Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 11 Week In Review

Week In Review
February 11, 2007

by Bill Onasch

Back Home For A While
After more than 5000 miles of travel over a month’s time I look forward to a long stretch of home cooking. My latest journey was my very first visit to Philadelphia to attend a meeting of the Labor Party Interim National Council. The gathering was hosted by the Pennsylvania Federation of the BMWE-T and I must say they provided us with first-class meeting facilities and made sure we didn’t go hungry. We heard encouraging reports on the progress of party building in South Carolina and their plans for fielding the Labor Party’s first candidates for office there. There was also an update about the campaign to put a single-payer proposition on the ballot in Ohio, where the Ohio state party is working in coalition with unions and community groups. In addition there was further discussion about organizational restructuring in order to give maximum support to these priority campaigns. I’ll have more to say on all these topics later.

On my brief trip I became dependent on the same news sources viewed by business travelers. Watching CNN while munching on a complimentary breakfast in the Crowne Plaza Priority Club lounge I concluded the Iraq war must be over, the health care crisis resolved, and Global Warming reversed. There were but three dominant stories on the self-described “world’s most important network.”Examined in the most minute detail were the rival claims of paternity of the late Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter; the incredible amount of snow that has fallen in Oswego, New York; and Barack Obama’s announcement that he really is a candidate for President.

All this served as a reminder why I started up the Daily Labor News Digest about seven years ago, and later these weekly columns. Bill Gates willing, the Digest returns tomorrow, February 12, to Monday-Saturday updates by 7AM Central. Commentary on some of the news will be offered most days on the Labor Advocate blog and the Week In Review will continue, usually on Sundays. Now to some stories you probably didn’t hear about on CNN.

CN Strikers Get Backing Of International Union–But Not Their Own
2800 Canadian National Railway conductors went on strike yesterday. Steelworkers national director Ken Neumann immediately issued a statement that said, “These workers have been without a contract long enough....We are behind their effort to get a decent contract with CN....they can count on Steelworkers.” Only problem is the strikers don’t belong to the Steelworkers.

Their international union, the UTU, issued a very different kind of statement. Paul Thompson said, “The unauthorized strike against Canadian National Railways in Canada commenced by four UTU general chairpersons at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, has created a very serious and very sad situation for our UTU brothers and sisters in Canada employed by CN.... In fact, the UTU Constitution is a legally binding document on all UTU officers. Were I to violate the Constitution and authorize a strike without the required investigation, I would be subject to charges and the strike likely would be declared unauthorized if challenged in court or before a regulatory tribunal.”

It didn’t take long for the carrier to pick up on Thompson’s sad position. According to UTU-Canada, “CN’s Montreal-based law firm, Ogilvy Renault, notified affected UTU general chairpersons Rex Beatty, Raymond LeBel, Bryan Boechler and Sylvia Leblanc that because the general chairpersons did not follow the UTU Constitution’s provisions related to a strike, and failed to gain strike required strike authorization from the UTU International, that CN considered the strike unlawful under the Canadian Labour Code and that CN would sue strikers individually for ‘any and all damages’ incurred by CN.”

Our Canadian correspondent Rod aptly commented, “Labour can not back away from this fight. This is the watershed moment for Canadian Unions. If we blink now...If it needs a General Strike so be it, in this union members opinion.”

The Canadian strike web site can be reached by clicking here.

Change to Wind
Actually you may have seen SEIU president Andy Stern, aka Chairman Andy, on CNN earlier this week. The media was quite impressed with his joint appearance with the CEO of Wal-Mart to pitch health care “reform.”

Not so impressed was CtW partner Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW. Now Hansen isn’t exactly what you would call a radical. He paid his dues clawing up the ladder in his union’s bureaucracy as the hit man sent in to Austin, Minnesota to break the legendary Hormel strike and put the old Local P-9 out of business. Part of his work there was sandblasting Mike Alewitz’s solidarity mural from the union office wall. But Hansen’s union has the jurisdiction for trying to organize Wal-Mart and is currently engaged in tough negotiations with California grocers where health care is a huge issue. While not naming Chairman Andy, Hansen issued his own statement that said,

“It’s not appropriate to take the stage with a company that refuses to remedy its mistreatment of workers, among other irresponsible practices. Wal-Mart is actually decreasing health care coverage to employees and facing the largest gender discrimination case in the history of this country....Wal-Mart is the largest corporation that provides the least health care to employees. But suddenly the company has become a proponent of health care for everyone—apparently, though, as long as Wal-Mart doesn’t have to deal with the health care needs of its own employees....In addition to our continuing advocacy for universal care, the UFCW will continue our fight for good health care benefits for workers at the bargaining table. And we will continue our fight on behalf of Wal-Mart workers so that they have affordable health care benefits and wages. We will not settle for empty expediency.”

Hog Cancels Health Insurance
2800 IAM workers locked out by Harley-Davidson in York, Pennsylvania last week have had their health insurance cancelled by the company. Those wanting to continue coverage under COBRA will have to shell out 461 dollars a month for single, 1252 for family. Harley’s other two major plants in Milwaukee and Kansas City continue to operate under IAM and Steelworker contracts.

Go Chicks
Congratulations to my favorite group, the Dixie Chicks, for taking Grammy Awards for “Not Ready to Make Nice.” and their album, "Taking the Long Way." Stuff that in your trash barrel 61 Country.

That’s all for this week.

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