15 baristas at a Starbucks or the 50 aides at a nursing home.

Corporations also oppose a provision of the bill that would allow government arbitrators to determine the terms of a contract when no agreement has been reached within 120 days of a union’s winning recognition. Defending that provision, labor leaders say companies often undermine newly formed unions by dragging out contract talks for months, even years.

“The idea of negotiating a contract and turning it over to an arbitrator who has no interest in the company or the workers’ future and then can dictate the terms of a contract, that’s a pretty reckless way to go,” said Mr. Engler of the manufacturers’ association. “This is the one issue that everybody who’s an employer agrees is a bad idea.”

Canadian Walmart Employees Win Right to Unionize

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 11, 2008

Daniel De Groot, Open Left

blogimage_walmartimage_1229012771jpg_thumbs_600x598_thumbs_200x199Per this DailyKos diary, a Wal-Mart store in Saskatchewan has won a 4-year battle with the company and is certified as unionized:

A Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan has been granted union certification by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB) after years of Wal-Mart legal wrangling and delays, including two Wal-Mart applications to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn the process. 

This isn’t in Pepsi-drinking, poutine manging, socialisté Q-bec either, but rural Saskatchewan (which just elected 13 Conservatives to its 14 ridings).

Wal-Mart, naturally is not taking this in stride.

Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier said the decision is unjust because some employees didn’t get to vote on whether to unionize.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Clearly, you know, our associates have been denied here a vote. They’ve been denied a democratic process. And we believe they should have that process.

Rhetoric sound familiar?  It should:

Wal-Mart Canada said it will appeal the ruling to unionize, pointing out that many of the employees who signed union cards no longer work at the Weyburn store.

“The fact that you’ve got a store now with 104 associates … and only 29 of them were even there at the time of the union’s application, really speaks to the fact that it would be a bit of a stretch to assume that there is widespread support for that store for this union,” said Andrew Pelletier, spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada.

Changes to Saskatchewan’s Trade Union Act this year made it a requirement that a secret ballot vote be held, open to all employees in the proposed bargaining unit, before a union can be certified.

Paul Meneima, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1400, said the decision to unionize the Weyburn store fits with the pre-2008 act,which allowed for union certifications when 50 per cent of employees, plus one, signed union cards.

Yup, Saskatchewan, in better times when it had an NDP government, had its own EFCA, which allowed a Wal-Mart in a conservative part of a fairly conservative province to unionize.  Now that it has a conservative government, bye bye card-check.  

Anyway, the company’s position seems to be “Since we fought to delay this so long that many of the original employees have moved on, we demand a new election under the new us-favouring rules.”  Nice.  I wonder how many of those departing employees left voluntarily?

The town’s mayor is worried Wal-Mart will close the store, which is a real risk, but unlike many other places, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of other places they could put a Wal-Mart nearby.  If they close, they’re likely abandoning this region of the province (and of course other retailers could move in).

A sad follow up on the 8 lube-shop workers who unionized at a store in Québec, Wal-Mart closed the garage in that store, saying it was losing money.  They apparently did keep the workers at least, though.

As for the Union (UFCW) they have pending cases with the Sask Labour Board to unionize two other stores in the Province.  Strength in numbers.  Wal-Mart can’t close every store down.  

Laid Off Workers Occupy Chicago Factory

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 8, 2008

Democracy Now

headlogo

A group of workers in Chicago have entered their fourth day of occupying a closed factory to protest the company’s decision to shut down the plant. The laid-off workers at Republic Windows and Doors have been conducting a sit-in at the Chicago plant since Friday. Workers say their former bosses gave them only three days’ notice of the closing. Many of the employees had worked at the factory for decades. Union organizers say the workers are still owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the sixty days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. On Sunday, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the factory workers.

Rev. Jesse Jackson: “These workers must be congratulated for having the courage, in the great tradition of Dr. King, in the tradition of Cesar Chavez and the tradition of Rosa Parks. Your sitting down in many ways allows America to stand up, workers all around the nation who are now facing massive layoffs. It’s your job. It’s your plant. Stay there and fight for them ’til justice comes, and justice will come.”

The company told workers last Tuesday that the plant was closing because Bank of America had canceled Republic’s line of credit. The laid-off workers have hoisted placards saying “Bank of America: You got bailed out. We got sold out.” On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama voiced support for the workers.

President-elect Barack Obama: “Number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments. And number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan that we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so that we’re not seeing these kinds of circumstances again.”

The factory occupation has attracted international attention.
Labor organizer Leah Fried said, “We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s.”

Related News (DN!)

533,000 Jobs Lost in November; 2 Million in 2008

The factory occupation began on Friday, the same day the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 533,000 jobs were lost in November, the highest monthly total since 1974. A total of nearly two million jobs have been lost this year. At a congressional hearing on Friday, Keith Hall of the Bureau of Labor Statistics told Congressman Elijah Cummings that this was one of the worst job reports in the agency’s history.

Keith Hall: “If I were to characterize this jobs report, I would say this is a dismal jobs report. There’s very little in this report that’s positive. This is maybe one of the worst jobs reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ever produced.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Ever?”

Hall: “Yes.”

Cummings: “And how long has the Bureau been around?”

Hall: “124 years.”

Cummings: “124 years. And so, that means that we’re sliding down a slippery slope fast.”

The nation’s official unemployment rate has risen to 6.7 percent. The New York Times reports the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November. Meanwhile, the proportion of homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure rose to an all-time high in the third quarter.

The Gray Lady Bitchslaps Auto Workers

Posted in Economy by allisonkilkenny on December 4, 2008

UAW president, Ron Gettelfinger

UAW president, Ron Gettelfinger

The New York Times lead story is U.A.W. Makes Concessions to Help Automakers. The article is pretty aptly titled because the NYT chose to focus entirely on the evil UAW parasites that are sucking the poor, helpless automakers dry through ludicrous demands such as job security and pension/health care payments.

The Big Three claim their industry is tanking not because of refusing to change their big, heavy, gas-guzzling car designs, but because evil workers are demanding their contractually promised benefits. The Big Three are failing not because the rest of the world is building fuel-efficient cars, but because the UAW demands that CEOs pay their salaries between the time their jobs get shipped to Mexico, and they find new sources of employment.

You see, all the blame can (and should) be pinned on the workers. At least, that’s what the Big Three claim, and the NYT seems to agree, which explains why so many horrifying facts are splayed across the Gray Lady’s pages without examination, analysis, or comment from workers themselves.

Ford’s chief executive, Alan R. Mulally, said in an interview Wednesday that Detroit needed the union’s help to speed its transformation, particularly in replacing current workers with entry-level employees who will be making $14 an hour in wages under the terms of the 2007 labor agreement.

That’s a pay cut of almost half for the Big Three. In addition, union members aren’t guaranteed their old job security or health benefits. Now that they’ve made concession after concession, there are still no strings attached to the automakers to stop them from closing their plants and shipping jobs to Mexico after everything has been said and done.

The UAW’s president, Ron Gettelfinger, has slowly cut the strings from the UAW’s parachute, and now hundreds of thousands of workers will plummet toward the Earth because a handful of corporate executives figured out it’s easier to suspend worker pension plans than trim their own fat salaries.

However, the sin of abusing poor autoworkers can be shared with the media that refuses to focus on them.

The NYT did not interview one UAW worker. The NYT did not interview one person who will lose their health care coverage through this new deal, which is tantamount to the automakers putting a giant boot up the ass of the UAW.

Other media made the effort to balance the story and interview actual workers affected by these gross policy decisions. Mlive.com, an on-line Michigan news website, interviewed Michigan workers who stand to lose their health coverage under changing auto industry policies.

With General Motors Corp.’s stock tanking and the automaker possibly running out of cash before the end of the year, 73-year-old Kenneth Rathje and other retirees posed questions about pensions and health benefits.
UAW Local 668 president Matthew Ebenhoeh has spent part of last week in Detroit, learning where General Motors is headed.

Industry analysts speculate that GM could file for bankruptcy to seek protection from its creditors. Several hundred retirees wanted Ebenhoeh to tell them the consequences.

“My job is to make sure my membership is safe,” Ebenhoeh said. “I don’t want to see anybody lose anything.”

Rathje retired from Grey Iron in 1995 after a 40-plus-year career that included a stint as a labor liaison, aiding workers on layoff with new jobs or training.

Losing his pension would cost him about $12,000 per year; his insurance much more. An independent federal agency designed to protect the protect the retirement funds and benefits for people such as Rathje.

 

Seems fairly painless, right? It’s fine to explain the corporate side of a story, but any reputable source of media should then step back and offer the counter-argument, where the workers and poor people live.

It’s obvious why these types of stories tend to be so one-sided. Poor autoworkers can’t buy New York Times advertising space and subscriptions.