Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 4, 2010

Most labor “experts,” and more than a few union officials, have been telling us for some time the strike tactic is dead. Yet somehow the boulder sealing the tomb of the strike keeps getting rolled away and its specter emerges to haunt greedy, arrogant bosses.

While they are, in fact, fondly called angels by many, those doing the heavy lifting in the latest example have a very corporal presence–1500 nurses and allied professionals now outside instead of in Temple University hospital in Philadelphia.

These sisters and brothers, part of the new National Nurses United super-union, are not strike-happy. They care deeply for the patients they serve and would much prefer to be on the job instead of the picket line. They negotiated and campaigned six months past the expiration of their old contract. But the money grabbers in the Temple left them with no acceptable alternative but to hit the bricks.

What do the Temple bosses want? In addition to being far apart on wages, they want increased workloads–which also diminish patient care. They demand greater worker contributions for their health care. And, to top it all off, they insist on a gag rule that would prevent the nurses from uttering any public criticism of their employer.

Many union leaders facing similar attacks tell their members “in these times this is the best we can do,” and press for ratification of take-aways. But Temple is learning they are not dealing with a typical union. During the months of fruitless negotiations the union was also preparing for a show down fight–not only among their own members but also building support among Temple students, other unions, community groups, and elected officials. If you want to see a model of how a strike should be organized check out Temple Watch.

Of course, the bosses have been preparing as well. There are companies comparable to Blackwater who specialize in supplying mercenary scabs in nursing disputes. Temple has contracted with HealthSource Global Staffing to immediately provide over 800 strike-breakers.

The Temple strike promises to be a tough fight. The motto of Temple is Perseverantia Vincit--Perseverance Conquers. That seems a fancy way of saying you need to last one day longer than the other side. If they get the solidarity they deserve from the rest of us I’m betting the nurses prevail at the end of the day.

They Just Came To Work There
I couldn’t help but think of Ann Feeney’s song, We Just Come to Work Here, We Don’t Come to Die. At last count five are dead as a result of an explosion and fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington. Two more with severe burns are fighting for life.

The accident occurred as maintenance workers were cleaning out the plant’s naphtha section. Naphtha is the lightest and most volatile product of the refining process. Used as feedstock for high octane fuel much is also sold for use in products such as lighter fluid. There’s not much room for error in dealing with the stuff. It may be months before investigators are ready to say what went wrong.

America’s 150 aging refineries have become more dangerous than ever. AP reported,

“Federal officials have been so worried about safety at the nation's refineries that in 2007 they began a major push for inspections. They found more than 1,000 workplace violations in the industry.

“State regulators fined Tesoro $85,700 last April for 17 serious safety and health violations, defined as those with potential to cause death or serious physical injury. The company appealed and reached a settlement in November, requiring in part that Tesoro correct the hazards and hire a third-party consultant to do a safety audit. The settlement reduced the total penalty to $12,250 and lowered the number of violations to three.”

The results of the independent “audit”have not yet been released. Twelve grand didn’t leave Tesoro shaking in their boots in the presence of inspectors.

But this is not just an isolated case. Chemical Safety Board chairman John Bresland told the Seattle Times,

“If the aviation industry had the same number and types of incidents as the refining industry, I don't think people would be flying too much.”

Kim Nibarger, a safety expert with the United Steelworkers, which includes the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, agreed,

“In our industry we've seen a significant number of releases, fires and equipment failures since Texas City [site of a deadly 2005 accident at a BP/Amoco refinery]...It's not that Tesoro is a bad actor, it's just the way the industry is run.”

Resignation to workplace fatalities and public endangerment is not an acceptable way to run an industry. When Toyota encountered their “unintended acceleration” problems they were pressured to shut down production. A credible threat to do the same with oil might prod these companies making super-profits to clean up their industry.

Speaking of Oil
The second biggest privately held company in the U.S., mostly owned by brothers Charles and David Koch, is a major player in oil refining–and a whole lot more. Included in their portfolio along with huge chemical interests are familiar names such as Georgia-Pacific, makers of Brawny paper towels, Dixie Cups, and more.

They are also major funders of global warming denial. Although the Kochs fear public exposure like the Devil runs from Holy Water Greenpeace has documented they spent nearly 25 million dollars in global warming bashing publicity and paid advertising.

By the way, the committee of the British parliament that investigated the “climategate scandal” based on stolen e-mail exchanges between climate scientists has issued their report. While chastising the scientists for being reluctant to share data with others these conclusions were summarized in the Guardian,

• There was no evidence to challenge the scientific consensus that global warming is induced by human activities.

• The balance of evidence patently failed to support the view that the phrases “trick” and “hide the decline” used in one email were part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not support his view.

Are We Recovered Yet?
On Good Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued their monthly employment situation report for March. You’ve no doubt heard by now it had the good news that 162,000 new jobs were generated by the U.S. economy. Some of the more “in depth” reports did note that nearly a third of this growth were temporary jobs of very short duration and low pay connected with the census. But the 38-page BLS summary poured a lot more cold water than that on the recovery hype. For example:

• Long term (more than 27 weeks) joblessness is at its highest since they started keeping track in 1948–6.5 million, 44 percent of all those unemployed..

• Not counted in the unemployed figures are 2.3 million “marginally attached to the labor force.” These are long-term unemployed who still want to work but hadn’t met the definition of searching for work in the four week period of this report.

• The number working part-time because they can’t get full-time jobs again increased, now at 9.1 million.

• Black unemployment also rose, to 16.5 percent.

When you combine the unemployed figure with those marginally attached, and involuntary part-time, you still have over 26 million who want full-time jobs and can’t get them.

Of course, the March report does not reflect already announced future layoffs of tens of thousands of state, municipal, school district and transit workers in the public sector.

A Washington Post story earlier in the week reminded us of another major factor in jobless recovery–worker productivity,

“Businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek....So long as employers can squeeze dramatically higher output from every worker, they won't need to hire again despite the growing economy.”

There was one curious incident in White House efforts to hail recovery. The Detroit News reported,

“An auto dealers group criticized President Barack Obama Friday for applauding General Motors Co.'s decision to allow hundreds of dealerships targeted to close to remain open. Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said Obama's auto task force last year ‘required the closure of nearly 2,500 dealerships at a cost of 100,000 jobs,’ as a condition of bailing out GM and Chrysler Group LLC. ‘Now he is touting the fact that jobs were created after dealer arbitration legislation, which his administration opposed, forced GM/Chrysler to reevaluate closing these dealerships.’”

Listen Up
I’ve been invited by Traven Leyshon to be a guest on Equal Time Radio to talk about the newly formed
Alliance for Class and Climate Justice. It will air this Tuesday, April 6, 1PM on the venerable Vermont commercial talk radio station, WDEV, 550AM/96.1FM. Those outside the listening area can catch it later on an online audio link on the Equal Time site.

That’s all for this week. 


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