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.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member


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