Entries in Union Workers (5)


Union Workers' Bonuses Boost Economy

Stephen Morton/Bloomberg via Getty Images(DETROIT) -- At last: bonuses for ordinary Joes, not Wall Street wheeler-dealers. Union workers at GM, Ford, Chrysler and Boeing are seeing bonus checks of up to $7,000 each.

That money, in turn, is helping boost economies in Detroit, Seattle, Charleston and other cities. The payouts come on the heels of improved or record corporate profits.

GM, which went bankrupt in 2009, reported 2011 net income of $9.19 billion on Thursday, an all-time high for the company. Starting in March, part of that profit will go to 47,500 members of the United Auto Workers in checks of up to $7,000 each, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Lansing State Journal says that 4,690 unionized hourly workers at GM's Lansing facilities will get a total bonus of $32.8 million, a strong boost to the capital city's economy.

Ford and Chrysler also are paying bonuses.

About 26,000 union workers got checks averaging $1,500 at Chrysler earlier this month. Ford, which reported a $20.2 billion profit last year, will pay its workers an average $2,450 starting in mid-March. Ford workers earlier received $3,750, profit-sharing for the first half of 2011.

The windfall might be enough to lift the economy of the Midwest, especially states such as Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, which are home to union auto factories, economists say. States dependent on the auto industry have already been improving faster than the U.S. economy in general.

Federal Reserve Board data predict Michigan will outperform all other states economically for the next six months.

Donald Grimes, a University of Michigan research specialist who follows labor and the economy, said such performance is the flip-side of the great recession's auto bust. "This is a reversal of the first half of the 2000s, when Michigan and other auto states bore the brunt of the downturn," he told Bloomberg News. "Now, they're getting a bigger share of the recovery."

The bonuses are a dramatic change from the recent past. GM paid no bonuses whatsoever to its union workers from 2005 to 2010. In all but two of those years, Ford and Chrysler paid no bonus, according to Michigan's Center for automotive Research.

Boeing's net income in the fourth quarter improved 20 percent to almost $1.4 billion. Workers in Seattle and in Charleston, S.C., including members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, got their bonuses before Christmas.

About 29,000 machinists in the Seattle-Tacoma region saw checks of $3,500 to $4,000 each. Economist Dick Conway told the Seattle Times the payments would inject $217.5 million into the local economy. In Charleston, bonus checks went to 4,500 Boeing workers.

Retailers, hoping to cash in, have introduced marketing programs aimed at newly prosperous workers. In Michigan, Art Van, the state's largest furniture store chain, has a special promotion aimed at GM workers.

There's plenty of pent-up demand for spending on wants, instead of needs, a store spokeswoman told Bloomberg News. "Many folks," she said, "are beginning to replace furniture, carpet and televisions."

Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., calls the bonus payments a significant development nationally for labor-management relations.

"Over the past decade," he said, "workers in perhaps a third of contract negotiations did get bonuses, but of a different type: 'signing' bonuses of anywhere from $500 to $7,000 if they ratified collective agreements with wage freezes or cuts."

Profit-sharing bonuses of the kind being paid now by the Big Three are considerably rarer.

For most union workers in the United States, Chaison says, a traditional percentage increase is still the norm. The change at GM, Ford and Chrysler is significant because, "the auto makers and the UAW are the big-timers, when it comes to negotiation. They're the trend-setters."

"What happens in autos usually gets copied in heavy manufacturing in general," he said, "and then in smaller manufacturing."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Big Labor’ Skeletons In Rick Santorum’s Closet: Are They Real?

ABC News(BOSTON) -- With Rick Santorum hot on his heels, Mitt Romney is launching a new line of attack against his resurging GOP rival.

“Big Labor’s Favorite Senator” read the bold headline on the Romney camp’s latest opposition research e-mail to reporters, which was rife with examples of Santorum breaking Republican ranks to -- according to the e-mails -- cozy up with unions.

But the unions Romney accuses Santorum of supporting don’t feel the same way.

“There is no support for Rick Santorum in the labor movement,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO., part of a nationwide union which is a multi-million contributor to President Obama's campaigns. “That just shows how far right that this race has moved. The fact that Rick Santorum is being considered a moderate is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.”

According to the AFL-CIO’s yearly report card on Senate voting records, Santorum voted “right,” or in support of labor unions, about 13 percent of the time in 2006 and 11 percent of the time in 2005, placing him on par with the majority of Senate Republicans.

“How can you even begin to believe that’s supportive of labor?” Bloomingdale said of Santorum’s voting record. “Did he give us a couple of votes throughout his career? Sure. But he voted against working families much more than he voted for them.”

Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, which represents union workers in and around Pittsburgh, said his group fought against Santorum during his House and Senate campaigns.

“We never considered Rick to be a friend of the worker, not at all,” Shea said. “The only time Rick Santorum was close to blue collar was when he was putting his shirt on.”

In the 16 years Santorum served in Congress, he supported pro-union measures a handful of times.

As a freshman senator in 1996, Santorum voted against a national “right to work” bill that would have enabled workers to opt-out of paying union dues.

He also voted in favor of barring companies from firing striking workers and supported a bill to re-affirm the Davis-Bacon Act, which ensures that construction workers on federal projects are paid at least as much as their private sector counterparts.

Santorum said he supported these pro-union measures out of respect to the standing laws of the state he was representing.

“I would change those laws within Pennsylvania, but I’m not going to have the federal government change the law for the state of Pennsylvania,” Santorum said on Fox News Sunday in January. “You don’t have the federal government impose those [laws] on the state when the state decided differently.”

As Romney works to paint Santorum as a union supporter, he is portraying himself as the candidate that will take on “union bosses.”

“I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of American taxpayers, and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the [United Auto Workers union], and I sure won’t,” Romney said Wednesday at a campaign stop in Michigan.

But Romney’s plea to non-union voters is a precarious one. The similarly pro-“right to work” argument he made during his 2008 White House bid paid off, especially in Michigan where Romney and Santorum are both going all-in this time around.

While the 28 percent of unionized Michigan voters split evenly between Romney and his GOP rival John McCain in 2008, non-union households favored Romney by 11 points, helping him win the state.

But the opposite story unfolded in 2000 when McCain and then-rival George W. Bush split the non-union vote evenly and McCain was boosted to victory by the support of union voters, 61 percent of whom chose McCain compared to the 34 percent who chose Bush.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


No More Twinkies? Hostess Workers Threaten Strike

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(IRVING, Texas) -- Workers at Hostess Brands, maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos and Wonder Bread, have threatened to strike if the company imposes “unfair” contract terms, including wage cuts.

The Teamsters Union, representing about 7,500 of the company’s 19,000 employees, said that more than 90 percent of its Hostess members voted to authorize a strike if “unfair contract terms” are approved as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 11 and is continuing to operate during bankruptcy proceedings.

The company, which operates about 36 bakeries, has proposed new collective bargaining contracts for which a hearing is set on March 5. The U.S. bankruptcy judge will have 30 days to issue a ruling, the Teamsters Union said.

Dennis Raymond, director of the Teamsters Bakery and Laundry Conference, said the vote shows that while the union’s Hostess members are willing to “take significant steps to save the company, they can only go so far.”

Hostess, founded in 1930, filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and re-emerged in 2009. The company has about $860 million in debt.

“Twice before, they have made sacrifices to help this company with no progress to show for it,” Raymond said in a statement. “They need to see their sacrifices matched by other key stakeholders and they need protections to make sure their sacrifices are not made in vain again due to mismanagement. While we remain committed to finding a solution to save the company, it won’t be done solely on the backs of our members and Hostess employees.”

A spokesman for Hostess declined to comment on the Teamsters’ announcement.

Members of 12 unions make up the majority of Hostess workers. Almost 92 percent of the union employees belong to one of two unions: the International Brotherhood of Teamsters or the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, the latter of which has about 6,000 members, according to reports.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Muslim Workers Suspended Over Prayer Breaks

PRNewsFoto/The Hertz Corporation(SEATTLE) -- Muslim shuttle bus drivers at Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington have been suspended by their employer, Hertz, for not clocking out when taking prayer breaks throughout their shifts.

Thirty-four drivers have been suspended since last Friday, when managers stood outside the Muslim prayer room and warned entering workers that they would be suspended if they didn't clock out before praying, according to a spokesman from the Teamsters union Local 117, which represents the workers. The union alleges that Hertz singled out the employees based on religion -- a charge that Hertz vehemently denies.

"It is common practice that if you're taking mini-breaks, if you have a lull in your work and go get a cup of tea or smoke a cigarette, two or three minute breaks throughout the day, you don't have to clock out," said Tracey Thompson, secretary and treasurer of the union. "Individuals take breaks, go across the street to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee during intermittent breaks, and this wasn't focused on anybody doing anything else but praying. They made it about prayer."

Rich Broome, a senior vice president at Hertz, said that the issue is not at all about religion, but about employees abusing the prayer breaks well beyond the agreed-upon four- or five-minute breaks.

"The breaks were being used for prayers but typically extended past the time necessary to complete prayer obligations," Broome said. "To be fair to all the employees that work there, we implemented this clock-in, clock-out rule to ensure that the employees were able to pray and ensure that they return to work in timely fashion."

Broome said the decision to implement the policy was a joint one between local managers and the corporate office. He noted that Hertz employs Muslim workers all over the world and allows for prayers every day.

"This idea that people were laid off for praying is not true," Broome said. "We have a lot of employees in Seattle and around the world that are Muslim who pray every day and who have not been suspended. This is a matter about following simple workplace rules and complying with those rules."

The union and Hertz met just a year ago to hammer out contract negotiations for the shuttle drivers, in which both parties agreed that two- to three-minute "mini breaks" would not require clocking in and clocking out. Now, the union alleges that Hertz has broken that agreement by suspending the employees, while Hertz claims that the offenders were taking breaks "orders of magnitude longer than mini-breaks."

The workers, who make less than $10 an hour without benefits or vacation pay, were suspended without pay beginning Sept. 30, and have not yet received notice of when they will go back to work, whether they are terminated or what disciplinary actions they might face, the union said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Firing Up Big Labor in the Midwest?

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As Republican governors seek to rein in organized labor as part of efforts to address budget crises, they’re sparking intense backlashes in the states as organized labor rallies to preserve rights and benefits for unionized workers.

Former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, told ABC News on Tuesday that the battles in states including Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa could wind up benefiting President Obama politically, particularly since the battles are being waged in critical presidential battleground states.

“He's somehow got to show that he's with the workers, that he's with people who are concerned about their jobs,” Frost said. “And what Republicans have done is give him a golden opportunity to show them that he is on the side of the working men and women. The labor movement had been kind of on the sidelines until recently. Now he may be able to motivate his base. This may actually long-term help him in the election” in 2012.

The fights could serve to remind voters of the importance of labor unions, Frost said.

“Motivating labor is something that the Republicans may have made a mistake on, because if labor gets fired up in the 2012 election, Obama will carry those Midwestern states that he needs to win.”

Frost also said that Republicans in Congress are “playing with dynamite” by potentially risking a government shutdown in their standoff with Democrats over spending, though he acknowledged that a repeat of the 1995 shutdown is unlikely.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio