Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘collective bargaining’

Ohio Extremists Next Target? College Athletes

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallNot content to only go after collective bargaining rightspensions andvoting rights, the extremists in Ohio are targeting a new group of their state’s residents, attempting to pre-empt any attempt by college athletes to organize and express their rights. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled that players at Northwestern University were employees of the school, and could thus form a union, Ohio’s right-wingers took action to tryto stop athletes at Ohio colleges and universities from following suit, proposing a bill that would specify that college athletes aren’t employees in Ohio.

There haven’t been any reported discussions of athletes in Ohio attempting to follow in the Northwestern players’ footsteps and the bill has a way to go before it could become law, but maybe the audacity of these people will inspire college athletes at schools like Ohio State to stand up for their rights before the legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) can take them away.

In a press release, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said:

Once again, Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives are spending time trying to engineer punitive proposals instead of working to move Ohio forward, create jobs and improve our struggling economy. This time they are attempting to pre-empt athletes at public colleges and universities from being declared employees. Is this really what Ohioans are worried about? This a labor law matter, which may or may not become an issue, and should it become one there will be plenty of public debate. If Republicans in the House feel compelled to address this matter, they should try to engage in a productive way by dealing with the real concerns of fairness and safety where the players and university leaders have expressed common themes for change. A good place to start a public discussion would be to allow athletes who get injured in their sport to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the law.

Mike Gillis, a spokesperson for the state federation, added:

There’s millions being made off the work and also blood, sweat and tears that these athletes endure. They should be offered every protection that employees enjoy, if not more, especially because they are not paid.

Meanwhile, the Colorlines points out Shabazz Napier, a senior on the University of Connecticut men’s basketball national championship team, often goes to bed “hungry.” Read more from the Colorlines.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

T-Mobile US Workers Unite for Respect

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Image: Mike HallWith a new website—TMobileWorkersUnited.org—workers at T-Mobile US are connecting with each other to build strength in their drive for workplace justice and respect.

Working with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), T-Mobile Workers United (TU) is an alliance of hundreds of call center representatives, retail associates and technicians who are standing up to discuss the issues and challenges they face at the new T-Mobile US, a merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS.

For the past several years, T-Mobile workers say they have faced an extensive anti-union campaign by the company that last year closed seven call centers in the United States and shipped more than 3,300 jobs overseas.

Before the merger, MetroPCS shared T-Mobile’s U.S. job-killing record. The company “outsourced all of its customer contact center services to maintain low operating expenses” through a partnership with Telvista, a call center outsourcer. Good American jobs are now going to Mexico, Antigua, Panama and the Philippines, according to MetroPCS’s 10-K filing.

Ronald Ellis, a T-Mobile US call center worker in Nashville, Tenn., writes on the new website:

With the recent acquisition of MetroPCS (9 million no-contract customers, and no customer service based in the USA), the winds of change are blowing. T-Mobile USA stopped employees’ raises and stopped the phone incentive for employees. We feel if we don’t unite soon, more call centers may soon be on the chopping blocks for downsizing.

The workers say they want this new company to succeed, and they believe that justice and respect in the workplace are essential for that success.

In 2011, CWA, ver.di, the German union that represents workers at T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom, and a coalition of community and labor groups around the world, partnered on an international campaign to win workers a voice and respect at T-Mobile. Read more about the global campaign here and here.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 19th, 2013.  Reposted with permission. 

About the Author:  Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety

Oil Drilling Boom Boosts Boilermakers, Other Shipyard Unions

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Bruce Vail

Unionized workers at Aker Philadelphia Shipyard breathed a collective sigh of relief late last week with news that an agreement to build as many as eight new oil tankers has been finalized. The investment, estimated to be worth $1 billion, should keep the yard humming for the next four years.

The contract to build the new ships means that some 1,000 workers will continue to be regularly employed beyond next year, when the yard will complete most work on two crude oil tankers now under construction for a shipping subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp. Recent years have seen some lean times at the shipyard, with employment falling to 400 as recently as 2011 when new orders for vessels were hard to come by, says Aker spokesperson Kelly Whittaker.

“It’s feast or famine in this business, so we’re really happy they [Aker] got the contract,” says Phillipp J. Evans, a regional representative for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers. The Boilermakers union represent about two-thirds of the workers at the Aker yard, Evans estimates, with the remainder represented by local units of 10 other unions organized into the Philadelphia Metal Trades Council.

The Aker Philadelphia contract is welcome news also because it confirms a national rebound in commercial tanker construction, adds Ron Ault, President of the AFL-CIO’s Metal Trades Department (MTD), which represents unionized shipbuilders around the country. In May, shipyard employees in San Diego got a similar boost when a company called American Petroleum Tankers signed a contract for new vessels at the General Dynamics NASSCO yard there. Some 800 workers are expected to be hired to complete that contract, according to a NASSCO statement.

Rumors are rife that there are further tanker orders in the offing, most of which are related to an unusual rise in the U.S. production of crude oil, Ault says. Increased shale oil drilling—largely in the Bakken region of North Dakota and the Eagle Ford geologic formation in Texas—are flooding the domestic market with new crude, and the oil industry is scrambling to line up tankers to move the crude to refineries and then ship the refined petroleum  products to consumers.

Largely absent from most discussions of the tanker resurgence is the environmental impact of the drilling increase. Most of the new oil is thought to displace imports from the Middle East or Africa, so there appears to be little net impact on total oil consumption or the resultant air pollution. With a decision due soon from federal government authorities on whether the Keystone XL pipeline will go forward, it is a tricky moment in relations between environmentalist and organized labor, and neither side seems anxious to worsen the situation by introducing new, potentially divisive issues. And for the Boilermakers and other unions that build tankers and equipment for the energy industry, environmental concerns rarely register.

Shipping industry experts are startled by the tanker boom. Tim Colton, a retired shipbuilding executive who writes the popular blog Maritime Memos, commented Aug. 9:

It’s amazing to think that it’s not very long ago that it was safe to say that all the… (U.S.-flag commercial tanker construction) was done, which it was, and here we are building ships like crazy, with a bunch more still to be ordered.  This upheaval in the domestic product trades is the most exciting thing that’s happened in the industry in decades, especially as there’s been almost no growth in these trades since the 1970s.

The excitement was accentuated in June when Reuters reported that ExxonMobil had chartered one U.S.-flag tanker at the astonishingly high rate of $100,000 per day. Controlled by the Koch Shipping and Supply Company (owned by the notorious Koch brothers), the vessel American Phoenix was reported to be earning 50 percent more than similar vessels at the same time last year. With charter rates at these levels, operating U.S.-flag tankers is estimated to be a very profitable enterprise that will spur construction of additional ships.

The lively tanker market also has an effect on the barge industry, which along with pipelines and railroads is an important player in the oil transport sector. For example, barge builder Jeffboat reported in late July that it was adding about 100 new jobs to help fill orders for tank barges. Coincidentally, Teamsters Local 89 ratified a new contract covering about 800 of its members at the Jeffersonville, Ind. yard at about the same time.

Back in Philadephia, Boilermakers’ Evans adds that the new tanker contract there should provide some respite also from political attacks on Aker Shipyard, and also on the Jones Act, the law that requires ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports to be built here and crewed with U.S.civilian seafarers.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have been subjected to intense criticism since 1998 for a series of efforts to financially aid the shipyard’s conversion from a military facility to a commercial yard, and the unions have come in for their share of attacks, he says. Such attacks have been most intense when the yard has struggled, while the benefits of such aid are most apparent when the yard’s order book is full.

Attacks on the Jones Act itself (particularly from big business interests and their Republican Party allies) are almost constant, adds MTD’s Ault. Complaints typically focus on the high cost of building ships in U.S. yards, compared to dramatically lower prices for similar vessels from countries like South Korea or China. But American labor has always argued that the ships are worth the price because they support U.S. jobs and are crucial to the country’s manufacturing base. Shortages of U.S.-flag tankers invariably prompt new calls for doing away with the Jones Act, Ault says, but strong labor union support for the law has been successful in blocking repeal efforts in the past. Today’s unusual conditions in the U.S. domestic tanker market can be expected to draw fresh fire against the Jones Act, he predicts, and unions will have to stand ready to defend the law again.

This article originally appeared on Working in These Times on August 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

8 Ways That ALEC Is Targeting Working Families

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallInformation about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement.  Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.

8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.

7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.

6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.

5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.

4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.

3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.

2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.

1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Why the Revival of US Labor Might Start with Nonunion Workers

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

abdFor workers in America, it can be hard to know where to turn when a boss pays you late or not at all, doesn’t provide benefits, or just yells at you for no good reason.

That’s why a Working America, a “community affiliate” of the AFL-CIO that focuses specifically on nonunion workers, launched a website last month that makes it easy to get that kind of information. FixMyJob.com is a bit like WebMD, but instead of typing in your aches and pains, you tell it about problems at your workplace. Launched on June 5, the site has already garnered 5,000 visitors, according to Working America organizer Chris Stergalas.

After choosing from a comprehensive list of workplaces and problems, visitors to FixMyJob.com get a set of resources and options for taking action. While unionization is a part of the solution for many problems, the site also informs workers about labor laws and instructs them on how to advance proposals to defend their rights. The site is a part of Working America’s expanded new campaign to organize people in their communities in all 50 states, says Executive Director Karen Nussbaum.

In both online and offline campaigns, Nussbaum said, the aim of Working America is to reach beyond the workplace and rally support at the local level for a pro-labor agenda. Working America’s list of priorities includes living wage laws, expanded health care, adequately funded public schools, and the protection of voting rights.

Before the launch of Working America, Nussbaum had served as founder and director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women; as director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor; and as an advisor to former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. I recently spoke with her about her vision for Working America, about FixMyJob.com, and about what the 50-state expansion means for the prospects of union revival.

Working America was founded in 2003 partly as an answer to the question of how to mobilize people who are not union members but would benefit from activism by and for working people. Nussbaum said that, from the beginning, her staff “concentrated on talking to workers in their communities.” Scoring success in mobilizing blue-collar voters for electoral campaigns, the organization created a foundation of members, and it is increasingly attempting to mobilize them around broader issues like working conditions, paid sick leave, and the right to join unions.

She added that the ultimate goal of Working America is “finding the connections with collective bargaining.” But she’s experimenting with different ways of organizing that might lead there. “It’s about taking whatever path opens on the way.”

In past years, Working America focused on battleground states during elections. But regional and statewide labor federations have pushed the organization to expand to all 50 states over the next five years. At first, Nussbaum said, that goal seemed “preposterous,” but she has come to embrace it. Ultimately, she said, she appreciated the strategic value of supporting local labor structures as they connect with community allies and work on issues that go beyond a single workplace.

One reason why the 50-state strategy is necessary is the national proliferation of so-called “right-to-work” laws and attacks on voting rights, two issues that Working America has taken up in Pittsburgh, Penn..

Nussbaum describes the approach taken by activists leading the Pittsburgh campaign:

These are a group of mostly white people in their 40s and 50s. They decided that voter protection actually was the key issue for them. Their group set a goal of reaching a million people in the Pittsburgh area on the issue. Part of that million was going to be reached by doing letters to the editor and circulation of the newspaper and so on. It also included things like a guy who said, “I go to my hardware store every weekend and everybody there knows me, so I will set up a table at the hardware store every weekend,” which is what he did. Another woman said that she dropped her father off at adult daycare every day, and so she would talk to the workers and other people at the adult daycare center.

This type of organizing taps into the existing frustrations that people have—in the Pittsburgh case obstacles to voting—and showing them how they can make a difference. “It’s everybody recognizing their own networks,” Nussbaum said. “I think that’s the key to organizing, isn’t it?”

She explained that Working America encourages people to see themselves as leaders within their own social circles, and, as it did in the case of the man in the hardware store, this recognition makes it easier to take action.

Nussbaum sees FixMyJob.com as a complement to these offline campaigns and as a means for introducing people to the labor movement. “Some people who use these tools will get turned on and they will become activists for life,” she said. “Some will fail, but it will help create a new environment that I think supports what we’re already beginning to see bubble up.”

This article was originally posted on Yes! Magazine on July 8th, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amy B. Dean is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations.  Dean has worked for nearly two decades at the cross section of labor and community based organizations linking policy and research with action and advocacy

American Crystal Sugar Workers Ratify Contract

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Image: Mike HallLocked-out workers at American Crystal Sugar plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa will soon be returning to work after they ratified a contract late last week.

The company locked out 1,300 workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), in August 2011. John Riskey, BCTGM Local 167G, said:

This means Crystal Sugar’s skilled, experienced workers will be transitioning back to the factories to start repairing the damage that’s been done over the past 20 plus months. BCTGM members thank all who have supported our stand for justice and dignity and who have helped our families survive these hard times.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the mills have continued operating with temporary, replacement workers, but the company’s operating costs have risen since the lockout began. Riskey told the paper:

The lockout was dragging the company down…somebody needed to step up to the plate and put families and communities first and especially our children….It’s time to move on.

In other bargaining news, members of the San Francisco Symphony ratified a new 26-month contract. The musicians, members of American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) Local 6, were forced out on strike in March for 18 days before returning to work when a tentative agreement was reached.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 15, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

New York City Fast-Food Workers: Everyone Deserves a Living Wage

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Richard TrumkaI was honored to be in New York City yesterday supporting Wendy’s workers take to the streets for a living wage. They joined hundreds of workers in other fast-food joints across New York City for the largest strike the fast-food industry had ever seen.

Their argument is simple: every worker deserves a living wage. And they understood the best way to do that is to come together to build collective power.

Their actions inspired me for two reasons. Speaking with them, it was clear their concerns were the same concerns that we fight for every day on the picket line or at the bargaining table.

These men and women work hard. Fast-food workers are being mistreated, and they’re underpaid. They feed our country. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. In New York City, workers in the fast-food industry only make 25% of the money they need to survive.

Second, it wasn’t a coincidence that they chose to strike on April 4, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Dr. King spent his last days rallying on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., who were fighting for the same respect and dignity these workers are asking for. He stood for a dream that every worker can believe in—whether he or she belongs to a union or not.

Yesterday, like those sanitation workers did 45 years ago, we carried signs that read, “I AM A MAN,” as well as “I AM A WOMAN.” It’s a reminder that while we’ve come a long way since 1968, the struggle for economic fairness never stops. And I am proud to stand with every worker who steps up to the plate in this fight.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 5, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Richard Trumka has been the AFL-CIO president since September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995. Trumka was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989. At the time of his election to the secretary-treasurer post, he was serving his third term as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA). At the UMWA, Trumka led two major strikes against the Pittston Coal Co. and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. The actions resulted in significant advances in employee-employer cooperation and the enhancement of mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Unions to Blame for Economic Woes? 'Oh, Please'

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Jackie TortoraToday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board ridiculed the absurd notion from the Missouri state Senate that somehow union members (teachers, nurses, secretaries, pothole fixers and home health care workers) are to blame for the state’s economic woes. “Oh, please,” the board responds. 

In its editorial, the board points out Missouri state workers are the lowest paid in the country.

Early Tuesday morning, while some of those workers were helping roll over your grandma or grandpa at the nursing home so they didn’t get bed sores, the Republicans who lead the state Senate set things right. They gave initial approval to a bill that will make it a little harder for the unions that represent those public employees to collect fees that might be used to elect thoughtful people to elected office.

The board says that the Republicans in Missouri didn’t want to feel left out of the union-bashing that occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, so they followed suit pushing through legislation crafted by “their corporate overlords in the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes cookie-cutter legislation written by corporate lawyers to enhance their bottom lines.”

In one of the last key legislative weeks before the spring break, the Senate:

  • Raised taxes on poor people.
  • Cut taxes for rich people.
  • Hurt teachers, nurses and other public employees.

The S.B. 29 paycheck deception bill, which makes it harder for unions to collect fees from its members (which are voluntary), is such a “farce,” the board adds, that its sponsor, state Sen. Dan Brown (R), was unable to explain its purpose. 

First responders, police and firefighters are exempt from the bill. 

Call your representative now at 888-907-9711 and urge him or her to oppose paycheck deception, “right to work” for less and anti-prevailing wage bills.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 12, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is an blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Chicago Teachers Strike for Fair Contract (But Really for Better Schools)

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Early this morning, Chicago teachers organized picket lines at all entrances to William H. Ray Elementary School in Hyde Park on the city’s South Side. They were joined by dozens of students, parents and local community residents. It was the first day in 25 years that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)–the first teachers union in the country–had gone out on strike, and picketers banged drums, gobbled doughnuts, waved at passing motorists (and the driver of a passing waste truck), and chanted with militant cheeriness: “Lies and tricks will not divide/parents and teachers side by side.”

Late Sunday night, the union leaders decided that, despite some progress in the nearly year-long contract negotiations, the school board had failed to satisfy the union’s 29,000 teachers and support staff in several key areas.

CTU president Karen Lewis, leader of an internal reform movement that took the union’s top offices in 2010, said the offer from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did not preserve medical benefits and did not provide adequate job security in a system thrown into turmoil by school closures and charter school openings. CTU also objects to a new system for evaluating teachers that relies heavily on improvement in student test scores.

Lewis said the two sides are not far apart on the issue of pay, including compensation for a longer day that CPS imposed this year. Sources differ as to the amounts on the table: Mayor Emanuel said the board offered a 16 percent raise over four years; board president David Vitale described the proposal as 3 percent in the first year, then 2 percent each of three following years; and the CTU characterized neither its latest proposal nor the CPS response.

But at its heart, the strike is over the union’s deep opposition to what it calls a “corporate reform agenda” that pursues a competitive or punitive relationship with teachers, rather than a collaborative one. Examples include blaming teachers and unions for educational shortcomings, promoting private but publicly financed charter schools, focusing on high-stakes tests and tying pay to merit.

CTU has instead pushed for smaller classes, enriched curriculum, better supplies and facilities, fairer and fuller funding (including the return of some public revenue long diverted into “TIFs” to subsidize developers), more counselors and support staff, respect for teacher professionalism, and a bigger say for teachers in their schools.

That clash puts the union at odds with CPS, the mayor and President Obama–whose education secretary, Arne Duncan, boosted the corporate-reform agenda as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s school superintendent. It also represents a more forceful rejection of such reforms than espoused by the national union, which nonetheless supports the CTU strike.

Unfortunately, CTU’s leaders have not pierced effectively through the cloud of misinformation coming from the mayor and allies (including groups with a financial stake in charter schools) to make clear what they’re for and against. Also, a new state law limits the union’s ability to negotiate many of the most important policy issues.

But Emanuel’s unpopularity among unions has lifted union support, including backing from UNITE-HERE members working in the school lunchrooms, who offered to join teacher picket lines even though the food workers’ earlier negotiation of a contract precludes their joining the walkout.

Emanuel said the strike was unnecessary, unwanted (by him), and wrong–”a strike of choice.” But one teacher tells In These Times it was virtually inevitable given Emanuel’s insulting, disrespectful attitude towards teachers and the union, his unilateral imposition of major changes without consultation and his hostility towards most public schools. I asked John Cusick, a union delegate who has taught fifth grade for 12 years at Ray School, what he thought of Emanuel calling teachers’ action a “choice,” not a necessity. After a long pause, he said, “We don’t have a lot of choices in CPS. We had no input into the longer school day. We’re given no input into how the day is structured. We’re given no input into whether the barrage of testing our students are undergoing makes sense. We have no choice in electing a school board. That’s a choice we’d like to have.”

Instead of experienced professionals having a voice, the board consists of rich people such as billionaire hotel heiress Penny Pritzker, whose businesses benefit from TIF funds that divert money from schools. Meanwhile, she sent her children to the private University of Chicago Lab School (as Emanuel now does), which she praises for its generous, well-appointed facilities. Lab is a few blocks from Ray (a fine public school that my kids attended), but worlds apart in amenities.

“We’d like to be involved in discussing class size,” Cusick adds. “We’d also like more social workers and youth guidance counselors. We’d like to be funded to the hilt like [the rich northern suburb of] Winnetka. Last year Ray had classes with as many as 41 students. Let’s have those choices.”

And beyond those strictly educational policy choices, there are the critical environmental issues–violence and poverty. “We do think there’s a crisis in American education,” Cusick says, “and it has to do with poverty, but officials offer charter schools. In ten years they’ll realize charter schools don’t solve the problem. We don’t need quick fixes. We need long-term commitment and investment.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 10, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Department of Energy Drops Language to Protect Collective Bargaining Agreements

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

mike elkLast year, In These Times detailed how the Obama’s Administration Department of Energy was helping one of its contractors, Honeywell, force concessions on unionized nuclear weapons workers in Kansas City. Now it appears that the Department of Energy for the first time is removing successor contract language that protects unionized workers as a contract shifts from one contractor to another.

Currently, more than 2,400 nuclear weapons workers employed as contractors in both Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Amarillo, Texas, are represented by the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. “These two plants have been in existence since the 1940s. Many of the employees are second- and third-generation people who have worked there over the years for different contractors,” says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill.

However, for the first time in their over 60 year history, the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration plans to consolidate the contracts for the two facilities into one contract which will begin at the end of 2012. And for the first time, the bid language given out to contractors does not include guarantees that require the contractors to rehire the same unionized workers at similar rates.

According to a letter sent by AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department to the Department of Energy, “The NNSA has drafted a final Request for Proposal that does not contain the provisions that would require the successor contractor to employ the existing workforce. The final Request for Proposal also does not contain the provisions that require the successor contractor to maintain the wage rates and fringe benefits that have been provided to all employees in their collective bargaining agreements.”

The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment about why it would not include these provisions in writing. However, union leaders are worried that not the absence of these provisions could open the door to contractors seeking to union bust at these facilities. AFL-CIO Metal Trade Department President Ron Ault says that he and other union leaders have met with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss their concerns, but that the Department has failed to listen to them and address their concerns.

“They have [completely changed] 63 years of procurement history. They just threw everything in the trash,” says Ault. “They are claiming to us that they are telling the contractors that they have to offer protections, but they won’t put it in any kind of writing. They are telling us they will chop the hell out of management, but will leave most of our employees alone. It is insane. They are telling us none of our fears will come to realization, but they will give us no protection in writing.”

Ault is baffled as to why a Democratic Department of Energy would fail to give assurances to protect the livelihood of workers at this nuclear weapons plant.

“Our question is why, after 60-some years of practices—why now? Why are we doing something that gives no written protection? These people … what they do is not making McDonald’s Chicken. They are building, remodeling, and refurbishing nuclear weapons.”

Ault feels that this move is yet another sign that the Obama administration’s Department of Energy is not protecting union workers employed by its contractors. As Ault told me in an interview last November, “Nobody can screw you like your friends. We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than Chu.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on July 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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