Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24 Week In Review

October 24 Week In Review
by Bill Onasch

This is our “catch-up” WIR promised in our Election Extra.

More Tributes To Jerry Tucker

Happy Days Are Here Again
A headline in the Detroit News caught my eye–Autoworkers earning less in U.S. happy to compete globally. Like they teach in journalism school, there was a human interest theme centered on Debbie Werner, a single-mom of two earning 16.78 an hour at a UAW-organized GM plant in the Detroit area. After her experiences in the brutal Michigan job market she wasn’t grumbling that her pay is more than three dollars an hour less than the average production worker wage (pegged at 19.81 by the BLS in September). Werner told the reporters, “It's just an opportunity for me, it's a better life for my kids.”

Neither was Michigan Governor Rick Snyder complaining, “They're making a wage where hopefully they can have a reasonable family life.”

Sister Werner doesn’t go quite that far. Even this “happy worker” example laments, “What I make right now, I could live off of it....$16 an hour, single mom, is not going to put two kids through college.”

Currently, Tier 2 workers such as Werner–who get drastically reduced benefits as well as shrunken wages–comprise nine percent of the union workforce at GM, twelve percent at Ford, twenty percent at Chrysler. As the Tier 1 fade away like old soldiers, the Big Three is on target for matching total labor costs with the nonunionized Asian and European owned “transplants.”

For expert background, the News writers went to the go-to labor professor on every business reporter’s speed-dial, Harley Shaiken. After his standard defense of the UAW’s long-standing give-back approach as inevitable in a global economy he acknowledges worker happiness may spread,

“The price is steep in terms of an elite working-class standard of living that has been a hallmark of the UAW, said Shaiken, the labor professor. The risk is that the concessions will spread through the U.S. labor market in much the same way union gains of the past seven decades have benefitted workers, he said.”

This learned scholar speaks in the future tense about the chop-busting history that has marked settlements by the Steelworkers, IAM, Teamsters, UFCW, CWA, and most others in the private sector, and virtually every public sector union over the past several years.

President Obama, and his then chief-of-staff Rahm Immanuel, played no small role in speeding up the happiness of autoworkers and proudly display this crown jewel of their job recovery program that has “auto assembly lines humming again.” Not mentioned by the Democrats, UAW leaders, Harley Shaiken, or the Detroit News reporters of happiness, is that tens of thousands of auto, part supplier, and dealership jobs were axed as part of Obama’s auto salvation that included the termination with extreme prejudice of Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer.

Competing in a global race to the bottom is not my idea of fun. The best chance for true happiness in Detroit rests with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder as they take on the Giants in the World Series. Off the field, the rest of us have to confront an even more powerful foe–the ruling class and their politician servants.

Dialing Down at Verizon
Professor Shaiken might want to check out Mike Elk’s ITT Working piece on the settlement of CWA and IBEW contracts at the telecom giant. After a fifteen month struggle that included a short strike early on the four year deal was approved by votes of Locals last Friday. Elk notes,

“The contract contains new provisions that will make Verizon’s union member pay premiums for their healthcare--premiums that would double over the life of the contract. The contract also newly requires retirees to pay a contribution for their health care. And, for the first time ever, new hires at Verizon will not be entitled to pensions, instead receiving more risky 401(k)s.“

Mike also makes this good point,

“IBEW and CWA's salesmanship of the tentative agreement contrasts with the actions of union leaders in another recent, high-profile negotiation. When Chicago Teachers Union negotiators reached a tentative contract with Chicago Public Schools in September in the midst of a strike, union president Karen Lewis said, ‘I’m not going to say this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and try to sell it to them. I’m not a marketer.’”

Accountability and transparency are two buzz words much corrupted in our daily lexicon. But their generic meaning remains crucial in many activities, not the least of which collective bargaining. No contract battle will ever result in a complete victory for the workers. Even if you get everything you ask for that simply means you didn’t ask for enough. Sometimes leaders do all the right things but still get whipped.

Hyping a concession ridden contract however merely spreads debilitating cynicism from the leaders to the ranks. The CTU leaders didn’t have to “market” their settlement that ultimately received 78 percent approval by the ranks. Starting long before the strike, they not only allowed but insisted upon membership participation at every stage. Rarely has a union membership in recent times been as informed and involved. The concessions–mainly imposed by law–were frankly acknowledged. At the end of the day, the ranks not only believed the deal offered was the best that could be obtained–they thought all in all it was pretty damn good. Many other workers were inspired by this example and, perhaps not coincidently, fresh teacher strikes popped up in other Chicago area school districts.

Certainly not every union leadership is able to mount such an impressive struggle at this time. But all are in a position to strengthen internal union democracy and to honestly and completely answer all membership concerns. That perspective–which was a centerpiece of the approach of our departed brother Jerry Tucker–is essential to rebuilding a fighting labor movement.

Technical Problems Persist
As regular readers know, I have been struggling with obstacles to publishing new material on the website. I am hopeful of getting at least a temporary fix soon. In the not too distant future I will have to replace aging hardware and software–now in service for about eight years–to keep current with Internet technology. That’s not in my budget at the present.

We have been using the Google-hosted Labor Advocate Blog to publish the Week In Review and Daily News Updates. The blog has some formatting quirks I have not yet fully mastered. Worse yet, when the blog version is pasted in to our e-mail version, sent out by Yahoo, other formatting problems reveal themselves, such as some words running together.

The Labor Advocate Blog, while sometimes appearing odd, is usually readable. I will try to better clean up e-mail versions. I hope you will show as much patience as I feel embarrassment until we get it all sorted out.

That’s all for this week.

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