Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SoCal Grocers Look For Another Bite Of the Apple

Three years ago the unionized grocery chains in southern California took a two-billion dollar loss in sales during a 4½ month lockout/strike. It was well worth it. They bloodied the UFCW’s nose, extracting numerous take-backs, creating a multi-tiered system of wages and benefits. (For what we wrote about the settlement at the time click here.) Later, a similar, though a bit less draconian contract was obtained without a work stoppage in northern California.

The concessions have been particularly hard in the area of health care. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports on a university study that found that of the employees hired during the life of the current southern California contract, called “second tier,” only 29 percent are eligible for health insurance and only seven percent actually have it.

Even some senior workers, who have a much better plan than the newcomers have dropped coverage. In September 2003, under the previous contract, 96 percent of union members in the north were enrolled, 94 percent in the south. Today that has fallen to 79 percent in the north and only 52 percent in the south.

Now negotiations are about to begin for a new contract in southern California. Last time around the bosses claimed they needed give-backs to be competitive with Wal-Mart. Now they are raising the specter of British based Tesco’s plans to enter the market with hundreds of new stores in California, Nevada, and Arizona. Look for another tough fight.

Xstrata Strike Appears Likely

The former Falconbridge nickel mines in the Sudbury, Ontario area could be shut down tomorrow by over a thousand members of the CAW mine/mill division. The workers rejected an earlier company offer of a C$8,000 signing bonus. “Instead of bonuses, they would rather see a wage increase,”' a union spokesman said because bonuses are “a one-time deal.” CAW is demanding a C$1 an hour raise now and 75 cents in the second year. A strike would compound a global shortage of nickel used in stainless steel. Prices have more than doubled during the past year.

200,000 Strikers Protest British Civil Servant Cuts

200,000 British public sector workers are on the picket line today in a one day protest strike against Tony Blair’s “Labour” government plan to axe 100,000 of their jobs. Blair’s bunch would eliminate many services and privatize others. The Public and Commercial Services Union will follow up today’s strike and mass rallies with a two week ban on overtime and work to rule campaign. You can find out more at the PCS web site.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Some Updating On KC Labor Site

As many of you know, for several days I was unable to update the KC Labor site because of problems with our Microsoft frontPage 2003 software. Once again I have found at least a temporary work around and have done some limited editing. I still don’t feel confident enough to promise daily updates.

I have taken advantage of this window of opportunity to revamp the Environment page. Included is the prepared text of responder remarks I made at the Labor and Sustainability Conference in St Paul January 19, along with some video clips from the event.

Valentine Day Massacre?

The Detroit News reports that Chrysler Group will make an announcement February 14 that they will join the others formerly known as the Big Three with massive downsizing, including plant closings.

Sprawling Cities, Shrinking Crop Land

Even as President Bush and Agribusiness promote food for fuel conversion much of America’s crop land is shrinking. Wisconsin complains they’ve lost five percent of the state’s farm land to Urban Sprawl just since 2000. Seven other states--California, Georgia, Vermont, Nevada, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Delaware--lost even more. Over this time the Badger State launched an ethanol industry, now making 220 million gallons of the additive a year, and is embarking on a 450 million dollar expansion that would more than double the number of ethanol plants.

Manufacturing Workers Less Likely To Be Union

Randy Heaster points out in his Kansas City Star column this morning that for the first time since the BLS started keeping statistics manufacturing workers are less likely to be unionized than the average worker. Only 11.7 percent of manufacturing is organized compared to 12 percent of the total workforce. Of course, this will get worse as tens of thousands of UAW, USW, and IUE jobs are planned for elimination this year in auto and rubber alone.

Monday, January 29, 2007

January 29 Week In Review

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Week In Review
January 29, 2007
by Bill Onasch

Good Actions–But Should Have Been A Whole Lot Better
The January 27 March On Washington against the war, with supporter actions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a few other local areas, were respectable. Most veteran observers that I have spoken to agree there were upwards of 100,000 in DC. But that’s somewhat smaller than some previous ones and did not adequately reflect the growing antiwar sentiment, now embraced by the majority.

One factor holding down maximum turnout was the time of year. The biggest national mobilizations have always been held in the spring or fall, for many good reasons. The January date was selected by United for Peace and Justice, the largest of competing antiwar coalitions, out of political considerations. The demonstrations were aimed to set the table to lobby the new Democrat majority today in the Capitol, early in the session.

But that table got turned before they got a chance to sit down. Bush’s “surge” was a gift to cynical politicians, giving them a chance to manipulate antiwar sentiment without presenting any alternative plan to end the war.

A hastily concocted “coalition,” calling itself Americans Against Escalation In Iraq, appeared on the scene. Composed of SEIU, Win Without War, the US Student Association, and several Democrat PACs such as, and Campaign for America’s Future, they called on congress to “stand up to the President and insist on a policy which responsibly brings our troops home”–at some unspecified future time. The UFPJ lobbyists today will hear plenty about Democrats “standing up to the President” by introducing one or more nonbinding resolutions against the surge-–and little else.

There was widespread endorsement of Saturday’s protests by labor bodies and leaders. Barb Kucera wrote a good summary in Workday Minnesota. Fred Mason, president of the Maryland AFL-CIO, and a co-convener of US Labor Against the War, gave a good speech to the Washington rally on behalf of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. In San Francisco Alan Benjamin gave an excellent talk representing the San Francisco Labor Council.

That’s all well and good. But USLAW reports that the Washington labor contingent was only 2,000–about 2 percent of the total. While undoubtedly many other unionists came on their own clearly the mainstream unions that gave paper support did zero to mobilize their members.

Once again the antiwar movement has fallen far short of what is both needed and possible to bring about an end to this war. A competing coalition, ANSWER, has called for another Washington demonstration on March 17–another needlessly unfortunate scheduling choice putting it in to conflict with St Patrick’s Day celebrations across the country. The track record of ANSWER working to draw in broad participation is not encouraging. Still, we must do what we can and build any reasonable action called against this war. We also need to find a way to forge a unified movement, deciding actions democratically, in order to deliver a knock out punch while we have the war makers on the ropes.

How Many Miles to the Bushel?
Environmentalists were hardly cheering President Bush’s call for drastic reduction in gasoline usage. That’s because it isn’t a proposal to cut fuel consumption–an essential step to tackle Global Warming--but rather a pitch to cut the fuel itself with more ethanol.

In this country ethanol comes almost exclusively from corn. Adopting a food to fuel approach is leading to major problems. Already corn prices have increased dramatically leading to higher prices for corn-fed livestock and a devastating rise in the cost of Mexican tortillas–a staple of working class diet in our NAFTA neighbor.

Bush’s ethanol mandate would lead to both switching more cultivated land from other crops to corn and dumping even more chemicals on GM corn planting to increase yields–bad news indeed for the future of our land and water.

The Dense Leading the Less Dense
Remember the great debates a couple of years ago about union density–the percentage of unionization in the workforce? Some bolted the AFL-CIO, forming Change to Win, to show us how organizing should be done. The old federation axed its safety and educational programs to devote more resources to organizing.

Well, the latest BLS report shows how successful all this has been. Unions are even smaller today both in absolute numbers and in percentage of the labor force. In 2006, 12 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members, down from 12.5 percent a year earlier. The number of people belonging to unions fell by 326,000 in 2006 to 15.4 million. Private sector union density has plummeted to around seven percent.

Some organizing was done. The California Nurses Association, and their national organizing arm, have made some solid gains. Of more dubious value were political deals turning over hundreds of thousands of state compensated day care and home health workers to unions such as SEIU and AFSCME. But these efforts could not keep up with the relentless elimination of jobs in traditional union bastions, such as auto and rubber, driven by Globalization.

Like the Global Warming crisis, the challenge of union density falling below critical mass will not be resolved without confronting some inconvenient truths. In this case facing up to the bankruptcy of “partnership” with the employers and their politicians is a prerequisite for saving our endangered unions from extinction.

Ford Not A Baby Sitter
No kidding–Ford is closing seven employee child care facilities associated with plants in Detroit, Kansas City, and Louisville. This was not a negotiated benefit and the workers paid a substantial amount to leave their kids during working hours in these centers operated by Bright Horizon Family Solutions. But it is a great convenience–especially when called on to work overtime. Ford said, “The business realities in the current restructuring initiatives that we are working through right now forced us to make the difficult decision to discontinue the child care services.” The Detroit News was unable to get a comment from the UAW.

That’s all for this week.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Afternoon
Just judging from wire reports it appears at least 100,000 marched against the war in DC yesterday and thousands more rallied in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Few congressional Democrats--in the majority only because of antiwar votes--showed up though John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, and Maxine Waters were among the speakers. Martin Freed, 60, of Alaska, said Democratic leaders were “cowards” for skipping the protest. “They ought to be out here addressing us,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Even Conyers, Detroit Democrat now chairing the House Judiciary Committee, didn’t counsel relying on the new congress. “It takes the ... outrage of the American people to force Washington to do the right thing,” he said. “We've got to hold more of these ... until our government gets the message -- Out if Iraq immediately. This year. We've got to go.”

Artists and entertainers were well represented including Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Michael Farrell, and Jane Fonda. Fonda, at her first antiwar protest in 34 years, said “I've been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new antiwar movement. But silence is no longer an option.”

We’re still waiting on reports about the labor contingents and better estimates of crowd size. More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

First Post

This blog will offer commentary on labor news and issues on a more or less daily basis. It replaces the Daily Labor News Digest that we have maintained for nearly seven years on the KC Labor site. It also continues Labor Advocate, launched in print form in 1994, maintained as Labor Advocate Online through the KC Labor site since 2000. The pre-blog archives are maintained on the old online site.

Please cut us some slack as we venture in to the blog medium for the first time.