Feb 162014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Chattanooga Shoo-Shoo
It was supposed to be a lead pipe cinch. United Auto Workers president Bob King, with the backing of fellow union bureaucrats in Germany, convinced Volkswagen America that it would be in their interest to have a German-style Works Council in their Chattanooga plant.

A Works Council requires a union. Today’s UAW is not the same union VW dealt with when they built Rabbits in Pennsylvania 35 years ago. No more confrontation, King’s UAW is all about the shared interests of partnership.

VW couldn’t simply designate the UAW as the union participant in the new Council. Since the Obama administration never delivered on their 2008 card-check pledge, the union needed to be certified as a bargaining agent through an NLRB election. In preparation for this process the company and union negotiated a Neutrality Agreement that granted the UAW access to VW workers while management refrained from anti-union captive audience meetings that have become the norm in representation elections. VW issued a public neutrality declaration as well and asked outside third parties to mind their own business. The Agreement also contained commitments from the union about bargaining for a contract if they won Labor Board certification–which I’ll come back to.

This is as good a scenario as union organizers could hope for and they quickly signed up a majority of VW workers. Most experts expected the union would win and started speculating about the prospects of the UAW organizing Mercedes and BMW plants in the South along the same lines.

But, as should have been anticipated, there were powerful outside third parties who considered the encroachment of even meek unionism in the Volunteer State to be their business. Prominent Republican office holders, assisted by a billboard campaign furnished by Carl Rove, warned that the UAW would bankrupt Chattanooga just as they had Detroit. Convincing threats of denying future government incentives for expansion to a unionized VW plant also had a chilling effect. Undoubtedly some votes were swayed by this last minute fear mongering.

But that alone wasn’t what sunk the UAW boat. In my opinion, the union bureaucracy had sewn their own seeds of failure.

Historically, workers seek unions to better their wages, benefits, and working conditions. The UAW for decades was the pace setter for what came to be called Middle Class jobs–but those days are long gone. Especially since the historic 2007 Big Three contract surrender–later enhanced by bankruptcy terms imposed by President Obama at General Motors and Chrysler–Solidarity House has focused on just the opposite.

Through big concessions, the UAW has succeeded in making their core employers competitive with transplant rivals. But the flip side of these give-backs is that the workers in the transplants now get wages and benefits competitive with UAW workers–in fact, sometimes better. One of the conditions of the Neutrality Agreement committed the UAW to “maintaining and where possible enhancing the  cost advantages and other competitive advantages,” that the company “enjoys relative to its competitors in the United States and North America including but not limited to legacy automobile manufacturers.” Legacy refers to the UAW organized Big Three.

This commitment to the company to make competitive advantage supreme law was made by King without any consultation with VW workers. It is little different than the sweetheart deals former SEIU president Andy Stern used to cook up with CEOs. It became the main issue of the in-plant vote no forces and had more impact on votes than any politician threats.

The inconvenient truth is the UAW, under its present mis-leadership helping the boss to hold down labor costs, has little to offer to the unorganized. I’m frankly surprised there were so many votes for the union (626 for, 712 against, 89 percent voting). The only hopeful sign in this disaster is that so many had the foresight to recognize that a bad union that can be changed for the good is better than no union at all.

This humiliating defeat in Chattanooga is a fresh confirmation that give-backs to the boss not only fail to maintain existing jobs–they can also doom efforts to organize what is now an unorganized majority in a once virtually all union industry.

And Now For Something Completely Different…
On the other side of the union spectrum is National Nurses United. Their mission is clear: serve the interests of patients and nurses even when this means conflict with their employers.  A recent example is their ongoing fight with Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Ohio.

Affinity is part of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, now the nation’s largest hospital chain. Affinity has steadfastly refused to bargain with the NNU since the union won a representation election in August, 2012. They not only fired Ann Wayt, a respected nurse leader on trumped up charges–they also asked the state to revoke her nursing license. Anyone complaining was threatened with the same treatment.

In addition to legal action, the union mobilized members in protest inside and out and also obtained statements of support from the town’s Mayor and Senator Sherrod Brown. Last week when Ann Wayt returned to work she was greeted with bag-pipes and showered with flowers. A judge had ordered the company to reinstate her and withdraw its complaint to the licensing agency. The same ruling directed Affinity to show up February 21 to bargain in good faith for a first union contract.

This is not yet the end of the war declared by Affinity on their nurses by any means. But this latest victory for solidarity and adversarial unionism may prove to be decisive. It’s another Hats Off moment for the NNU.

Ready to Get the Worm
I signed up in plenty of time to get the now expired Early Bird registration for the April 4-6 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. I’ve also booked my senior discount coach seat on Amtrak, reserved  my hotel, and paid for half of a Conference literature table for kclabor.org. I thank those readers who chipped in with donations to help offset these expenses.

About 1500 attended the last one and I suspect this will be the biggest LN Conference yet. I know the Amalgamated Transit Union will be sending a delegation of impressive size. If you haven’t yet made plans to go I urge you to do so if you can.

Before the 2012 Conference I expressed the hope that the agenda would include substantial education and discussion about two over-arching issues: environmental destruction–above all, climate change, and a Labor Party to challenge the presently uncontested political rule of bosses and bankers. In an overall very positive post-Conference article I had to note that didn’t happen.

No agenda schedule for the upcoming Conference has yet been published. I’m renewing my suggestion to the planners of this year’s gathering. More than ever, we need a serious discussion in the workshops and plenaries about how to build working class environmental and political movements that can be an integral part of what we do in the workplace and community movements.

In Brief…
* Pete Camarata, a pioneer in the movement for democracy and militant action in the Teamsters, recently passed away at the age of 67. Substantial obituaries appeared in the New York Times and Socialist Worker.
* Coral Davenport opens a New York Times story, “The sign is ubiquitous on city buses around the country: ‘This bus runs on clean burning natural gas.’ But a surprising new report, to be published Friday in the journal Science, concludes that switching buses and trucks from traditional diesel fuel to natural gas could actually harm the planet’s climate. Although burning natural gas as a transportation fuel produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
* In a February 10 posting on the Labor Notes site Ajamu Dillahunt reported, “Tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina, Saturday to show their opposition to the extreme right-wing agenda that has gripped the state since the Tea Party gained control of the legislature and governor’s office…Unions and labor groups joined in with spirited delegations. United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, and Farm Labor Organizing Committee had the most notable groups.”
* Commenting on a rash of accidents involving coal, oil, and natural gas last week Jamie Henn of 350.org said, “The fossil fuel industry is like a giant robot at the end of a horror movie—falling to pieces and lashing out as it strains for ever more resources. The latest string of disasters bolds and italicizes a basic fact: fossil fuels aren’t safe. Not for our communities, not for our environment, and certainly not for our climate. It’s time politicians to stand up and reject catastrophes like the Keystone XL pipeline and start promoting things that don’t blow up or leak, like solar panels and wind turbines.”

In observance of the Federal holiday tomorrow there will be no news update on our companion Labor Advocate blog. Normal schedule resumes Tuesday.

That’s all for this week.
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Our sole source of income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member


Feb 092014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

City Hall Privatizers Aim to Take KC For A Ride
In addition to being a member of the National Writers Union I also maintain retiree membership in Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 in Kansas City. During the fourteen years I drove a bus for the KC Area Transportation Authority’s Metro I never missed a 1287 meeting. Since I’ve been out of uniform for ten years, for a variety of reasons I haven’t maintained that routine. But when I recently got a call about an emergency membership meeting I responded.

The call came from Javier Perez in Washington. Javier is now the International Executive Vice-President of the ATU but we go back to when he was Local President of 1287. We consolidated a good working relationship when he appointed me to pull together a Community Outreach Committee to mobilize public protests that had some success in stopping or delaying big cuts in transit service in the early Nineties. After Javier got promoted to a climb up the IVP ladder those that followed as Local President discontinued that committee and such work has  at best been sporadic ever since.

In the past, the International leadership practiced a sort of benign neglect of Locals in such matters. That began to change when Larry Hanley was elected International President in September, 2010. I knew something of Hanley, a long time ATU leader on Staten Island, from my brief residence in New York City in the late Eighties. You could find him showing solidarity with every strike, organizing drive, or worthy demonstration in town. He represented a sharp departure from the stodgy craft union culture that had permeated the ATU for more than a century.

Changing the union’s direction from the top is about as easy as turning around a supertanker in the Panama Canal. Like Ron Carey encountered when he replaced the Old Guard in the Teamsters, there has been stubborn resistance to change among layers of staff and local officers. But Hanley won reelection last September and progress is now being felt even in my home town–and, as Javier would explain, none too soon.

Of course, I already knew about the streetcar development scam well under way with the City building new car lines in a special tax district encompassing the urban core. The streetcars would be operated not by the ATA but a private company. Socialized costs, privatized profits.

That’s bad enough. But Javier filled me in on a threat not yet widely publicized. The lion’s share of Metro revenue comes from contracts with Kansas City, Missouri. The City Manager–with the full backing of the Mayor–is determined to axe the jobs of forty percent of Metro bus drivers and award them to a private outfit paying substantially lower wages.

They are no doubt being advised by a transit expert on the City Council–Dick Davis, who was for decades General Manager of the ATA. Relations between Javier and me with Mr Davis have always been as cordial as those between Putin and Pussy Riot.

Of course, Javier was not calling to ask me to reconvene the Community Outreach Committee.  I was pleased that another old friend, out of a different union that was once an important part of our lives, sat in on the call as well. Chris Townsend was the long time Washington legislative representative for the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE). He used to write a column for UE News and Labor Party Press called The Capitol Hill Shop Steward, exposing the skulduggery in all branches of government. He also played a key role in UE contract campaigns at General Electric. The ATU is lucky to now have Chris heading up a new department dedicated to training and mobilization of Locals. We expect to see a lot of Chris in KC.

Retirees can’t lead today’s struggles but we can play a useful supporting role. Our past experience in what worked and what didn’t has some value. Three of us veterans of Community Outreach squeezed in to the car of the one who still has some night vision and braved the cold to attend the emergency membership meeting. Except for contract ratification meetings, it was the biggest 1287 gathering I ever attended. I won’t divulge any of the proceedings except to say that the members seemed genuinely fired up and ready for a fight to save the Metro and union jobs.

Perhaps I’m a bit biased but I see the struggle shaping up in Kansas City as more than a local interest story. It is part and parcel of nationwide attacks by bosses and their politicians on the public sector in general and transit in particular. I’ll keep WIR readers up to date and if you are involved in a similar struggle elsewhere I’d like to hear from you. You can contact me by e-mail at: webmaster [at] kclabor.org.

Worth a Dozen
Due to my lethargy more than anything else, I still have the same AOL account I signed up for twenty years ago. I was once hesitant about giving up my original e-mail address but since I launched kclabor.org in 2000 nothing but spam arrives there any more. After reading a story in the Saturday Washington Post, I’m now ready to finally pull the plug.

AOL quarterly earnings are the highest in a decade. Despite this prosperity described as “olympian” by CEO Tim Armstrong he decided it’s time to reduce employee benefits, choosing to chisel on 401(k) retirement contributions. End of year lump sums will replace monthly payments. If you’re not on the payroll December 31 you’ll get nothing for the year. Even if you stay on board the monthly compounding you used to get will now be retained by the company.

At first Armstrong tried to blame the Affordable Care Act for the need to cut benefits. Later he was more specific in a conference call with employees who had only learned of the cuts in a newspaper story–two employees had “distressed babies,” each costing AOL a million dollars.

A tech blog published a chart showing Armstrong’s annual compensation to be worth twelve distressed babies.

Postal Service Not For Sake

Hand In Hand
One branch of the public sector that is getting rougher treatment than even transit is the US Postal Service. They lost nearly nine thousand jobs just last month. A new plan to allow Staples to take over postal work will eliminate even more. And yet another bill to eliminate Saturday delivery has just cleared a Democrat controlled Senate committee.

Recently elected president of the American Postal Workers Union, Mark Diamondstein, showed remarkable candor for a top union official in an interview with Josh Eidelson in Salon
“I think Congress and the White House are pretty much working hand in hand. There hasn’t been a fight to defend the public good, and there hasn’t been a real fight around good jobs.”

I can’t say that I was all that surprised by brother Diamondstein’s stance. At the risk of of beginning to sound like a name-dropper, I also happen to know Mark. We both represented local chapters on the old Labor Party Interim National Council, Mark from the South, me from the Midwest. That project is now defunct but neither of us has changed our attitude toward the twin boss parties.

You can sign a petition against Staples taking jobs away from Postal Workers by clicking here

And Crown Thy Good…
I may have been watching Downton Abbey at the time; in any case I missed the Coca-Cola commercial, along with all other Super Bowl ads. The star-spangled Right commentators were in a fiz over a Coke rendition of America the Beautiful in a bunch of “foreign” languages, ramming “multiculturalism” down our throat. Some even looked up the name of the composer of what they consider to be an iconic patriotic anthem and lamented she must be rolling over in her grave.

There’s quite a bit Katherine Lee Bates might find unsettling in today’s world including commercial exploitation of her song. Had the blustery bigots looked a little deeper in to their Google search they would have found this remarkable woman was a Christian Socialist and pacifist who did good deeds in diverse immigrant neighborhoods in Boston where many tongues were spoken. She would probably be pleased though to know that lesbians like her today can get married in some states. She couldn’t even publicly acknowledge her decades long companion Katharine Coman.

Emissions East
TransCanada, the same company hoping to get approval for Keystone XL, plans to build a new 2800 mile pipeline from Alberta to the deep water Atlantic port of St John. Called Energy East,  it would carry both conventional oil and tar-sands syncrude. Once up to speed, it could deliver 1.1 million barrels a day. The CBC reported,

“The Pembina Institute’s study looked at the potential upstream carbon pollution — that is, from the well to the refinery gate — oil flowing through the pipeline and found that it could add anywhere from 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year to the atmosphere. ‘For a single piece of infrastructure, that’s huge. It’s more than the emissions of five provinces,’ explained Clare Demerse, Pembina’s federal policy director and co-author of the report.”

Much of the Week In Review is based on material from articles posted to our companion blog Labor Advocate. Labor Advocate is updated by 9AM Central Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is available through RSS and Yahoo Group Mail.

Our sole source of income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member