by Bill Onasch
Fight for Fifteen 4/15
It’s an easy date to remember—April 15 is income tax day in the USA. This year there will be marches and rallies in most cities across the country. But these protests are not against the tax—unfair as it may be. Instead they are the next step forward in mobilizing broad working class support in the communities for boosting pay of the working poor to at least 15 dollars an hour.
There are two distinct components of this movement. One is union based, targeting specific employers or industries. SEIU’s Fifteen and a Union campaigns in Fast Food, Home Care, and Airport Service industries have been the vanguard but there have been significant efforts by UFCW, AFSCME, and UE as well going after Big Box Retail, Logistics and state funded child care workers.
There has also been a complementary fight by 15 Now! Coalitions working to win municipal and state 15 dollar minimum wage laws covering all workers. The first big breakthrough for this wing came in Seattle where 100,000 low pay workers are receiving substantial raises in stages on the road to fifteen. While state and local legal opportunities and obstacles vary considerably there are promising coalitions in Oregon and Minnesota among others.
These actions have already won some material gains through modest hikes in minimum wage in several states and cities as well as “voluntary” raises by all of the major Big Box retail chains. Most have been in the 9-10 dollar range. While any raise is welcomed by the low paid these have to be considered token down payments on the 15 goal.
Fast Food has not been so “generous.” Their industry trade group recently went to court in Seattle seeking exemption from the new minimum wage law for franchises of national chains. So far their defense of “small business” has been rejected but they will likely continue to pay lawyers 400 dollars an hour to try to get out of 15 for their workers.
I’ve been on the SEIU mailing list since back in the day of Chairman Andy’s Purple Army. It’s not often that I have occasion to favorably quote top union officials but an excerpt from an e-blast from current SEIU president Mary Kay Henry is worth passing along,
“This movement that was started by fast-food cooks and cashiers has exploded to include people who work at Walmart, airport baggage handlers and passenger service attendants, home care providers, child care workers, adjunct college faculty, and other underpaid people who want to create jobs that pay people enough to actually live on. Together, we are fighting for an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.
“Powerful CEOs could pay people more, but they simply choose not to. When large, profitable companies attempt to pay as little as they can get away with, even full-time jobs can pay so little that workers qualify for food stamps. Working moms and dads can’t afford basic needs for their kids. Young people can’t afford to go to school to upgrade their skills. Entire neighborhoods fall behind.
“When we demand and win a higher floor for wages, we will help not just individuals and families, but also our communities and the larger economy. That’s why it’s so important that you are with us to Fight for $15 on 4/15.”
SEIU, along with Stand Up KC and Jobs with Justice, have carried out recent public events in Kansas City around home care workers, and the disgraceful workplace injury rates at McDonald’s, using them to build for 4/15. The April 15 KC demonstration will be in Theis Park at 47 & Oak beginning at 4:30PM.
Though I have said it before it deserves repeating—this Fight for Fifteen is, in my opinion, the single most important venue for working class action in the USA today. I urge every reader to join the April 15 action in your area and try to bring along some family, friends and coworkers too.
Please click here to RSVP and endorse the action. You will be offered a search box to locate the demonstration nearest your Zip Code.
All Out 4/15!The Saved Auto Industry
The earliest big project of President Obama’s first term was imposing a fast track bankruptcy on General Motors and Chrysler, an effort also supported by the Tory government in Canada . Led by his foul mouthed then chief-of-staff, now Chicago Mayor involved in a reelection campaign, Rahm Emmanuel, the restructuring demands were none too kind and gentle.
Brands such as Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer were terminated. Plants were permanently closed. UAW workers who had given back enormous historic concessions in 2007 were required to give a bit more. And the collateral damage in third party parts makers, dealerships, and rail and trucking industries was devastating. Collapsing tax revenue from these lost paychecks soon meant cuts in local and state government services and jobs. All in all, it’s estimated that net job loss from the impact of the Obama dictated restructuring exceeded 100,000. Quite a blow—especially since the Great Recession had not yet bottomed out.
Incredibly, the UAW tops—along with virtually all union officials—hailed their new job-killing “friend” in the White House for “Saving the American auto industry.” The only alternative proposal arising from the UAW ranks was from the Auto Worker Caravan. Instead of closing unneeded auto plants they sensibly urged the government to take them and their workers over and convert to green production for environmental needs.
But the new President would soon reveal that far from expanding the public sector he would seek bipartisan cooperation in slashing it. Just ask the person who delivers your mail. Receiving little publicity outside Labor Notes, the Caravan’s worthy initiative was drowned out by the noisy celebration of industry salvation.
We, of course, hear these days that the auto industry is booming. It sure is for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne who picked up bankrupt Chrysler for a song and a dance. Fiat Chrysler reported that Sergio “earned” 38 million dollars last year and just cashed out another 1.4 million shares of stock for an additional 21.6 million. He apparently was worth it for getting Chrysler’s labor costs well below UAW organized competitors.
There has been some hiring in assembly plants. But a Wall Street Journal article shows this hasn’t meant prosperity for many U.S. workers,
“U.S. auto production is nearing all-time highs on the back of strong domestic demand and steady export increases. But American-made cars and trucks are increasingly loaded with parts imported from Mexico, China and other nations. The U.S. imported a record $138 billion in car parts last year, equivalent to $12,135 of content in every American light vehicle built. That is up from $89 billion, or $10,536 per vehicle, in 2008—the first of two disastrous years for the car business. In 1990, only $31.7 billion in parts were imported. The trend casts a cloud over the celebrated comeback of one of the nation’s bedrock industries. As the inflow of low-cost foreign parts accelerates, wages at the entry level are drifting away from the generous compensation packages that made car-factory jobs the prize of American manufacturing.”
Contract negotiations between the UAW and the shrunken Big Three are slated later this year and the union is holding their Bargaining Convention to map strategy. Because of internal union austerity it is only for two days rather than the traditional three. A Detroit Free Press article opens,
“For the UAW, 2015 will be a year of managing great expectations borne out of a recovering economy after years of sacrifices during tougher times…. This year, the union built by Walter Reuther is renegotiating contracts with all three Detroit automakers along with the state of Michigan and John Deere. Those employers alone account for about 43% of the UAW’s roughly 400,0000 members. This week, about 900 delegates from more than 800 local unions representing workers at about 1,500 employers will meet in Detroit to tell UAW leadership their top priorities during contract talks.”
This will be the first national bargaining for president Dennis Williams who replaced retiring Bob King. It will also be the first time in eight years the UAW has been free to strike over economic issues. But a strike seems unlikely. Williams has said,
“If you look at our track record, 98% of all of our contracts are settled without a dispute. Striking is a failure on both parties’ part and we don’t plan on failing, but we will be prepared.”
Spoken like a man well practiced in managing expectations—but you never know.
I wasn’t so effective in managing my expectations of the length of my promised remarks about fighting Right-to-Work. If only I were paid by the word instead of the tip jar. Far too long for the regular WIR format, expect to see it soon as a substantial stand alone Extra.
That’s all for this week.
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