From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Labor board says Republic Windows violated laws

Republic Windows & Doors violated national labor laws when it shut down its unionized Chicago plant and moved work to a non-union company in Iowa, the National Labor Relations board alleges based on its investigation.

The agency's Chicago Regional Director Joseph Barker said if a settlement isn't reached, the agency will issue a formal complaint against Republic. Barker alleges Republic created Iowa-based Echo Windows as "an alter-ego entity" so Republic could avoid its collective bargaining obligations with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110.

The company's closure in December caused a six-day worker sit-in that made national headlines. Republic blamed the plant closing on Bank of America cutting off its credit line.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against Republic in January, following the plant's closing in December. The closing prompted workers to stage a successful sit-in at the plant, which drew national headlines and ended with workers getting severance and vacation pay and temporary continuation of health care benefits.

Barker alleges Republic failed to bargain in good faith in shutting down, transferring and relocating work from the Chicago plant to Iowa and failed to comply with lawful information requests made by the union for the purposes of collective bargaining. He also alleged the company refused to process grievances filed by the union.

Representatives from Republic could not immediately be reached for comment.

If a board complaint is issued, a hearing before an administrative law judge will take place.

"All this is too late to change the abuses of our rights by Republic management," Armando Robles, president of the union, said in a statement. "We were deliberately denied our rights and protections under the union contract and law, and only our occupation of the factory in December won justice for the workers."

The plant has since been bought by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials and will soon reopen. Serious Materials has said it plans to rehire the 250 employees. Union members will be recalled to their jobs as work ramps up at the plant under a union contract agreed to by the management of Serious, according to the union. The union will continue to represent workers at the plant

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Labor to Big Biz: You won't derail employee free choice!

Author: John Wojcik

The labor movement remains undaunted in its push for the Employee Free Choice Act despite the defection of Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, the only Republican member of the Senate who had supported the measure. Specter announced March 24 that he will now oppose the legislation.

Stewart Acuff, special assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, described the defection as a result of “corporate America’s increasingly desperate efforts to maintain their destructive stranglehold on our economy and on our lives. They have lied over and over ad nauseam about the Employee Free Choice Act and they have tried to bully U.S. Senators just as they do workers who try to form unions. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to obfuscate, distract, and confuse the public and lawmakers.”

The right wing drive has reached into the Republican primary elections in Pennsylvania where the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows that Specter may have difficulty keeping his seat in 2010. He’s trailing former Congressman Pat Toomey 41 to 27 percent in the Republican primary.

Sources in the labor movement say that union leaders had met with the senator to assure him that, had he remained a supporter of employee free choice, labor would have worked to get union members to cross over from the Democratic Party to vote for him in the Republican primary.

Union leaders believe that, despite the setback with the loss of Specter, who was a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act two years ago, labor has what it takes to win passage of the measure.

“What grassroots American movement can, in the span of one week, run 57 letters to the editor in newspapers across America, send 14,000 handwritten letters to 10 U.S. senators, and simultaneously plan 35 grassroots advocacy events with workers in 10 states? America’s labor movement can,” Acuff said.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that while Specter’s cave-in to corporate lobbyists is disappointing, it won’t blunt the momentum behind the fight to protect the right of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

“The fact is the Employee Free Choice Act has more support than ever,” Sweeney said, “with large majorities in both houses of Congress, the president and vice president, and 73 percent of the public. We do not plan to let a hardball campaign from big business derail the Employee Free Choice Act or the dreams of workers."

Specter’s main excuse for backing down was that “it is not best to consider measures that would increase unionization during a recession.” The labor movement’s position is that, historically, the nation’s most important labor law reforms have been made during tough economic times. The National Labor Relations Act, which made encouragement of collective bargaining rights the official policy of the government, was enacted during the Great Depression. Labor’s position is that the higher wages and better benefits that would result from greater union density would provide the economy with the boost that it needs.

There is evidence that this point of view is taking hold well beyond the ranks of the labor movement.

The Wall Street Journal admitted on its editorial page recently that the Employee Free Choice Act would not destroy secret ballot elections.

The Economic Policy Institute recently released a study by John DiNardo, professor of Economics and Policy at the University of Michigan, that says unions do not harm businesses and do not destroy jobs.

CNBC’s strongly pro-business host, Erin Burnett, said on Meet the Press, recently, that the “populist rage” sweeping America results from 30 years of stagnant and declining wages, anger over CEOs making 400 times what the average worker earns, and from a recession created, at least in part, by a lack of demand and buying power.”

Growing support for the Employee Free Choice Act has forced even sections of big business to put forward what they describe as “compromise measures.” Starbucks, Costco and Whole Foods have endorsed their own version of labor law reform which leaves in place the company-dominated elections and includes no requirements for companies to negotiate once a union is formed.

“Though their so called compromise is totally inadequate,” Acuff said, “it does signal that the ranks of corporate America have broken down as the passage of employee free choice becomes more inevitable. “It is a rare, beautiful thing when we see the class solidarity of the upper classes break down. Sometimes it mistakenly seems that the class solidarity of the upper classes is the most powerful thing in our political economy. Of course, it isn’t as we learned in November of 2008 and are learning again today.”

In his statement Specter also cited his concern that passage of the Act would eliminate the secret ballot elections. Would somebody please send him a copy of the Wall Street Journal editorial - B.A.

Monday, March 23, 2009

EFCA Calls the Question: Which Side Are You On

"Why do workers form and join unions?" That was a question George Meyers liked to ask union reps and workers as he traveled around the country talking up the labor movement.

George was the Labor Secretary for the Communist Party. He was a retired textile worker from a southern state. He had developed brown lung from all the years on the job, but after he retired he dedicated the rest of his years fighting for the rights of workers. A few years ago the disease took him from us.

His answer to the question was a few simple words that spoke volumes. "Workers form and join unions because the have to. They have no choice."

I thought about that answer while reading about corporate and Republican Party resistance to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that awaits passage in Congress. That's the one that will give workers the right to decide for themselves how, when, where and if they join a union without company interference.

George would have gotten a good chuckle out of seeing his word used in the title of this landmark piece of legislation. I can almost hear him saying, "You see, the bosses understand that workers have no choice but to join a union if they want higher wages, medical insurance, overtime pay, paid holidays and vacations, job security, safe working conditions, respect and everything else they earn. They prefer having the worker come to them, hat in hand and alone to negotiate for these things. That's why they are going to fight so hard to block passage of this bill."

He would've been right. Late last week the newspapers wrote about an alternative proposal being made by three large companies: Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco. These three, the reports pointed out, have a reputation as progressive companies. I guess that means we are supposed to feel warm and fuzzy all over when we hear their names. It also means the bosses and their allies are clever enough not to start the war by sending out rabidly anti-union companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to lead the charge.

However, progressive reps and warm, fuzzy feelings aside, a reading of the alternative proposal coming from this modern day "Spirit of '76" trio unequivocally places them in the "profit before people" camp.

Some examples:
-give management the right to demand secret ballot
-no binding arbitration
-tough penalties for union violations (undefined)
-language to make it easier for companies to set up elections to decertify union shops

If this is what "people-friendly" progressive companies like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco believe is good for their employees then we had better be ready for the battle royal that is coming.

Working people need EFCA!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Windsor auto workers seize shuttered plant

Wed Mar 18, 6:37 AM

CALGARY (CBC) - A group of disgruntled workers at a recently closed auto parts supply company in Windsor, Ont. have taken over the plant.

In the latest bizarre twist in a saga that has been brewing since two auto plants in the area shut down early last week, about a dozen workers occupied the Aradco plant Tuesday night. They have welded the doors shut from the inside and say they will not leave until they get what they are owed.

Work at the Aradco plant stopped last week because of a dispute between the plant owners and Chrysler, which has mused publicly about pulling out of its Canadian operations unless unionized workers make substantial concessions.

The Canadian Auto Workers Union that represents the Aradco workers say that in the wake of the shutdown, the workers are owed money for severance pay, vacation pay, and termination pay totalling $1.7 million.

The plant's owner, Catalina Precision Products Ltd. has offered the workers four weeks of severance pay or about $200,000 in total for all 80 workers.

The plant builds parts for Chrysler. Since last week, Chrysler has been trying to go in and collect parts and tools it says are its, but the workers are not allowing it. They have been blocking trucks from coming on to the property. Union representatives say the workers fear that if the tools and parts are removed, they will have no negotiating power.

"Some of the workers here have decided to take over the plant. That's the only thing they have in order to try to get the monies that are owing to them," said Gerry Farnham, president of the CAW local representing the workers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

AFL-CIO Executive Council Day 2

Miami - Today started with a press conference on the Employee Free Choice Act. John Sweeney led off by saying that labor is united around EFCA as its number one priority. He said much of yesterdays discussion focused on labor’s mobilization strategy for passage. He cited in particular Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, She told the council meeting of how the building trades had supported teachers in organizing their union in New York City. Weingarten said it is time for all unions, even those not specifically affected by EFCA, to return that kind of solidarity. She announced that the AFT is contributing $1 million to the campaign.

As an example of union mobilization Sweeney noted that next week the United Steelworkers are collecting 2000 hand written letters to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), this on top of 1000 letters already delivered last week.

EFCA, Democracy and the Economy

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, made strong points for EFCA as basic democracy and good for the country. He pointed out that of all the “democratic” countries in the Americas, North and South, the US and Colombia have the worst laws on collective bargaining. Most countries not only allow majority sign up for union recognition, but some don’t even require a majority. Cohen and others repeatedly stressed that passage of the EFCA is a basic component of economic recovery. Getting consumer demand broadly into the hands of working people is critical to generating production and economic activity.

Citing the New York drug store chain Duane Reade’s support for EFCA, Cohen mentioned a string of companies that are supporting the act or have called on business to remain neutral. It is a growing business push-back against the Chamber of Commerce and rightwing attacks.

Facts to Fight With

John Schmidt, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, presented a new report detailing illegal firings to stop organizing campaigns: you can read it here.

Worker Highlight

Philip Jackson (left) is a pipefitter apprentice and proud member of the United Association union. He was fired for discussing his union on the job. He is now unemployed and said that whenever he applies for a job he’s not hired because of his union membership.

Angela Winningham is a Delta flight attendant who spoke of her experiences with management’s underhanded practices and intimidation tactics to defeat NLRB elections.

Today’s agenda includes a discussion on support for nationalizing failing banks and discussion of the on-going efforts to reunite the entire labor movement into one federation.

Stay tuned, more to come.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

“There is a new sheriff in town.”

Hilda Solis meets with AFL-CIO Executive Council

Miami - The AFL-CIO Executive Council is holding it’s annual winter meetings in Miami this week. It’s no accident that one of their sessions was held in a IBEW local union hall in an economically hard hit section of the city.

The Executive Council met in closed session this morning with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Then Solis, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and IBEW president Ed Hill, went on a tour of an electrical workers apprenticeship training center. Last night Solis also participated in a forum sponsored by the Southern Florida AFL-CIO and Southern Florida Jobs w/ Justice. In both events she spent much of her time talking to rank and file workers. She asked them about their economic situations and spoke of the need to change the Department of Labor back to an agency that protects and promotes the rights of workers.

The meeting so far has focused on the economic crisis including jobs, healthcare, fair trade and protecting pensions and Social Security.

(More to come)