Steelworkers, Los Mineros sign pact to help workers in Mexico and the US

At last week’s Constitutional Convention of the United Steelworkers (USW), the USW and the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel, and Similar Workers of the Mexican Republic (Los Mineros) signed an enhanced strategic alliance.

The purpose of the alliance is, according to Napoleon Gomez, general secretary of Los Mineros, to build an international labor organization in North America that can stand up to multinational companies that abuse workers’ rights. We want to “send a message to multinational companies that we are working together, that we are watching their activities and investments, that we are not going to tolerate their repression of workers or their violation of human and labor rights,” Gomez said.

Los Mineros and USW in 2005 signed a strategic alliance agreement that committed both unions to work together to build the power of workers against multinational corporations. The enhanced strategic alliance, which was signed before 3,000 delegates at the Steelworkers Constitutional Conventions, takes the original alliance a step further by creating workers councils composed of Los Mineros and USW workers who work for corporations with operations in Mexico, the US, and/or Canada.

The councils will meet regularly to exchange information about common employers, plan ways that the two unions can enhance their strategic cooperation, organize solidarity support actions, and help each other to organize unorganized workers.

Additionally, the enhanced strategic alliance establishes programs that will help USW staff who want to learn Spanish and does the same for Los Mineros staff who want to learn English, increases the exchange of staff between the two unions, and expands a joint commission established in 2010 to recommend actions that advance the goals of the strategic alliance.

Both unions will remain separate unions, but the USW will have observer status at the National Executive Committee of Los Mineros and Los Mineros will have the same status at USW’s International Executive Board.

Los Mineros unlike most unions in Mexico is not affiliated with either of the dominant political parties and is not a company union. It has also been effective in winning higher than average wage and benefits for its members. Because of its success, it has suffered repression by the government. As a result of this repression, Gomez has been forced to live in exile in Canada.

Los Mineros is also a democratic union, and Gomez despite his exile continues to be reelected general secretary in the union’s frequent and regular elections of officers.

Because Los Mineros is both a democratic and effective organization, USW leaders think that it can be an important ally in protecting the living standards for workers in the US.

“Whenever we go into negotiating, we’re constantly bargaining against workers in other parts of the world,” said Jim Robinson, director of USW District 7. “When we support improving the standards in Mexico (by working with Los Mineros), we’re defending our standards.”


Verizon agrees to bargain; workers back at work on Tuesday

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) today announced that striking workers would return to work on Tuesday because Verizon has agreed to bargain seriously on a new contract that replaces the one that expired on August 7. The unions said that worker unity and public support were key factors in getting Verizon to change its stance.

Here is the public statement released by the CWA and IBEW on this new development.

For release 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Members of CWA and IBEW at Verizon Communications will  return to work on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at which time the contract will be back in  force for an indefinite period.

We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues  remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and  narrowed.

We appreciate the unity of our members and the support of so many in the greater community. Now we will focus on bargaining fairly and moving  forward.

CWA and IBEW represent 45,000 workers at Verizon covered by  this contract from Virginia to New England.

Flight attendants fight to prevent FAA shut down, preserve democratic union elections

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA earlier this week took action to prevent another shut down at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and to protect fair and free elections for union representation. AFA-CWA members held rallies at airports around the nation and demonstrated outside the Florida offices of US Congressman John Mica.

Last June Rep. Mica, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, added language to the FAA appropriations bill that would require unions to win a majority of eligible voters in union representation elections in the airline and railroad industries instead of a majority of voters who actually vote as is currently required.

According to The Hill, an online publication that covers Congress, Mica’s insistence that this higher standard for union elections be included in the FAA’s appropriations bill led to an impasse, which required Congress to pass a short-term extension of FAA’s  funding bill. To gain political leverage, Mica inserted new language in the short-term extension bill that “cut rural airport subsidies which would impact airports in states represented by Democratic senators.” Democratic senators balked at the new language, and when Congress recessed without a short-term extension in place, the FAA shut down causing the furloughs and a loss of $400 million in tax revenue.

A temporary agreement reopened the FAA after two weeks, but that agreement expires on September 16. Unless a funding bill passes by September 16, FAA will shut down again.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reported that Mica added the anti-union language to the FAA funding bill after Delta Air Lines lobbied hard for such language.

Rep. Mica is “acting as Delta Air Lines’ pawn by advancing a union-busting provision and threatening another shutdown of the FAA,” said Veda Shook, AFA-CWA president.  “Mica’s contempt for workers and the 75,000 people who were out of work due to the partial shutdown of the FAA is feeding Delta’s grossly funded union-busting scheme.”

Delta has remained a largely un-unionized airline, but is facing a serious organizing campaign by AFA-CWA. Last November, nearly 20,000 Delta flight attendants voted in a union representation election. Delta narrowly won the election by a little more than 300 votes, but AFA-CWA charged that the company unlawfully interfered with the election.

In June, the National Mediation Board, which oversees union elections in the airline and railway industries, ruled that there was enough evidence of unlawful interference by Delta to warrant further investigation. If the investigation finds that Delta as AFA-CWA charges unlawfully interfered in the election, then another election will be held. If another election is held then it would be to Delta’s advantage to have the higher standard in place.

Shook criticized Rep. Mica and Delta for holding the FAA hostage in order to advance their own anti-union ideology. “This is the man,” said Shook referring to Rep. Mica. “Who is acting as Delta Air Lines’ pawn by advancing a union-busting provision and threatening another shutdown of the FAA. Mica’s contempt for workers and the 75,000 people who were out of work due to the partial shutdown of the FAA is feeding Delta’s grossly funded union busting scheme.”

Shook and other unions leaders have pointed out that if Delta’s and Rep. Mica’s election standard were applied to elections for US Congress, many representatives and senators would not have won their elections and would not be serving in Congress today.

Ohio governor asks for compromise on anti-worker legislation

At a press conference on Wednesday, Ohio Governor John Kasich invited union leaders to talk with him about a compromise on SB 5, legislation passed last spring that limits the collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s 350,000 public sector workers.

Gov. Kasich made his remarks after We Are Ohio, a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition that has come together to repeal SB 5, gathered 1.3 million signatures on a petition to repeal SB 5. As a result of the petition drive, a referendum will be held in November giving voters a chance to veto SB 5.

We Are Ohio on the day after Gov. Kasich’s press conference urged the governor to convene the Legislature, so that it could vote to repeal SB 5; once SB 5 is repealed, talks on a compromise could begin, it said. “While we thank the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House for reaching out and recognizing that (SB 5) is flawed, we are asking for a fresh start,” said Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for We Are Ohio.

“That fresh start must begin with a full repeal of Senate Bill 5. A complete repeal of Senate Bill 5 would go a long way toward creating an environment for compromise, restoring trust in government by the electorate and setting the table for meaningful negotiations about creating jobs, rebuilding Ohio’s economy and moving the state forward.

“Due to the complexity of the bill and our responsibility to the 1.3 million Ohioans who want to repeal it, We Are Ohio strongly believe a full repeal of Senate Bill 5 must occur prior to any meeting. Upon repeal of Senate Bill 5, we look forward to coming together as Ohioans to make our state a better place to live,work and raise a family, just like our public employees – firefighters, nurses, teachers and police officers — do every day in their jobs.”

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that Ohio voters favor repealing SB 5 by more than 20 percent; however, at the press conference, Gov. Kasich said that his offer to talk about a compromise wasn’t motivated by the possibility that voters would reject SB 5. A compromise, said Kasich, was in the best interest of everyone to avoid a fight over the measure.

SB 5 is a broad measure that changes the way state workers, local government workers, and public school teachers and their employers establish wages, benefits, and working conditions. Among other things SB 5 prohibits public sector workers and their employers from bargaining over health care, pensions, and sick days. It eliminates automatic pay raises and replaces them with so-called merit raises. It ends the practice of collecting fees from non-union employees for services provided them by unions. It also bans strikes.

While SB 5 takes aim at public sector workers’ bargaining rights, the poll numbers and the response to We Are Ohio’s petition drive suggests that many private sector workers believe that limiting the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers would weaken the union movement, which in turn would lower the living standards for all workers.

The We Are Ohio petition drive was an impressive show of strength. The organization mobilized more than 10,000 volunteers to gather the 1.3 million petition signatures and in July announced that it raised $7 million in cash and in-kind donations, nearly 80 percent of which came from people who contributed $100 or less.

After its successful petition drive, We Are Ohio kept its volunteer army in place and continues to mobilize thousands of people. In the last two weeks of August alone, it has scheduled more than 100 events such as phone banking and one-on-one canvassing to build support for defeating SB 5 in November.

Verizon stops health care payments, struggles to maintain service as support for strikers grows

Verizon earlier this week notified its 45,000 striking workers represented by CWA and IBEW that the company would suspend health care premium payments, leaving them and their families without health care coverage after August 31. CWA responded swiftly by telling members that the union has taken steps to protect the health and well-being of strikers and their families.

As the strike enters its second week, IBEW said that Verizon’s use of unskilled replacement workers to do the job of trained union workers poses a significant public safety risk, Verizon has found it difficult to maintain service, and support for the strikers continues to grow.

CWA called Verizon’s plan to withhold health care premium payments an attempt to weaken the resolve of strikers and informed members that “CWA has made a commitment to assist striking workers in paying for their health care needs out of the Robert Lilja Members Relief Fund.” CWA also said that members should contact their local union’s Community Services Committee to help decide how to best cover their medical needs during the strike.

While Verizon seeks to weaken the resolve of its striking workers, Ed Starr, business agent for IBEW Local 2321 in Middleboro, Massachusetts, reports that Verizon’s unskilled replacement workers are committing safety violations that would cause union workers to “get written up in heartbeat” and will cause “someone to get hurt unless Verizon settles this.”

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reports that the strike has caused repair delays. Verizon accused picketing strikers of causing the delays, but injunctions by judges have limited picketing at Verizon work locations to a few union members.

Candice Johnson, a CWA spokesperson, said that the delays were more likely caused by the replacement workers. “With other companies, there have been instances where replacement workers (and) contract workers create more problems,” Johnson said.

Customers in Virginia who depend on their land line service also have reported service delays. In Concord, Virginia, Sharon Martin told WSET-TV that she had been without phone service for five days, which was stressful because she has a medical condition that sometimes requires trips to the emergency room.

Commenting on Martin’s situation, CWA Local 2204 Vice-President James Woodson said that Martin’s experience shows that “Verizon doesn’t care. It’s plain and simple.” Woodson added that while Verizon may not care about customers, CWA members do.

Because CWA members care about their customers, the union has intensified its efforts to get Verizon to bargain seriously so that a fair agreement can be reached. Last Friday, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against Verizon with the National Labor Relations Board. The union asked the NLRB to compel the company to follow US labor law and bargain in good faith with its unions.

Johnson said that since day one of contract negotiations Verizon has refused to budge from its demand that workers accept $1 billion in concessions that would significantly reduce their health care, pension, and other union benefits. “This is unacceptable from a company that is among the ten wealthiest in America, that compensates the top five executives at a level of more than a quarter of a billion dollars over four years, that doesn’t pay any federal income tax, and still gets a $1.3 billion tax rebate,” Johnson said.

CWA is also seeking support from the wider community as it tries to pressure Verizon into bargaining in good faith. In less than a week more than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging Verizon CEO Lowell McAdams to get serious about bargaining and “stop trying to push Verizon workers out of the middle class.”

“We will never have an economic recovery if profitable companies like Verizon can demand huge concessions from workers,” Johnson said. “You don’t build a middle class by cutting workers’ wages, benefits and standard of living. That’s just one reason why Verizon is becoming synonymous with VeryGreedy.”

CWA is also providing the public with a number of ways that it can support the strike such as adopting a Verizon Wireless store where flyers telling the workers side of the story can be passed out, holding solidarity rallies, and joining local picket lines of Verizon workers.

At the national convention of the United Steel Workers, CWA District 9 Vice-President Jim Weitkamp told the steel workers that “Verizon has aligned itself with the ultra right-wing in this country which is determined to destroy collective bargaining in the United States. They have their hand in the pocket of every working-class family in this country. We will not stand by and let them mug us in broad daylight.”

Longshore workers fight anti-union company for right to work

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and a multi-national consortium named EGT are locked in a battle. The company wants unlimited control over the workers it employs. The union wants to protect its members right to work and to keep their jobs safe. It has relied on militant tactics to do so.

The fight began earlier this year as EGT, a joint venture of Itochu Corporation of Japan, STX Pan Ocean of South Korea, and Bunge North America, was completing its $200 million automated grain terminal on property leased from the Port of Longview.

EGT decided to staff the terminal, located in southwestern Washington about 40 miles north of Portland, with non-union workers instead of ILWU members as required by its lease with the port. Dan Coffman, president of ILWU Local 21, which represents the port’s longshore workers, met with EGT management to discuss the company’s staffing decision but to no avail.

When asked by the local newspaper why EGT didn’t want to employ ILWU members, Coffman summed up the company’s reason in one word: “Control. They want to control everything,” Coffman told the Longview Daily News.

After the meetings with EGT, Local 21 began building a campaign to make the jobs at the terminal ILWU jobs. In early June, about 1,200 ILWU members and supporters attended a rally for union jobs at the terminal.

The company, however, proceeded with its plan to operate a non-union terminal. On July 11 in what the local newspaper called “one of the boldest labor demonstrations in recent memory,” about 200 ILWU members occupied the terminal grounds after a chain link fence surrounding the facility was torn down.

About 100 were arrested and cited for trespassing. Three ILWU officers were also charged with obstruction of law enforcement. The charges against those arrested for trespassing have been dropped. Those against the ILWU officers are still pending.

Two days later as the company began to test operations at the terminal with non-union workers about 600 longshoremen blockaded the railroad tracks leading to the terminal. After hearing of the blockade, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad diverted the 107-car train filled with grain to Vancouver and halted further deliveries. Since then, Local 21 has maintained around the clock pickets at the terminal, and BNSF continues to divert trains from the terminal.

Fewer than 50 jobs are in dispute, but there’s much more at stake. If EGT is able to staff its operation with non-ILWU workers, it could start a trend that would cause longshore workers to lose control over job safety and their conditions of work.

Safety is a major concern at the dozens of grain terminals along the Pacific Coast where ILWU members work. “Grain is very dangerous work, and we’ve spent decades honing our safety  procedures,” said Jennifer Sargent, an ILWU spokeswoman to the Longview Daily News.

Unless there are safety procedures in place and enforced, it’s easy for terminal workers to become trapped and smother in shifting mounds of grain. ILWU members have extensive experience working in grain terminals, and its members make sure that these safety procedures are adhered to.

The company also wants to impose a 12-hour work shift without overtime pay after eight hours and to control all work decisions no matter how they affect workers.

With the grain harvest about to begin, EGT is under pressure to get the terminal operational. As a result, it contracted with a local construction company to operate the terminal with union labor from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701.

ILWU members early in August passed out flyers at Local 701’s hiring hall urging members to reject their leaders decision to align with EGT. The ILWU also got the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board to condemn the action of Local 701, which operates out of Gladstone, Oregon near the Washington border.

As of this writing, a suit filed by the Port of Longview against EGT for violating the terms of its lease by not hiring ILWU members is pending in federal court and ILWU members are still picketing the terminal.

“We are fighting for our jobs in our jurisdiction,” Coffman said. “We are all standing together as a union on this. We will go to jail as a union.”

Verizon blinks as support grows for strikers

As Verizon tries to project an image of strength by remaining inflexible at the bargaining table, its recent effort to limit the free speech of its striking workers suggests that the company is already feeling the effects of the collective actions taken by CWA and IBEW, the two unions representing 45,000 East Coast Verizon workers from Virginia to New England.

In the meantime, non-striking union workers have begun to rally around striking Verizon workers sensing that the outcome of the strike could have a major impact on their own standard of living.

The Associated Press reports that Verizon went to court in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Massachusetts seeking injunctions to limit the size of union picket lines and thus the ability of union workers to express themselves freely. Citing some minor incidents, Verizon alleged that mass pickets represented a threat to managers and non-union staff who remain on the job. In a joint statement, CWA and IBEW said that “our unions do not condone violence in any form.”

In a related development, two union members were taken to the hospital after being struck by a vehicle driving through their picket line at a Verizon work site near Buffalo.

Courts in New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania sided with the company and issued injunctions that limited the size of pickets.  Courts in New Jersey and Massachusetts have so far not ruled.

While Verizon was going to court, non-striking workers throughout the US were mobilizing to support the strikers. In California, members of CWA Local 9575 in the Santa Barbara area picketed Verizon wireless stores and Verizon garages and other work locations.

“If we let Verizon succeed, major corporations will be using it as a model for destroying the bargaining rights and living standards for all union members,” said Lisa Shafer, president of CWA Local 9575.

CWA locals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and West Virginia have also held similar demonstrations. Flyers passed out at support demonstrations said, “The war on collective bargaining goes on, this time at Verizon. Despite making $19.5 billion in profits and paying out $258 million to its top 5 executives in the last four years, Verizon wants to take back more than 50 years of collective bargaining and destroy middle class jobs. . . .

“Verizon’s demands include: freezing pensions for current workers and eliminating them for future workers, allowing contracting out and offshoring of more jobs, slashing sick leave, completely gutting health care plans for current and retired workers, and eliminating disability payments for injured workers.”

CWA has posted information about how other workers can support Verizon strikers here.

Teamsters General President James Hoffa has told Teamster UPS drivers not to deliver packages to Verizon stores and other facilities where there is a picket line. “We cannot allow Verizon to strip away benefits and protections on the job for no other reason than to further enhance their profits,” Hoffa said.

Sandy Pope who is running against Hoffa in the upcoming election for Teamster general president urged Teamsters to demonstrate their support for Verizon workers by participating in picket lines, signing the petition of support, and adopting a Verizon wireless store. “Teamster members know what it’s like to face benefit cuts and corporate greed,” Pope said. “The fight at Verizon is our fight too.”

Verizon had broken off negotiations on Saturday prior to the strike, but after receiving an electronic petition with more than 30,000 signatures calling for the company to negotiate a fair contract, it returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Verizon still seeks concessions totaling $1 billion, or about $20,000 per Verizon worker. A report from the CWA District 1 bargaining committee said that “every company proposal is to give something back to the company. In order to keep some of our benefits we have to give away one of the benefits we have today,” said the report.

The report went on to say that it is not just the good jobs at Verizon that are on the line. The living standards of all workers in the US are at stake, and that the unions will be taking this message to the broader public to win support for Verizon workers.

“We will make this the battleground fight for the middle class,” said the report. “Verizon will be the target for every union member and every middle-class family. We will not allow this very profitable company to destroy the middle class.”