Chrysler workers reject tentative agreement

Chrysler workers rejected a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by a wide margin.

Voting began a few days after the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobile announced on September 15 that the two sides had reached an agreement on a new contract.

The Detroit Free Press reported on September 19 that UAW President Dennis Williams told a meeting of Chrysler union leaders that he thought that the agreement was “balanced and thoughtful” and that members would ratify it.

But when the results were announced on October 1, 65 percent of the workers had voted no.

The margin of rejection was even higher in some locals. At Chrysler’s Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, 87 percent of the production workers and 80 percent of the skilled trades workers voted no.

For many, the new agreement didn’t go far enough toward eliminating the two-tier wage system, which allows Chrysler to pay new production  workers about $10 less an hour than those on the job in 2007.

The union agreed to the two-tier system when Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy.

But Chrysler reported a $4.1 billion profit in 2014, and members thought that it was time to start dismantling the two-tier system.

In the spring, Williams said that he wanted new contracts with Ford, GM, and Chrysler to build a bridge toward the elimination of the two-tier system.

But according to its opponents, the tentative agreement was a bridge to nowhere.

“It should be equal pay for equal work,” said Jennifer Daubenmeyer, a tier-two Chrysler worker to the Detroit News. “We’d like to see an opportunity at some point to get to the point to what (the tier-one workers) are making. We’re not asking for it now.”

Daubenmeyer may have had in mind an agreement that Unifor, the Canadian autoworkers’ union, reached with auto companies in Canada that creates a ten-year ladder of pay raises that eventually brings the pay of tier-two workers up to that of tier-one workers.

Instead, the Chrysler pact raised wages of tier-two workers in increments over a four year period, but the raises maxed out $5 an hour less than tier-one workers.

Most tier-two workers would have continued to make substantially less than the tier-two maximum and many would have to wait seven years before they reached the tier-two maximum.

The agreement also created two new tiers for production workers: the tier-two maximum for workers at Chrysler’s Mopar auto parts plant and the company’s axle factory was $3.35 an hour and $3 an hour respectively less than the maximum for other tier-two workers.

In an open letter to Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, Denny Walker Crum, a tier-two worker in Toledo, called the tentative agreement “disrespectful.”

“(Wouldn’t you consider it disrespectful) if your employer told you that after working for seven years, you will still make five dollars an hour less than the person working next to you doing the same job?” asked Crum.  “Is it not disrespectful for the company to tell you that your time is worth less than the person next to you? Is it not disrespectful that one would have to work for three quarters of a decade and STILL isn’t worth the same as their coworkers?”

Other two-tiered workers thought that the new contract would raise many of them to tier-one status and were disappointed when they learned that it did not.

They thought so because a union summary of the 2011 contract said that by 2015, there would be a cap in place that would reduce the percentage of tier-two workers to 25 percent.

Currently, 43 percent of Chrysler’s production workforce are tier-two workers. Many thought that when the cap went into effect, they would be bumped up to tier-one pay.

Despite what the union said in the summary, there was no language in the old contract about setting a cap and the new agreement did not address the issue.

Disappointment with the agreement was not limited to tier-two workers. The nearly two to one rejection margin suggests that many tier-one and skilled trades workers were unhappy with it.

Tier-one workers had gone without a pay raise for a decade, and many were looking for a raise that would recover some of the lost buying power that the wage freeze had cost them.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, it costs $122 today to buy what $100 bought ten years ago.

But the agreement only called for two 3 percent raises over the four-year span on the agreement and two lump sum payments. Workers also could earn a bit more through production bonuses if they met goals set by the company.

The agreement also did not restore cost of living raises that workers gave up to keep Chrysler solvent.

The agreement established a new health care cooperative to replace workers’ health care benefit, and there was concern among members that the new cooperative would soon start charging workers more for health care.

Finally, the agreement said that Chrysler would invest $3.5 billion in its US facilities, but there was no specific language that identified how the money would be spent.

Workers were concerned that the vague language would allow Chrysler to move work to other locations, which would cost some workers their jobs. Workers are also expecting Chrysler to shift some work now being done in the US to Mexico.

Skilled trade workers such as tool and die makers, millwrights, electricians, etc., were wary of Chrysler’s past practices of taking away their work by deskilling jobs and outsourcing work. The agreement did little to address these concerns.

On the Monday after the union announced the rejection, Chrysler and the UAW resumed negotiations.

In his open letter, Crum urged Williams to come back with a better offer.

“Please do what a union is supposed to do,” wrote Crum. “Get us equal pay for equal work.”

ILWU locals vote no on coal

After thorough research and much discussion, members of ILWU Local 10, whose members load and unload ships at the Port of Oakland, and ILWU Local 34, the Oakland marine clerks union, voted on September 18 not to handle coal at the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center, which is currently under construction.

“Coal is not the right way to bring jobs to Oakland,” said Derrick Muhammad, business agent for Local 10. “Oakland families are worried about asthma and other sicknesses because of highway and port activity. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year.”

The Trade and Logistics Center is being constructed on land where the former Oakland Army Base was located.

The redevelopment of the former Army base is a collaboration between California Capital & Investment Group (CCGI), a private real estate company, and the governments of the city of Oakland and the state of California.

According to Sean Farley, president of Local 34, when the construction of the new port facility was being considered, the project’s developer promised not to ship coal from any terminal at the new port.

“They need to make good on that promise,” said Farley. “Waterfront space is in short supply on the West Coast, and it would be a mistake to lock Oakland into a decades long lease with a coal industry that many are saying is dying.”

Farley added that other West Coast ports have rejected similar proposals to export coal and “Oakland shouldn’t become the dumping ground for dirty, low-value cargoes that no one else wants.”

The prospect that coal may be shipped and exported through Oakland is the result of an unusual public-private partnership deal between CCGI, Terminal Logistics Solutions, and the state of Utah.

Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS) is building and will operate the Bulk and Oversized Terminal at Oakland’s Global Trade and Logistics Center.

It recently signed a deal with the state of Utah in which Utah agreed to a loan of $53 million in public funds to help finance TLS’ new terminal.

In return, Utah is guaranteed that exports from four of the state’s counties will be handled by TLS’ new terminal.

Three of the four counties named in the agreement produce all of the coal mined in Utah.

The agreement will allow Bowie Resources, which owns the Utah mines, to export 9 million tons of coal a year through Oakland.

When the deal between Utah and TLS came to light, environmental protection groups like the Sierra Club, protested.

According to the Sierra Club, coal mining and the use of coal is a primary contributor to climate change.

Coal also threatens the health and well-being of people exposed to it and workers who handle it.

As a result, the use of coal is fading in the US as energy consumers such as utilities are using more alternative energy sources.

The squeeze on coal has meant that coal companies are looking to markets outside of the US.

To take advantage of these markets abroad, coal companies need specialized export facilities that can load foreign-bound ships with coal.

As Farley said, coal companies have been unable to persuade other West Coast ports to handle their coal.

Their best hope for doing so seems to be the new facility being developed in Oakland, but the fate of the coal-exporting project remains up in the air.

After the ILWU passed its resolution, The Oakland City Council held a hearing on the coal deal.

Both opponents and supporters testified.

But the city took no action. In fact, it’s unclear whether the city of Oakland has any authority to stop the shipment of coal.

Nevertheless, the ILWU made its “no coal” position clear to all.

“We are adamantly opposed to coal coming through Oakland, California,” said Muhammad as he testified at the hearing.

Alabama workers join the UAW

Workers at the Commercial Vehicles Group (CVG) truck seat plant in Piedmont, Alabama decided that they were tired of stagnant wages, benefit cuts, and company indifference to the health and safety and on September 23 voted by an 89 to 45 margin to join United Autoworkers (UAW).

“I’ve never been part of a union before,” said Tiffany Moore, a CVG worker. “But after years of scraping by while the company ignored our concerns, anyone could see that our only option was to join together to demand change we need to support ourselves and our family.”

The grievances that led CVG workers in Alabama to unionize are grievances that they share with the wider working class.

For example, stagnant wages have become the norm for most workers.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that over the last 30 years real hourly wages, the amount left after cost of living increases are subtracted, have risen only 6 percent for middle-income workers.

Low-income workers have seen their real wages decline by 5 percent over the same period.

Health care cost increases are another example.

The New York Times reports that the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that over the last five years health care deductibles paid by employees have increased six times more than wages have increased.

The realities of working class life hit hard at the CVG plant in Alabama.

“Our backs were up against the wall,” said Moore. “In just a few short years, the company gutted our health care, took away personal (leave) days, and started replacing jobs with temp positions that paid less than Walmart.”

The temp jobs at CVG Piedmont start at $9.70 per hour and the most that any worker can make is $15.70 an hour.

Wages for most workers fall in between these two levels.

To make matters worse, workers’ take home pay declined after CVG decided to raise workers’ health care premiums to $60 a week for individuals and their spouses and $110 a week for families.

Worker frustration came to a boil earlier this year when the plant’s cooling system stopped working, and temperatures inside the factory increased to 106 degree fahrenheit.

Citing threats to their health and safety, workers urged CVG to fix the cooling system.

But CVG, which boasts that it relies heavily on employee input to improve the manufacturing process, didn’t listen.

Instead it required workers to continue working in their overheated factory and offered them bottled water and popsicles to relieve the stress of the heat.

CVG is a worldwide manufacturer of commercial vehicle parts. In addition to the US, it operates plants in Mexico, India, the Czech Republic, China, the UK, and Ukraine.

It was created in the early years of the 21st century through a series of acquisitions and mergers..

In 2004, CVG became a public corporation and began selling stock worth $180 million.

Today, the CVG’s major investors are investment management companies and private equity firms like BlackRock Institutional Trust, Rutabaga Capital Management, York Capital Management, and Eagle Boston Investment Management.

The people who run these investment companies have demanded that CVG management cut cost, so that their investments will make more money.

One of the main ways that CVG has cut costs is by keeping wages low and forcing workers to pay higher health care costs.

That’s a story that is being repeated throughout the US.

According to the National Employment Law Project, one-quarter of today’s manufacturing jobs pay $11.91 an hour or less.

Manufacturing jobs were once the gateway to the middle class, but today many of these jobs have become a dead end that leaves workers in poverty.

Alan Amos, a welder at CVG Piedmont, thinks that by joining a union he and his fellow workers have taken a step toward restoring the promise that manufacturing jobs once held for workers, and he hopes that other workers will follow the CVG workers’ lead.

“Now that we’ve won our union, we’re going to be talking to workers all around Piedmont and in Alabama who are facing the same problems we’re facing and to show that a better way is possible,” writes Amos in an opinion piece appearing on the CNBC website. “And perhaps most importantly, I hope our actions inspire other workers in manufacturing jobs across the country to realize that they, too, deserve a shot at better pay, better treatment, and a middle class job.”

DFW Uber drivers strike ends; nationwide strike beginning Oct 16 called

A strike by Uber drivers in the Dallas Fort Worth area ended after the company made a concession to the drivers. But a national network of Uber drivers has issued a call for another strike that is scheduled to begin on Friday, October 16 and end Sunday evening on the 18th.

The Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)  strike began on September 18 when Uber corporate headquarters sent a message informing drivers that beginning September 18, all Uber Black and Uber SUV (a subcategory of Uber Black) vehicles must receive all eligible trip requests.

Uber Black is the most expensive service offered by Uber. Its basic rate in DFW is $14 plus $4 a mile with a $25 minimum for each ride.

Uber Black drivers own and maintain expensive luxury vehicles that can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000.

The company directive essentially told them that they would be required to start taking all trip requests including Uber’s cheapest service, Uber X, The Uber X base rate is $1 plus $0.85 a mile with a minimum of $3.50 for each ride.

The company tried to frame its new policy as an opportunity for Uber Black drivers to earn more money, but drivers calculated that they would lose income if they were forced to drive their expensive vehicles for rock bottom fares.

If there was any question whether accepting the low-fare trips would be voluntary, the corporate message made it clear, “As always, you are expected to accept as many trip requests as possible, regardless of the type of request. Partners who maintain a low Acceptance Rate may be deactivated from the Uber platform.”

In other words, if Uber Black drivers turn down too many low fares, they will be fired.

After receiving the message, Uber Black drivers at the DFW airport turned off the app that tells them when a trip is available, formed a convoy, and drove to downtown Dallas where Uber’s local office is located.

They were joined by some other drivers, including Uber Select, a luxury service just below Uber Black, and Uber X drivers.

The new trip acceptance policy wasn’t the drivers only grievance, and they presented management with a list of eight demands:

1. Increase Uber X fare to $1.50/mile
2. Increase Uber XL fare to $2.00/mile
3. Increase Uber Select fare to $2.50/mile
4. Return to the status quo
5. Pay and refund all charges taken from riders to the drivers
6. Allow tipping
7. Stop forcing drivers to accept all platform requests; instead, treat Uber partners with respect and as humans and stop taking us for granted
8. Activate all of Uber partners that were deactivated since the start of the strike

At first, Uber refused to make any concessions, and the strikers maintained their strike throughout the weekend.

On Monday morning, September 21, Uber management met with representatives of the drivers and agreed to allow Uber Black drivers to opt out of accepting lower fares.

That concession was enough to get some drivers to turn their app back on and commence picking up fares again.

However, on Tuesday morning, some drivers remained on strike. They were miffed that Uber had ignored their other demands.

By Wednesday, the strike appeared to be over. There was no mention of it on the Facebook page of the Dallas Uber Partners Union.

But the union’s Facebook page included a video from Uber Freedom, a network of Uber drivers, calling for a nationwide strike of Uber drivers that will begin October 16.

The demands of the strike include:

  • Raise the Uber X fare rates to at least $1.60 a mile across the board
  • Put a tip option on the app
  • Allow drivers to see the end destination before accepting the trip
  • Treat us as true Independent Contractors and stop deactivating drivers for low acceptance rating or high cancellations. As true IC’s, we have the right to pick and choose rides
  • Do not adjust fares without first getting the driver’s side

“The time has come for all drivers to stand up to Uber and demand real change at Uber,” said Abe Hussein, the administrator of Uber Freedom Facebook page. . . “The date (of the strike) is Friday, October 16 at 5 P.M. ending on Sunday at 10 P.M. (Uber) drivers across the nation, do not go online for those three days.”

Sanders and Kaptur: Keep our pension promises, no cuts to promised benefits

The US Treasury Department on September 10 held a hearing on the implementation of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, a law passed last year that allows financially troubled multi-employer pension plans to reduce promised benefits.

Outside of the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Marcy Kaptur held a media conference urging support for their Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPPA) bill, which establishes a fund administered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that would be used to maintain promised pension benefits when multi-employer pension funds experience financial trouble.

“We have to send a loud and clear message—when a promise is made to working people, that promise must be kept,” said Sen. Sanders. “We can’t slash pensions in this country. If we stand together, if all Americans stand together, we can win this fight.”

“Your pension benefits are your earned benefits and you have a right to them,” said Rep. Kaptur to retirees attending the media conference. “I am proud to stand with you.”

There are 1400 multiemployer defined benefit pension plans in the US that serve 10 million workers and retirees. These pension plans provide retirement benefits for  workers in certain industries in which workers routinely work for a number of different employers, such as construction, transportation, and hospitality businesses.

More than 90 percent of these funds are in good to fair financial shape, but a handful are in critical condition and could run out of money some time in the next 20 to 30 years.

To deal with this problem, the National Coordinating Council for Multiemployer Plans, the trade association for these multiemployer plans, convinced Congress to pass the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA).

The MPRA solution for dealing with pension fund financial troubles is to make retirees and workers bear the cost for making the pension plans whole again by reducing benefits.

Sanders’ and Kaptur’s KOPPA on the other hand allows financially troubled plans to avoid benefit cuts by creating a pool of money that could be used to avoid benefit cuts when multiemployer plans face financial difficulty. The pool would be funded by eliminating two loopholes used by the wealthy to avoid paying taxes.

One of these loopholes is called like-kind exchange, which allows wealthy investors to defer indefinitely their capital gains taxes on certain investments.

The other is called the minority valuation discount, which allows people receiving gifts or inheritances of $5 million or more to receive discounts that substantially lower their tax liabilities.

Government analysts estimate that the elimination of these two loopholes would save $18 billion over ten years.

If KOPPA passes, these savings would be used to create a Legacy Fund administered by PBGC. The money in the Legacy Fund would be used to pay a portion of the pension benefits owed by a multiemployer pension plan facing financial difficulties until the plan returns to financial health.

One of the multiemployer plans facing critical financial difficulties is the Teamsters Central State Pension Fund, which currently provides pensions to 208,000 retired Teamsters, whose average yearly benefit is estimated to be $8580 a year or $715 a month.

These retirees and tens of thousands active workers are facing possible pension reductions in 2016.

If KOPPA passes, these benefit cuts will be avoided.

Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters and a number of retired Teamsters joined Sen. Sanders and Rep. Kaptur at their media conference and urged passage of KOPPA.

“We’re here to protect pensions,” said Hoffa at the media conference. “We have retirees here from all across America and this is just the beginning of our fight. Hardworking Americans have earned the right to retire with dignity.”

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a caucus of rank and file members and some local union leaders, also supports KOPPA, but TDU accused Hoffa of flip flopping on the issue of supporting passage of MPRA and benefit cuts.

Hoffa sits on the board of directors of the Central States Pension Fund, which supported passage of MPRA, so that it could cut pension benefits to keep the fund alive and return it to financial health.

According to TDU, Hoffa secretly supported the passage of MPRA.

The Central States Fund on its website states that its financial troubles are the result of an aging workforce and a declining number of active workers and companies contributing to the fund.

Investment losses incurred during the financial crisis of 2008 also hurt the fund.

But TDU isn’t convinced that these are the only problems that have caused the decline of the fund, and it is calling for an independent audit before any pension cuts take place.

“(An audit) is a reasonable demand by members and retirees who deferred wage increase so they could have pension benefits they could survive on in retirement,” reads a TDU statement.

Union: new agreement is victory for Seattle kids

After a lengthy meeting, the Seattle Education Association’s Representative Assembly voted to recommend approval of a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement with the Seattle School Board and to suspend the week-long strike by teachers, counselors, paraprofiessionals, and other education professionals.

The tentative agreement must still be ratified by the membership, but classes in the Seattle school district will begin on September 17. The membership vote will take place on Sunday, September 20.

“This is a hard-fought victory for the kids of Seattle, and I am proud of SEA members and our incredible bargaining team,” said Jonathan Knapp, SEA president. “This agreement signals a new era in bargaining in public education. We’ve negotiated a pro-student, pro-parent, pro-educator agreement. We really appreciate the strong support from parents and students.”

SEA published highlights of the tentative agreement:

• Recess: Guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for all elementary students.
• Reasonable testing: New policies to reduce the over-testing of our students.
• Professional pay: Base salary increases of 3 percent, 2 percent and 4.5 percent, plus the state COLA of 4.8 percent
• Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Test scores will no longer be tied to teacher evaluations, plus there is new contract language that supports teachers’ professional growth.
• Educator workload relief: Additional staff to reduce workloads and provide student services.
• Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap: Creating race and equity teams at 30 of the district’s schools.
• The administration’s proposal to lengthen the school day: Teachers will be compensated for additional work.

Seattle teachers strike for “real education reform;” tentative agreement announced 9/15

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) at about 9:30 on the morning of September 15 announced that after an all night bargaining session it had reached a tentative agreement with the Seattle School Board on a new collective bargaining agreement.

But in its message to members, SEA said that “the strike (which began September 9) will continue until the SEA board and representative assembly review the agreement later today and decide whether to recommend approval to the SEA membership or continue striking.”

The tentative agreement was announced one day after the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Seattle’s public school teachers and education professionals who belong to SEA.

The resolution also urged the Seattle school board to bargain in good faith to end the strike and for the State of Washington to ” take the necessary actions to fully fund education throughout the state.”

You might think that a strike delaying the start of the school year for 53,000 children might trigger a backlash of opposition against the strikers, but as the Seattle City Council’s resolution and other evidence suggests there was widespread support for the strikers among parents, students, and the community at large.

ABC News reports that “As tough as the strike has been on (Seattle) parents counting on having their kids in school, many still support the teachers.”

In a guest editorial appearing in The Stranger, Seattle’s weekly alternative newspaper, Sarah Lang, Jana Robbins, and Naomi Wilson, whose children attend Seattle schools, wrote, “We will stand firmly with our teachers who are fighting to provide a high quality education for all kids.”

Nearly 2,000 parents and SEA supporters emailed the Seattle School Board urging it to reach a fair settlement with the teachers.

This strong show of support is likely the result of the stance that the teachers and their union have taken at the bargaining table. Common Dreams calls the SEA’s bargaining proposals “real education reform.”

Topping SEA’s list of bargaining proposals, is a demand for a pay increase that makes up for the last six years when Seattle’s educators have not received a cost of living raise.

“We need professional compensation that will make it possible to attract great teachers and keep them here in Seattle because we know how expensive it is to live here,” said Andy Russell, an SEA bargaining team member at a September 14 media conference.

Attracting and retaining great teachers can only do so much to improve education if there are flaws in the system that are holding back student learning, which why SEA asked for more than a fair pay increase.

For example, SEA proposed that the school district take a more reasonable approach toward standardized testing. According to a post on SEA’s website, “Too much standardized testing is stealing time away from classroom learning.”

The union also wants a more equitable approach to discipline and education opportunities in Seattle’s schools, where students of color are more likely to be punished for disciplinary reasons and less likely to have access to equal education opportunities.

To deal with this problem, SEA wants to create 30 equity teams in targeted schools that will study equity issues and recommend action that can remedy inequalities in Seattle’s schools.

Other SEA proposals include:

  • Guaranteed recess time. Recess policy varies from school to school, and many students have either no or limited recess time. “Students learn better when they have breaks for play and exercise,”reads SEA’s explanation of this proposal.
  • More manageable caseloads for support staff such as counselors and paraprofessionals. These employees provide valuable support for student learning, but their growing workloads are making it harder for them to keep up with the growing demand for their services.
  • Fair teacher and staff evaluations. “Educators should be evaluated fairly and consistently, and the focus should be on providing the support all educators need to be successful,” explains SEA.
  • The school board proposed extending the school day without additional compensation. Teachers already spend many hours away from the job doing work such as making lesson plans and grading. According to SEA, any extension of the school day should be done in a way that benefits students and fairly compensates teachers.

The SEA bargaining team worked hard to end the strike.

“There’s nothing more that we want more than to be back in our classrooms with our kids,” said  Phyllis Campano, an SEA bargaining team member.”

But there were factors beyond their control that hampered efforts to reach a fair agreement.

The main problem was that the state legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee, both of whom recently awarded the global airline corporation Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks and other incentives, have refused to fully fund public education in Washington.

The problem is so bad that the Washington Supreme Court held the state government in contempt for not funding education and fined it $100,000 a day until it does so.

The Seattle Times reports that “The court said (in its ruling that) lawmakers had again failed to live up to what the state constitution calls the state’s ‘paramount’ duty — amply funding schools.”

“We have a terrible problem here (in Washington),” said a mother of a student at View Ridge elementary on the SEA Facebook page. “There’s not enough funding (for our schools). Going on strike is a tough thing, but it needed to happen because we need to change the way we’re supporting education in our state.”