Momentive workers vote for agreement that ends their strike

After being on strike for 105 days, Momentive workers in Waterford, New York on February 14 voted to accept a new collective bargaining agreement.

Members of IUE-CWA Local 81539, which represents production workers at the chemical plant that makes silicon products, voted 317 to 211 to ratify the new agreement; members of its sister local 81380, which represents lab workers, voted 61 to 0 to ratify.

Dennis Trainor, vice president of District 1 of the Communication Workers of America who helped negotiate the agreement, said that the new contract was a “substantial  improvement” over the company’s take-it-or-leave-it original offer that caused the strike.

Nevertheless, workers at the union office for the contract vote were in a somber mood.

The new contract provides two raises–a 2 percent raise effective in June and another 2 percent raise effective a year later–, a $2000 signing bonus, reduced health care benefits, fewer vacation days, and it eliminates retiree health care insurance for workers who retire this year and onward.

The agreement that ended the strike leaves intact the firings of 27 union members for strike-related activities.

Members of locals 81359 and 81380 went on strike when Momentive, owned by one of the world’s largest private equity companies Apollo Global Management, offered the workers a new collective bargaining agreement with a laundry list of concessions, givebacks, and takeaways.

Since Apollo bought Momentive in 2006, workers have endured a series of pay cuts and benefit reductions.

When Apollo made its latest concession laden contract offer, it left workers with no choice but to vote to authorize and carry out a strike.

During the strike, Apollo brought in replacement workers to maintain some semblance of productive activity.

During the strike, Momentive was cited by New York’s environmental protection agency for health and safety violations that endangered the surrounding communities. The union attributed the health and safety problems to errors caused by the replacement workers.

The sight of these replacement workers undermining the workers’ fight to maintain their benefits and decent standard of living and the threats to the health safety of their neighbors, families, and friends caused by the inexperienced replacement workers did not sit well with strikers.

Some workers were justifiably enraged by the replacement workers’ actions.

When they expressed their anger at the company and at the replacement workers themselves, the company fired them.

When the workers return to work on Friday, those fired during the strike will still be out of a job.

The new agreement establishes an arbitration process that allows for a review of the terminations and possible reinstatement of those who were fired.

Fifteen of those fired, were accused of vandalism. They will have their firings reviewed by an independent arbitrator appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who mediated the end of the strike.

Returning workers were also miffed by the fact that some replacement workers will remain on the job during a transition period and by the company’s requirement that striking workers attend a two-day training workshop on the company’s code of conduct and safety.

Many of the strikers are long-time Momentive employees with years of experience handling the plant’s dangerous chemicals and operating the plant’s equipment They are more than capable of leading the safety classes that they will be attending.

During the strike, some workers who voted for President Trump hoped that he would intervene to help end the strike.

But those hopes faded when they learned that one of Trump’s new economic advisers would be Steve Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, another one of the world’s largest private equity companies that until last summer owned a stake in Momentive. Schwarzman is the new chairman of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

AT&T workers demonstrate solidarity to oppose company greed

Three groups of AT&T union workers joined together on February 11 to denounce AT&T’s greed, express their frustration with AT&T’s lack of concern about its workers, and to demand a fair contract.

AT&T  Mobility Orange Contract workers in 35 states, AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada, and AT&T DirecTV workers rallied for fair contracts at AT&T wireless retail stores and call centers in 36 cities throughout the US. They are members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

The three groups are involved in three separate collective bargaining negotiations, and union members are frustrated with the company’s lack of respect for its frontline workers.

“AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center, and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1. “Nationwide, AT&T workers’ resolve to win has never been stronger, and when telecom workers commit to winning a fair contract, they don’t back down.”

AT&T Mobility Orange Contract wireless technicians, customer service representative, and retail store employees began negotiating in January.

The union says that the company during negotiations has failed to address key concerns of its workers. Subsequently, 93 percent of the union members voted last week to authorize a strike.

“Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker from Illinois.  “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son’s about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious–the company must address these issues and bargain a fair contract.”

Since 2011, AT&T has cut 8,000 call center jobs and moved these jobs to other countries. At 60 percent of its retail stores, the company has outsourced good paying union jobs to private contractors who pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits.

The company is also seeking to increase health insurance premiums for long-term employees and to deny pension benefits for new hires.

Retail store workers want the company to increase their commissions, and all wireless workers want a fair wage increase that recognizes the vital role they play in making the company’s robust profits possible.

Orange Contract Mobility workers were poised to go on strike when their current collective bargaining agreement expired on February 11, but  on the eve of the strike deadline, the two sides agreed to continue bargaining.

While the bargaining continues, the existing collective bargaining agreement remains in effect. The union can still strike after it gives the company a notice of its intention to strike 72 hours before the strike begins.

“The union and company remain very far apart on all issues important to our members,”reads a message from the union’s Bargaining Team to union members. “The Bargaining Team is not here to settle, we are here to fight, and we feel energized by all the mobilization we see across the Orange Contract footprint. AT&T is greedy and their proposals are unfair and appalling.”

AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada who maintain and repair telecommunications infrastructure and install and repair telecommunications equipment in homes have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement since April.

In addition to being frustrated with AT&T’s lack of responsiveness at the bargaining table, union workers are concerned that AT&T isn’t investing enough in its telecommunications infrastructure.

The consequences of this lack of investment were exposed in January when severe storms hit the West Coast.

According to the union, storm related outages increased by 350 percent during the January storms because the company’s telecommunications  infrastructure was too old. Workers are concerned that outages will be even worse when the next storm hits.

In addition to not investing in infrastructure, union members charge the company with not investing in its workers.

Union members are seeking improvements to their health care benefit, a benefit that was shaped in 2009 while the company was feeling the after shock of the Great Recession. As a result, worker health care costs have increased substantially. For some members, increased health care costs have resulted in stagnant or lower take home pay.

Wireline workers also want a decent pay increase. The union reports that during the last five years, company productivity increased 25 percent, but pay increased only 17 percent.

“The company’s priorities are backwards . . . because the frontline, which is the employees in the call centers, the technicians in the manholes, (and) in the houses, are the ones (who the company) gets (its) profits from,” said Armando Zepeda, an AT&T Premises Technician.

Last year, 95 percent of AT&T’s California and Nevada wireline workers authorized a strike, but the union and company have continued to negotiate.

Like their wireless counterparts, wireline workers could go on strike after giving the company a 72-hour notice.

If both groups go on strike at the same time, AT&T could be facing a strike by 38,000 of its workers.

AT&T DirectTV workers in CWA District 9 are also negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

They joined CWA last year, and this will be their first contract. Bargaining began on February 8.

In September, CWA reached an agreement on a first contract for 2100 DirectTV workers in the Southeast and Midwest.

That contract provides for the same wage progression schedules in contracts covering CWA members at AT&T in those regions.  Those DirecTV workers also will receive wage increases every six month until they achieve the top of the wage progression scale.

The tentative agreement also provides for health care coverage; disability, savings and pension benefits, a grievance and arbitration process, and coverage under the national transfer plan, among other benefits.

Union joins consumer and environmental groups in suit to stop”one in, two out” executive order

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) joined Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in suing the Trump administration to block implementation of a recent executive order requiring federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new one that they issue.

The plaintiffs are concerned that the executive order will diminish protections against discrimination, public health, worker safety, consumer protection, and the quality of the environment.

CWA President Chris Shelton said that Trump’s so-called “one in, two out” Executive Order imperils worker safety by requiring the elimination of existing job safety regulations when the need arises to write new ones.

“This order means that the asbestos workplace standard, for example, could be discarded in order to adopt safeguards for nurses from infectious diseases in their workplaces,” said Shelton. “This violates the mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers’ safety and health. It also violates common sense.”

While President Trump touted his executive order as a boon to small business, the bulk of the order’s benefits will go to large corporations.

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman blasted Trump’s order as a gift to big business at the expense of workers, public health, consumers, and the environment.

“No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment, and the economy would ever adopt the Trump Executive Order approach–unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business,” said Weissman. “If implemented, the order would result in lasting damage to our government’s ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe, and fight discrimination.”

Weissman also criticized Trump’s Executive Order for establishing a new regulatory budgeting system that requires the net cost of new regulations to be zero, meaning that agencies must offset the cost of the new regulations by cutting existing regulations.

“By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits,” Weissman said.

The public benefits of regulations are often ignored, but according to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the public benefits of regulations often far exceeded their costs.

OMB has developed a methodology for estimating the costs and benefits of regulations and reports this information to Congress.

Project on Government Oversights reports that the draft of OMB’s most recent report estimates that the annual public benefit of all major regulations over the last ten years amounts to between $208 billion and $627 billion; on the other hand, the cost of these regulations ranges from $57 billion to $85 billion.

In 2005 when the OMB was headed by a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush, its cost-benefit analysis of regulations  found that the annual benefits over a ten-year period amounted to between $69.6 billion and $276.8 billion while the costs ranged from $34.8 billion to $39.4 billion.

In addition to ignoring the public benefits of regulations, the Trump Executive Order forces agencies to make what Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council, calls the “false choice” of determining what public benefits must be sacrificed in order to write a new regulations.

 

“President Trump’s order would deny Americans the basic protections they rightly expect,” said Suh. “New efforts to stop pollution don’t automatically make old ones unnecessary.”

The plaintiffs’ suit if successful will prevent agencies from being forced to make these kinds of false choices.

The lawsuit was filed on February 8 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. According to a statement issued by the plaintiffs, “the complaint alleges that . . . agencies cannot lawfully comply with the president’s order because doing so would violate the statutes under which the agencies operate and the Administrative Procedure Act.”

“When presidents overreach, it is up to the courts to remind them no one is above the law and hold them to the US Constitution,” said Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney and one of the attorneys working for the plaintiffs. “This is one of those times.”

CA DirectTV workers stand together in solidarity to protest unjust firing

DirectTV installation and maintenance technicians in Sacramento, California refused to work on January 30 because one of their fellow technicians was unfairly fired.

The company fired Anthony Estrada, a two-year DirectTV employee, because it claimed that he lost a $300 meter used to aim satellite dishes.

According to the workers, Estrada’s firing was the first time that the company had fired someone for losing a meter or other tool of any kind.

“We have had guys lose a meter before,” said one technician. “They just made them pay the depreciation cost.”

Estrada is one of 130 DirectTV workers at the company’s McClellan Business Park office in Sacramento

The workers are members of Communication Workers of America Local 9421, a 1500 member local whose members work for AT&T in the Sacramento area.

AT&T bought DirectTV in 2015, and since then many DirectTV workers have joined CWA locals.

California and Nevada DirectTV workers, including those in Sacramento, joined CWA in 2016 and have been bargaining for their first contract.

At present, because there is no contract there is no agreed upon grievance procedure for resolving the kinds of unfair disciplinary actions that led to Estrada’s firing. As a result, the workers decided to take direct action to protest the company’s unjust firing.

The job action began on a Monday, and escalated on Tuesday when workers showed up outside the DirectTV service center and refused to go to work again.

At that point, the company said that it was locking out the workers.

The company’s action however, failed to intimidate the workers, and they showed up again on Wednesday en masse with picket signs reading, “WE ARE ONE.”

On Thursday, the company refused to allow the workers to use restroom facilities in the office, but the workers maintained their picket lines outside the office.

While the workers’ job action continued, the union and the company met to discuss ways to end the job action.

On Friday morning, the two sides announced an agreement, and the technicians resumed work on Friday afternoon.

The agreement did not restore Estrada’s job immediately; instead, the two sides agreed to bring the issue of his firing to the bargaining table.

The union and company are scheduled to meet on February 8 at which time CWA will present its case for reinstating Estrada.

“It didn’t go 100 percent the way we wanted to, but it’s still not over yet,” said Estrada to the Sacramento Bee.

In the meantime, John Miller, president of Local 9421 had high praise for the new members of the local. “I want to say I am very proud of my guys and extremely impressed with the solidarity they showed in uniting for one of their own. I’m very proud to have this group in my local,” said Miller.

Executive order puts retirement security at risk for some

After meeting with a dozen chief executives of hedge funds and banks, President Trump on February 3 signed two executive orders that Wall Street cheered.

The first one directs the Secretary of the Treasury to recommend a plan for dismantling the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which provides the public with some protections against the kinds of reckless speculation and fraud that caused the financial crisis of 2008.

The other effectively eliminates a regulation designed to protect retirees from predatory financial advice. The regulation being eliminated is known as the fiduciary rule, and it requires financial professionals giving retirement advice to act in their customers’ best interest.

“Donald Trump talked a big game about Wall Street during his campaign, but as President, we’re finding out whose side he’s really on,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren in a statement about the executive orders. “Today, after literally standing alongside big bank and hedge fund CEOs, he announced two new orders: one that will make it easier for investment advisers to cheat you out of your retirement savings, and another that will put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of gutting the rules that protect you from financial fraud and another economic meltdown. The Wall Street bankers and lobbyists whose greed and recklessness nearly destroyed this country may be toasting each other with champagne, but the American people have not forgotten the 2008 financial crisis, and they will not forget what happened today.”

Before the executive orders were signed, Sen. Warren issued a report on the pernicious practices of some financial professionals who put their own interests ahead of their customers.

According to the report, some agents who call themselves financial advisers routinely steer customers to invest their retirement savings in annuities and other financial instruments offered by companies that reward the advisers with kickbacks such as high fees, fancy vacations, and other incentives.

The Consumer Federation of America also has weighed in on the necessity of protecting retirees from so-called financial advisers who are in effect sales people with a vested interest in steering customers to companies that offer what amount to kickbacks for selling their products.

“Investors who unknowingly rely on biased salespeople as if they were trusted advisers can suffer real financial harm as a result. It is estimated, for example, that retirement savers lose $17 billion a year or more as the result of the excess costs associated just with conflicted retirement advice,” reads a report published by the federation.

Writing for Think Progress, Bryce Covert tells the story of one retiree who trusted a financial adviser with his retirement savings and ended up getting burned.

Phillip Burns, writes Covert, was offered a buyout to retire from his employer. Burns sought financial advice from an agent who said Burns could get rich by investing his $355,000 in a variable annuity.

But the agent didn’t tell Burns that she received commissions from the seller of the variable annuity or that the commissions she received from the annuity company and others totaled $900,000 a year.

The variable annuity that Burns purchased was in fact a risky investment that ended up losing most of its value and costing Burns his retirement security.

Thanks to the work that Sen. Warren had done to shine a light on the kickbacks and other incentives that so-called financial advisers receive from annuity companies and other financial institutions, the Labor Department drafted the fiduciary rule to protect retirees and their retirement security.

After the long vetting process required to enact such regulations, the fiduciary rule was set to go into effect in April; however, President Trump’s executive order indefinitely delays its implementation and instructs the new secretary of labor to review the rule, which means that there is no chance that the fiduciary rule will be implemented.

While Wall Street seemed pleased with the rollback of the fiduciary rule, others were wary of the consequences.

“For many Americans, today’s executive order means they will continue to get conflicted financial advice that costs more and reduces what they are able to save for retirement,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the American Association of Retired People to Business Insider.

Supporters of Nissan workers: “Worker rights are civil rights”

A group that included civil rights activists, clergy, local elected officials, union members and leaders, and students on January 26 demonstrated outside of a Nashville Nissan dealership to protest civil rights violations at the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi.

“We are proud to stand with our friends in Mississippi to call attention to civil rights abuses at Nissan’s assembly plants,” said the Rev. Ed Thompson, chair of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and labor unions. “We believe workers’ rights are civil rights. We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us in this cause.”

The Nashville demonstration was the first of a series of planned actions being taken to raise awareness of troubling conditions at Nissan’s Canton factory, which manufactures several Nissan models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan.

Workers at the Canton Nissan factory have become concerned about safety at the factory, a punishing production quota that exacerbates safety problems, a two-tiered wage system that pays temporary workers much less and provides fewer benefit than permanent workers, and the company’s campaign of coercion and intimidation directed at workers who want to form a union.

Workers who have been trying to form a union local of the United Autoworkers (UAW) have seen their safety deteriorate since the plant was opened in 2003.

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Ernest Whitfield, a 13-year Nissan employee in Canton who attended the Nashville demonstration. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.”

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July fined Nissan for safety violations at the Canton plant that that caused serious injuries to two workers. According to OSHA, both workers were hospitalized because of falls caused by slip hazards that the company failed to correct. One fall happened in October 2015; the other in February 2016.

At the Nashville demonstration, a delegation delivered a letter to the dealership’s owner from the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a civil rights coalition supporting the Canton Nissan workers.

The letter, signed by Dr. Isiac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chairman of MAFFAN, says that despite promises that Nissan would “bring quality jobs to our community for years to come, over time, Nissan has decided to take a different path. Today, the company exploits its predominately African American workforce in a number of ways.”

Speaking at the Nashville demonstration, Vonda McDaniel, president of the local labor council, criticized Nissan for the disparity between what it says are its values and the way that it conducts itself at the Canton plant.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible car maker,” said McDaniel.. “But the reality is, Nissan is turning a blind eye toward workers’ rights and safety problems at its assembly plants. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.”

Similar demonstrations are planned for Nissan dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Taxi workers strike to show opposition to anti-Muslim executive order

Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) on January 28 staged a strike at the Kennedy International Airport in New York City to show solidarity with the people being detained at the airport because of President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the US.

“Today (taxi) drivers are joining the protests at JFK Airport in support of all those who are currently being detained at the airport because of Trump’s unconstitutional order,” reads a statement issued by NYTWA, a 19,000 member, AFL-CIO affiliated union.

As a result, the airport’s usually bustling taxi stand was vacant during the Saturday night strike.

“Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those simply trying return to their homes here in America after being abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this cruel and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry,” continues the statement.

In addition to standing in solidarity with people denied entry, NYTWA also criticized the executive order itself, which singled out Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban,” said NYTWA.

NYTWA also was concerned about the effect that President Trump’s executive order would have on immigrants and Muslims who make a living by driving taxis and other passenger vehicles, which is already a dangerous job.

According to NYTWA, professional drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers.

Trump’s executive order increases this risk, said NYTWA, because at the heart of the order is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant message that may encourage those who already harbor these sentiments to act on them.

“We know all to well that when government programs sanction outright Islamophobia and the rhetoric is spewed from the bully pulpit, hate crimes increase and drivers suffer,” said NYTWA.

The union went on to say that Trump’s executive order puts non-Muslim members at risk too.

“Our Sikh and other non-Muslim brown and black members also suffer from anti-Muslim violence,” reads the statement.

After word got out that union taxi drivers were on strike at JFK, Uber informed customers that it was suspending surge pricing at JFK.

That move backfired. Many customers interpreted Uber’s message as strike breaking, which led to a spontaneous online boycott.

On Twitter #DeleteUber popped up creating a public relations problem for the ride share company.

Uber tried to halt the damage by issuing a statement apologizing and telling the public that it had not intended to engage in strike breaking.

After the public show of support for its strike, NYTWA issued another statement thanking those who stood in solidarity with the union and its strike against bigotry and criticized Uber for its cooperation with the Trump administration.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is one of President Trump’s economic advisers.

The union also criticized Uber for its role in turning full-time, good paying jobs into part-time, low-wage work.

“Let’s hold Uber and every single corporation accountable for its greed-at-all-cost complicity in (Trump’s) inhumane policy and every such policy that follows. And let’s equally hold them accountable for the politics of impoverishment,” concluded the union.