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Entries in Unions (8)

Tuesday
Sep272011

Unions Rally to Reform Postal Service Without Cutting Jobs

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Letter carriers across the country delivered more than mail Tuesday, hoping to bring the “truth” about the Postal Service’s financial crisis to the public, Iowa State President of the American Postal Workers Union Bruce Clark said.

Postal workers held 492 “Save America’s Postal Service” rallies across the country. Members of four employee unions rallied to support a bill that some say could save the Postal Service from certain economic disaster without cutting jobs or shuttering post offices.

Under the current system, the Postal Service faces an $8.3 billion budget deficit. Postmaster General Patrick Donahue blames the debt on a decline in traditional mail -- snail mail, if you will -- as a result of increased electronic and mobile communication.

Donahue has put forth options for shedding that debt, including large personnel cuts, shutting down thousands of offices and slowing mail service. In another attempt to increase revenue, Donahue announced Monday that the Postal Service will start making postage stamps of living people. In the past, celebrities could only get their faces on a stamp postmortem.

A bill sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla., that prescribes cuts similar to Donahue’s passed Sept. 21 in a House subcommittee.

Issa, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, argues that without layoffs, the Postal Service will eventually ask Congress and the American taxpayers for a bailout.

Sally Davidow, an American Postal Workers Union spokeswoman, said this is the wrong approach.

Both Davidow and Clark argue that the problem at the heart of the matter is not the number of current employees or out-of-date services.

Instead, Clark cites 2006 legislation that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund health care benefits for future retirees as the problem. Under that law, the Postal Service must acquire funds for 75 years' worth of retirees’ benefits over a 10-year span.

The union wants Congress to allow the Postal Service to recalculate the amount it should pay for pensions and reallocate the excess funds paid in years past towards the future health benefits.

Aside from the fact that this would take money that has already been paid out of the federal budget, an unpopular suggestion at best in this deficit-weary political climate, it would not resolve what Donahue said is a long-term problem: the disconnect between the American public’s communication desires and the product being offered.

But Clark said the Postal Service is still important in Iowa and other rural communities across the country, where post offices give residents access to government services like passport registration. In small towns, “a huge part of those people’s identities is the post office,” Clark said.

Beyond making their case for saving jobs and offices, Davidow said the rallies are meant to “give a pat on the back” to representatives who have supported the bill proposing these changes so far and “pick up a couple more sponsors.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug092011

Verizon Strike: A Sign of the Times as Americans Go Wireless

Stephen Yang/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Verizon strike -- 45,000 union workers pitted against one of the giants of telecommunications -- showed no outward signs of ending today, and analysts said it may be a sign of the times, part of a seismic shift in the way people now link electronically with the rest of the world.

The strikers, members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, say they are trying to protect their pensions and health care benefits, which Verizon wants to cut.  As the strike continues, Verizon customers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. who need their landlines fixed, will have to wait for fill-in workers to come to their rescue.

But the simple fact is there are fewer and fewer landline customers.  The industry says 27 percent of Americans no longer have landline phones -- a number that has jumped in the past few years.  They've moved solely to cellular service; the wireless business is booming for Verizon and other market giants.

"The wireline business is slowly but surely dying," said Roger Entner, the founder of Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachussetts.  "Wireline is losing money."

"Verizon is trying to lose as little as possible," he said.  "On the other side, what the unions are trying to do is defend what they have."

Verizon Wireless is not part of the strike; it is a separate company, 45 percent owned by Vodafone Group.  Significantly, it is a nonunion operation.

"Even at the 11th hour, as contracts were set to expire, Verizon continued to try to strip away 50 years of collective bargaining gains for middle-class workers and their families," said the two striking unions in a statement.

"We've put important issues on the table, and we're willing to negotiate," said Verizon spokesman Richard Young.  "However, the unions were unwilling to negotiate on anything that's critical."

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam sent a letter to company management that was made public, in which he said that corporate profitability had been declining for a decade, along with the number of landline customers.

"We're asking our union-represented employees to help us on a variety of issues that could streamline our processes and further reduce our wireline cost structure while keeping their overall compensation and benefits among the best in corporate America," McAdam said in the letter. "It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul192011

NLRB Under Fire for Proposed Changes to Union Election Process

National Labor Relations Board(WASHINGTON) -- Members of the business community faced off against the National Labor Relations Board again Tuesday to voice their opposition to the board’s proposed election changes.

This is the second day the board has heard testimony from business groups, union advocates and researchers about the proposed changes, which would not affect cases currently before the board.

The NLRB has caught serious flack in recent months over the highly contentious Boeing case, in which the board charged that the airline manufacturing giant retaliated against unionized workers at its Washington plant by building a new manufacturing plant in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

The current rule-change controversy revolves around the board’s proposal to mandate a seven-day window between when an employer receives their employees’ petition to form a union and when the pre-election hearing is set.

Business groups claim that one week is not enough time to process and respond to the petition, while union advocates say the shortened window prevents employers from using long wait periods to discourage employees from voting in favor of union membership.

Maurice Baskin, who testified before the board on behalf of Associated Builders and Contractors, said there is a “sense of outrage” in the business community over the proposed changes.   

“In the midst of this terrible economy the NLRB is proposing new and burdensome regulations that appear to have no purpose other than to promote union organizing,” Baskin said.

Baskin said the changes are “unlawful on their face” and “particularly offensive to small businesses” who do not have labor lawyers on staff and are often “completely at sea” when they receive a petition for union membership.

Baskin argued that seven days is not nearly enough time for employers to research their legal options, consult with a lawyer and discuss possible union membership with their employees.

“It takes months to reach the point in the federal courts that the Board now wants to reach in seven days,” Baskin said. “We submit that that’s impossible and there is no justification for that timetable.”

Elizabeth Bunn, who testified on behalf of the AFL-CIO, said employers purposefully drag out the voting process in order to scare workers away from union membership.

“Under the status quo, the employer is able to hang a sword of delay over the union,” Bunn said. “The goal is not to inform. The goal is to delay, harass, confuse and intimidate.”

She urged the board to adopt the “modest reforms” because they reduce “unproductive litigation,” allow workers and unions to communicate better, modernize the election process, create greater certainty and uniformity and allow more workers to vote in union membership elections.

Bunn said that “under the current rules, the board is hamstrung from fulfilling its mission of protecting workers who seek an election to form a union” because employers exercise too much control over the process.

The board will take online comments about the changes until Aug. 22. NLRB spokesperson Nancy Cleeland said implementing any changes would be a long process and that “the end of September would be optimistic” for any reforms to go into effect.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul072011

Ron Bloom Asked to 'Clarify' Recent Congressional Testimony

Ann Heisenfelt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is asking former car czar and current White House Advisor Ron Bloom to “clarify” his recent testimony before the committee and whether he made a pro-union statement during the auto industry bailout in 2009.

“[The] Committee considers the veracity of witness testimony essential to conducting serious oversight of the federal government and how taxpayers’ dollars are spent,” the letter from Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and two fellow Republicans states.

Last month, Bloom, the current Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy, testified before the Committee on the General Motors bailout. During his time as a Senior Advisor on the President’s Task Force on the Automotive Industry, Bloom played a key role in the process that led to the reorganization of General Motors and Chrysler and worked closely with the companies, lenders and the union.

At the hearing, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton asked Bloom if he said at a 2009 farewell party for the administration’s autos team that “I did this all for the union.”

Initially Bloom denied the comment, but later said he was misquoted:

Rep. Burton: Well did you say this at a dinner? There was a dinner and it was reported by David Shepardson, Washington correspondent for the Detroit News. At a farewell dinner of the Auto Task Force held in the restaurant Rosa Mexicano in late July 2009 that you allegedly said "I did this all for the unions.”

Mr. Bloom: No I did not say that.
Rep. Burton: You didn’t say that?
Mr. Bloom: No sir.
Rep. Burton: So, you were misquoted?
Mr. Bloom: That’s correct.
Rep. Burton: Well I’m going to call that guy up and ask him if you said that. You know that you are under oath here?
Mr. Bloom: I’m fully aware.
Rep. Burton: You made no comment like that at all?
Mr. Bloom: No sir.

The comment originally comes from a book written by Steven Rattner, Bloom’s former boss on the Auto Task Force. In Overhaul Rattner writes the following description of the dinner: “I thanked my colleagues for the enormous sacrifices that each had made. ‘In this deal, in this incarnation,’ I said, ‘you have epitomized what it means to serve your country.’ Fortunately, after I spoke, Ron Bloom was there to lighten the mood. ‘I did this all for the unions!’ he jokingly declared. Everyone laughed and the war stories began to fly.”

The quote was later republished in a story in The Detroit News.

"It appears that either a respected reporter and your former boss in the Obama Administration have both given inaccurate accounts of your comments to the public, or your testimony was not completely truthful," the lawmakers wrote in their Wednesday letter. "Therefore, if you would like to amend or clarify your testimony for the record, we encourage you to do so as soon as possible.”

According to the White House, however, the comment comes from just one source, Rattner, who clearly writes that Bloom made the comment as a joke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun172011

Boeing Labor Dispute Attracts Arrows From Republicans

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- A U.S. House committee takes to the road Friday for a politically charged field hearing in North Charleston, S.C., to determine whether the Boeing Co. violated labor laws by moving an assembly operation from Washington State to South Carolina.

"Chairman Issa and the other committee members want to hear from folks on the ground to learn what the economic impacts are and really get their arms around the local impact of the potential decision," said Jeffrey Solsby, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

At issue is a National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against the airplane manufacturer alleging that the company illegally moved the assembly of its fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner from union-friendly Washington to the South, where union influence is less prominent.

Almost every GOP presidential candidate has chastised the lawsuit. Mitt Romney called it a "power grab." Herman Cain called the suit "completely unacceptable...political games." Tim Pawlenty called it "another outrageous overreach by the federal government." And Newt Gingrich accused the labor board of "basically breaking the law."

The labor board, which is appointed by the president, wants to force Boeing to keep assembly of the jetliner in Washington, but would not make the company forgo the new non-unionized plant which would deliberately kill jobs that were created in an already down economy.

Boeing said a NLRB victory would "significantly impact, and perhaps permanently halt, Boeing's efforts to complete the facility," bringing "substantial economic harm to South Carolina."

The labor board says Boeing moved the assembly to retaliate against union workers at the Washington plant, where there have been five strikes since 1977 -- the most recent in 2008 cost Boeing $1.8 billion, according to the company.

The board has cited comments that a Boeing senior official made to a Seattle Times reporter as evidence that the company was trying to avoid unionized labor.

"The overriding factor [in transferring the line] was not the business climate," the official said. " And it was not the wages we're paying today. It was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years."

Boeing said it did not "move" the plant but instead created 1,000 new jobs in South Carolina. The company has added 2,000 new union jobs at the Puget Sound plant in Washington since making the decision to build in South Carolina.

While Boeing spokesman Sean McCormack would not comment on the case's political ramifications, he said the lawsuit raises questions about the ability of companies to make decisions about where they do business.

"Here you have a major American manufacturing company, Boeing, making a billion-dollar investment on manufacturing capacity in the U.S.," McCormack said. "We think that should be celebrated. Instead, we have a threat from the government, more specifically from the NLRB, to call for a remedy that would effectively close the plant."

The NLRB case began Tuesday with a hearing in Seattle and is expected to last a couple of weeks, the board spokesman said.

McCormack said Boeing does not expect to win the case in front of the labor board and will appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court.

"We believe that the complaint is a frivolous campaign not grounded in law and runs contrary not only to NLRB precedent," McCormack said, "but also established Supreme Court precedent."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
May202011

Labor Union Chief Fires Warning Shot on 2012 Campaign

Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka, who heads of one of the nation's most powerful labor unions, and who recently boasted of his frequent face-to-face meetings with President Obama, called current state and federal budget proposals a "despicable canvas of cruelty" and warned of consequences for politicians who even indirectly support them.

"It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside," said Trumka in an address at the National Press Club. "The outcome is the same either way."

"If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be -- now, in 2012, and beyond," he threatened in a message aimed at Democrats and President Obama.

Trumka said the union would become more politically "independent" and selective in giving its support.

"Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate," he said.

In the next few months, the AFL-CIO says it plans to focus efforts on recall elections in Wisconsin and other states that have tried to limit union rights. Then, the group will work to "hold elected leaders in Congress as well as the states accountable on one measure: are they improving or degrading life for working families?" Trumka said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb282011

Cops vs Teachers: Who's Worth More in Tight Times?

Photo Courtesy - Gettty Images(NEW YORK) -- Are some public-sector workers more equal than others? Are cops and firemen more deserving of public money, say, than file clerks? Than prison guards? Than librarians or hospital orderlies? With an ever-smaller pie of money available for public salaries and pensions, shouldn't first responders get first dibs? The general public, some elected officials -- and more than a few cops and firefighters -- seem to think so.

As the war over public sector workers' rights and perquisites spreads from Wisconsin into Ohio, Tennessee, California and other states, public opinion favors firefighters most. A Harris Poll conducted in July of 2009 asked which of 23 vocations people respected most. Firefighters ranked #1, and by a big margin, coming out ahead of nurses, teachers, union leaders and even cops.

Deputy Chief Jim Riches, retired from the New York City Fire Department and a veteran of the 9/11 Twin Towers attack, says workers who risk their lives belong in a separate category.

Teachers, he allows, are important, too, but there's a difference, he says: they aren't exposed to the dangers and horrors first responders have to face. After the Twin Towers fell, Riches led the search and recover of bodies and body parts. He says his men exposed themselves not only to that horror but to toxic materials and dust. Some of them later suffered for it. "We were told the air quality was fine," he says.

"Education is valuable, absolutely yes," he says. "You cannot do without it. But take away too many firefighters and police, and you'll have more fires where people get killed. Crime will go up." When government has to make the hard choice how to distribute limited resources, he thinks, "There's no question you have to weigh those issues."

What's gone on in Wisconsin—and in the growing list of other states where governors, desperate to balance budgets, have sought to wrest pay and pension concessions away from public workers -- Riches calls "totally wrong." The attempt to limit public workers' collective bargaining power he calls "disgraceful." But insofar as times truly are tough and state governments genuinely are strapped for cash, it's not unfair, he thinks, to distinguish between categories of public workers.

Chuck Canterbury, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, believes the public puts guardians of public safety in a different category. Voters, he says, "still favor collective bargaining for public safety," meaning by firemen and cops -- and by a wide margin. Should they have first claim at pay in a time of shortage? "I think so, yes."

As for government's cutting back on police and fire pensions: "Asking somebody to put his life on the line and then, after 40 years, telling him he has no pension? You can't do that. People won't risk their lives to do that." Recruiting efforts, he believes, would immediately suffer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Monday
Feb282011

Unions and Wall Street at the Oscars

Wally Pfister speaking after accepting the Academy Award for best cinematography on the film "Inception." Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The Academy Awards was mostly show business as usual following three weeks of union protests at Wisconsin's capital. Although the Hollywood film industry is brimming with dozens of unions, from the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America to the American Federation of Radio and TV Artists, there were only a few shout-outs in support of collective bargaining, which the governor's budget proposes to limit.

The best cinematography winner, Wally Pfister, thanked his union crew for their work on Inception during his acceptance speech.

"I think that what is going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now," Pfister said. "I have been a union member for 30 years and what the union has given to me is security for my family. They have given me health care in a country that doesn't provide health care and I think unions are a very important part of the middle class in America -- all we are trying to do is get a decent wage and have medical care."

ABC News reports that Pfister expressed further shock at Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal backstage after his speech.

Gary Rizzo, who won best sound mixing for Inception, thanked "all the hard-working boom operators and utility sound people that worked on the production crew. Union, of course."

There seemed to be only one declaration about the financial meltdown onstage. The director for best documentary, Charles Ferguson, was one of the only winners who mentioned the financial crisis. His film, Inside Job, depicted Wall Street in a harsh light while examining the origins of the financial crisis.

"Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong," Ferguson said.

The website Bloginity reported Ferguson said during a backstage interview that the reason nothing has been done about these alleged financial crimes is that "the financial industry has become so politically powerful that it is able to inhibit the normal processes of justice and law enforcement."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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