Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 9, 2008

Always like to admit the past screw ups first to make room for new ones. My apologies for any confusion created among our e-mail subscribers who may have been puzzled by the November 2 WIR being labeled October 27. In sleep deprived muddle I neglected to change the date in the template I use.

Fun Facts About the Election

* The Obama campaign committee directly raised 638,759,000 dollars. The Wall Street Journal estimates various union entities spent 400 million on Obama’s behalf--making it the first billion dollar plus campaign. This means over fifteen dollars was spent for each vote received. The Green candidate, Cynthia McKinney, was a lot more efficient spending only 82 cents per vote tallied.

* Early estimates of voter turnout appear to be somewhat overstated. While some votes are still being tabulated it appears the final total will be about 127 million–about sixty percent of the voting age population.

* Like baseball announcers who call book rule doubles ground rule doubles, the media persists in calling Obama president elect. He will not in fact be “elect”until after the electoral college meets and votes on December 15. The correct present term is president designate.

* In addition to big bucks, organized labor mobilized a massive army of volunteers for the Obama campaign. Unionists distributed 76 million pieces of literature and knocked on 10 million doors. AFSCME and the Communications Workers alone each sent more than 40,000 volunteers into the field and the Steel Workers mobilized tens of thousands more. After August, the AFL-CIO targeted three million undecided voters, especially in crucial swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. On election day union families represented over twenty percent of the vote.

The ‘Change We Need’ Transition...

* Setting the Tempo

The Wall Street Journal said,

“A bill that would make it easier for unions to organize workers, efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, and a slew of contemplated taxes will likely take a back seat to broader economic issues for now, Democratic operatives say.

* Economic Team

President-designate Obama summoned seventeen advisers to the first transition meeting to deal with the economic crisis. Among those in attendance were the world’s richest man; CEOs of Xerox, Time-Warner, Hyatt, and Google; two former treasury secretaries; a former Federal Reserve Bank chair; a former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers; a former secretary of commerce; and, presumably to represent the working class, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. They didn’t need to go around the room to introduce themselves.

* Climate Crisis

The New York Times says,

“On energy and climate change, Mr. Obama’s focus has shifted markedly over the course of the year as the economy has weakened....Mr. Obama is now emphasizing a program to spend $150 billion over 10 years to develop renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar and biofuels, and to encourage energy conservation in homes, offices and public buildings. He would also provide substantial financial help to the auto industry to develop high-mileage and electric cars.”

This annual 15 billion allotment toward saving the planet as we know it is equivalent to the cost of about ten F-22 fighter planes (already 122 in service with 61 more ordered.)

* Healthcare

The NYT predicts,

“Democrats’ campaign rhetoric aside, few health care analysts expect the new president and Congress to undertake a sweeping overhaul of the health care industry any time soon. The more pressing needs of a faltering economy make it unlikely that big changes in health care can quickly make their way to the top of the new agenda.”

The transition team is saying that Obama’s victory was so broad, cutting across so many segments of society, that he owes no favors to any particular group–including the labor movement. Change to Win president Anna Burger seems to agree. She’s quoted by the Boston Globe,

“It's not that he owes anything to any constituency,” she said. “I think he has inspired people to come together and have an agenda that actually works for all of us, and so that's who is watching.”

Three Deals

1-Members of USW Local 8888, representing 8,000 hourly workers at Northrop Grumman’s Newport News shipyard, narrowly approved a 52-month contract. It includes an average raise of 16.4 percent, compounded, over the life of the agreement, and a modest increase in pensions. Healthcare deduction increases will be capped at 14 percent. The biggest sticking point was new language allowing the company to transfer workers to Gulf Coast yards for as long as six months at a stretch.

2-After hanging tough on the picket line for 57-days, 27,000 IAM members approved a new four year contract with Boeing. They get a 15 percent pay raise over four years and bonuses of at least 8,000 dollars. There were some improvements in pension and health benefits.

The main issue triggering the Boeing strike was job security. Over the life of the previous contract the company outsourced thousands of jobs and was insistent on continuing without restraint. A compromise was reached where Boeing agreed to protect 5,000 jobs from future outsourcing.

3-14,000 United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) members at Catholic Healthcare West facilities in California have a new four year agreement with some significant improvements. These include: average wage increases of 26 percent over four years with some workers achieving increases of up to 35.4 percent; establishment of a supplemental unemployment fund; creation of six full time Contract Specialist positions, appointed by the union and funded by CHW, to allow rank-and-file members to work full time for a year on implementation of the contract and other union building activities in their facilities; eight hours of paid steward time per steward per month; and the workers continue to get fully paid family health coverage.

The UHW settlement is particularly noteworthy because it was accomplished despite active harassment by the SEIU international leadership--who are trying to remove the local’s elected leaders for factional reasons.

While substantial compromises were grudgingly granted in two, these three major settlements indicate private sector unionism is far from dead.

Withdrawal Just a Phase He’s Going Through?
Reuters reported,

“The Iraqi government is confident that president-elect Barack Obama will not jeopardize Iraq's improving security by hastily withdrawing U.S. troops, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.”

The President-designate generally uses vague, elliptical phrases about plans to get out of Iraq. Zabari told BBC Obama “reassured us that he would not take any drastic or dramatic decisions.”

Bailout For VEBA?
After getting turned down for government assistance for GM’s acquisition of Chrysler–purportedly due to pressure from the UAW–that deal appears off the table. Obama is favorably inclined to bailout money to help the Big Three meet their VEBA obligations that UAW retirees depend on for healthcare coverage.

Hunger Fueled By Ethanol
In Indonesia, most working people have long depended on a diet of tofu and tempeh–made from soy beans. The country once grew the lion’s share of their soy needs but in recent decades came to rely on cheaper, better imports from the USA. American beans are still high quality--but far from cheap. The Los Angeles Times reports,

“The cost of soy is spreading hunger on the main island of Java...It is also devastating an entire local industry based on soy products. Hundreds of factories have closed, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest soy prices and at least one soy vendor killed himself after falling into debt.”

This is collateral damage from the ethanol scam in the United States. About twenty percent of soy beans are being used in making biodiesel. More importantly, a lot of land that would be slated for soy has been converted to growing corn–not for your Post Toasties, or feeding livestock destined for your local McDonalds–but for ethanol. Soy production is down 16 percent, corn up 23.

As usual, much of the material for this column came from stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7 AM, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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