NC Republicans stiff teachers and public education; Moral Monday responds

On Friday, July 26, North Carolina lawmakers went home after passing a $21 billion two-year budget that among other things cuts public education spending by $100 million and provides no pay raises for the state’s public school teachers whose average salary ranks 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

On Monday, July 29, about 10,000 people took part in what police and the event’s organizers called the largest Moral Monday demonstration since the weekly protests began on April 29.

The ranks of the Moral Monday participants were swollen by teachers and other public school employees who traveled from all over the state to voice their anger at the Republican led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for their attack on public education.

“Public educators and public schools are not  failing our students, politicians are,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Educators Association to the thousands who filled the streets near the capital in Raleigh.

The July 29th demonstration was the 13th consecutive Monday since April 29 when demonstrators have gathered in Raleigh to protest legislative actions that among other things eliminated the earned income tax credit for workers, made it harder for thousands of low-income workers to qualify for Medicaid, left 70,000 long-term unemployed workers without unemployment insurance, endangered the health of women by limiting access to abortions, suppressed voting, and reduced funding for public education.

Some participants in Monday’s action wore green armbands signifying that they were one of 930 who had been arrested for acts of civil disobedience protesting the legislature’s agenda that privileges the wealthy and their corporations over the interests of the people.

Moral Monday organizers said that similar actions would continue across the state as their coalition seeks to build the power needed for long-term, progressive change in the state.

“We have suffered several temporary defeats in the People’s House over the past few months,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Forward Together Movement, the coalition that led the Moral Monday demonstrations. “But we’ve not gone anywhere. And we’re not going anywhere. We understand that we’re not in some mere political movement. We’re not in some mere fight over 2014. We’re in a fight for the soul of this state, the soul of the South, and the soul of this nation. By attacking poor children, sick workers and the environment, as well as committing the ultimate crime against democracy through attacking voting rights, they have united the movement that we’ve been building for several years like never before.”

Forward Together will be holding rallies throughout the state as it mobilizes and organizes opponents of the Republican actions. They will also be joined by members of the North Carolina Educators Association and organized labor.

“On August 28, we will co-sponsor 13 rallies to be held in localities throughout North Carolina to mobilize voters to go to the polls in 2014 and elect candidates who support North Carolina’s public school system,” said Ellis.

“Legislators seem to think that just because they went home that somehow we will forget what happened here,” said Mary B. McMillan, secretary treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. “I’ve got news for them: we will never forget the meanness, the arrogance, and the injustice that they brought on North Carolina. We will not go away, and we will not back down. Over the course of this next year, and over every corner of this state, from the mountains to the sea, we will organize and mobilize.”

In addition to taking the fight for North Carolina beyond Raleigh, the NAACP and Forward Together will challenge the state’s new voting rights suppression law, which among other things requires voters to show identification papers before voting, reduces early voting, and ends same-day voter registration.

“(The voting rights suppression) bill targets nearly every aspect of the voting process, restricting who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, which will provide legal services for the challenge. “Far from having anything to do with election integrity, the legislation is about politicians manipulating voting laws for political gain.”

More adjunct faculty join unions

Inside Higher Education reports that adjunct faculty who belong to unions have better salaries, more benefits, and better working conditions than their non-union counterparts.

“(Unionization) does empirically make a difference,” said Adriana Kezar to Colleen Flaherty reporting for Inside Higher Education.

Kezar, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, directs the Delphi Project, which studies issues regarding the use of adjunct faculty at the nation’s colleges and university.

Flaherty also referred to a report published in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce that shows that the salary of unionized adjunct faculty is 25 per higher than non-union faculty. Union members also are more likely to have benefits such as health insurance and better working conditions such as paid office hours and more regular class assignments.

Teaching at a college or university was once considered a middle-class job, but today when 50 percent of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty, whose pay is low, whose work is precarious, and who have little if any input about the terms of their employment, that is no longer the case.

Given the conditions of their work and the advantages gained by collective action, it’s no wonder that union organizing among adjunct faculty has gained momentum and more adjunct faculty are joining unions.

In May, adjuncts at Georgetown University in the District of Columbia voted to join SEIU Local 500.

They joined their fellow adjuncts at Montgomery College, American University, and George Washington University as members of Local 500, which has members in local governments and community service organizations throughout the DC area.

SEIU is using the leverage of powerful locals such as Local 500 to build union density among adjunct faculty in certain metropolitan areas in the Northeast.

In Boston, SEIU formed Adjunct Action to coordinate organizing at 20 area institutions of higher education.

As a result of the work done by Adjunct Action members, adjunct faculty at Tufts and Bentley University will be voting in a union recognition election in September.

Tufts adjuncts will begin voting by mail on September 9. Votes will be counted by the National Labor Relations Board on September 26.

Voting at Bentley will begin in late September.

After faculty at Bentley successfully petitioned for a union election, the school administration raised adjuncts’ salaries–9.5 percent for undergraduate instructors and 3.55 percent for graduate adjuncts.

While the raises were good news, low pay is only one of the problems faced by adjuncts and only one reason why they are joining unions.

“The problem for me and a lot of adjuncts is that you never know if you’re going to have work,” said Doug Kierdorf, who teaches history at Bentley. “I think if most students knew the terms of our employment, they would be appalled.”

SEIU isn’t the only union organizing adjuncts.

In Pittsburg, adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted in 2012 to join the United Steelworkers.

Duquesne during the organizing drive joined two other Catholic universities–Manhattan College in New York City and Xavier University in Chicago–in trying to block unionization efforts by arguing that their status as religious institutions exempted them from the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB subsequently ruled against them.

In Texas where most public employees including teachers are barred from bargaining collectively, adjunct faculty have nevertheless banded together to form unions and fight for fair treatment on the job.

Adjunct faculty at the state’s public universities have joined the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 and have succeeded in winning health care benefits for graduate assistants. Members at the University of Texas at Austin have joined coalition of student and community groups to stop privatization at the university.

At Austin Community College, adjunct faculty have joined full-time faculty and classified staff to form ACCAFT Local 6249, which has led successful legislative campaigns including one to win health care benefits for part-time faculty.

In addition to wanting better pay, benefits, and working conditions, adjuncts also want a voice on the job that gives them the opportunity to influence the terms of their employment.

“We want to have a voice in our employment decisions,” said Tufts adjunct Rebecca Kaiser Gibson to Boston.com. “We want to be able to talk as equals at the bargaining table.”

In wake of Canadian rail tragedy, BLET president calls for end to one-man crews

A little more than two weeks after a runaway train derailed, exploded, and killed 47 residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the federal agency that oversees Canadian rail safety issued an emergency safety directive that among other things banned one-man crews on trains loaded with dangerous material.

A few days prior to the issuance of the emergency directive in Canada, Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) urged the federal government of the United States to adopt regulations that require trains to have two-man crews.

“I am compelled to clearly state our organization’s position regarding one-person train operations, our ongoing struggle to prevent its spread, and why this issue
matters to everyone,” said Pierce in an extended statement about the need for the US government to take action.

The Canadian Transportation Board (CTB) is conducting an investigation into the tragic derailment and hasn’t issued an official finding on its cause or causes.

But on Friday, July 19 nearly two weeks after the investigation began, CTB issued a safety advisory. After receiving the advisory, Transport Canada, the agency that oversees the nation’s rail safety, issued the emergency safety directive.

Topping the list of new safety measures spelled out in the directive is a ban on one-man crews when trains are hauling dangerous goods.

The train that exploded leveling much of Lac-Megantic, a small town in Eastern Quebec, near the border with Maine, was operated by the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MMA) Railroad whose headquarters is located in Bangor, Maine. MMA provides short line rail service in Maine, Vermont, and Quebec.

MMA like many other short line operators in the US and Canada uses one-man crews on some of its trains. The train that exploded had a one-man crew.

The explosion occurred after the engineer set the brakes on the train at the end of his shift and went off duty. The brakes did not hold, and the train careened out of control. The train contained 72 tank cars filled with highly explosive fuel oil.

A class action suit filed by residents of Lac-Megantic charges MMA with negligence for operating the train with a one-man crew, and the Quebec provincial police recently raided the Canadian headquarters of MMA to  gathers evidence for possible criminal charges.

Pierce in his statement said the BLET has waged a 20-year fight to stop the spread of one-man crews on US rail lines.

Pierce said that one-man crews pose a danger to the public and to rail workers and pointed to the advantages of having at least two well-qualified crew members on trains.

“All of the safety advantages of the (two-man) crew. . . –observation of both sides of trains for defects, dual-sided vigilance at road crossings, separating trains to maintain open road crossings, someone to stop the train should the engineer become disabled — simply disappear in a single-person operation,” said Pierce.

“A fair analogy would be if the airline industry wanted to remove the first officer from the cockpit because the captain has computer systems onboard to assist him or her in flying the aircraft,” he added.

Rail companies on the other hand have opposed the ban or any limitations on one-man crews.

Before the 1960s, train crews usually consisted of five or six members, but in the 1960s carriers began to reduce crew sizes, and today, two-man crews are the norm, except on some short lines such as MMA where the use of one-man crews is common.

BLET has fought for contract language that would severely restrict the use of one-man crews, but short line companies such as Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway and Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad have dug their heels in and insisted that they retain the right to use one-man crews whenever they want.

The only way to limit the use of one-man crews, said Pierce, is for the federal government “to take action to protect the safety of railroad operating crews and the public
by putting an end, once and for all, to the inherently unsafe single-person operation of freight trains.”

But, said Pierce, the federal government has been timid when it comes to regulating business and has consistently allowed rail carriers to put profit before safety.

“The fact of the matter is that government is increasingly afraid of taking any action that some business, somewhere, will oppose, and this problem has become
worse in this era of multinational corporations,” said Pierce. “When it comes to safety, this nation’s railroads are bound by federal regulations, but rarely do they go
beyond those regulations when they would conflict with the bottom line.”

Canadian labor rallies to support locked out IKEA workers

Members of Teamsters Local 213 in British Columbia, Canada rallied on Saturday to support more than 300 IKEA workers in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond who have been locked out since May 13. They were joined by members of other Teamsters locals, Teamsters Canada, the BC Federation of Labor, other unions, and elected officials.

Meanwhile, the BC Federation of Labor has reiterated its call for union members throughout British Columbia to boycott the IKEA stores in Richmond and nearby Coquitlam. Both are owned by the same IKEA franchise holder.

Local 213 is resisting the company’s attempt to create a two-tiered wage system that would allow the company to pay new hires less money for the same work as current employees.

“Despite the Richmond (IKEA) location being highly profitable, management is seeking  to impose significant wage cuts on the majority of its workforce,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labor in a statement about the lockout. “Five years  ago, the Teamsters fought the tiered wage structure and won.”

“This was something that we had fought hard in 2007 to basically eliminate,” said Local 213 business representative Anita Dawson to the Globe and Mail. “So when they came to the table and tried to introduce it again – we’re not interested in fighting the same fight.”

In addition to seeking a two-tiered wage system IKEA wants to reduce benefits for part-time workers, who make up a significant share of the IKEA workforce, contract out work, and reduce part-timers working hours.

Union members have said that the lockout and IKEA’s insistence on concessions at a time when the company is highly profitable strongly suggests that the company’s real agenda is to bust the union.

The company told the Globe and Mail that union busting is not part of its agenda.

The two sides returned to the negotiating table last week. Talks to end the walkout are being assisted by a mediator.

Union members at IKEA have opposed the two-tiered wage system because it undermines solidarity, which in turn puts at risk all the other gains that union members have won through their collective efforts.

In a recent statement about the lockout and boycott, Jim Sinclair explained what is at stake for union members throughout British Columbia.

“Tiered wage structures such as the one proposed by IKEA poison work sites, creating resentment between co-workers,” said Sinclair. “Moreover, they contribute to the part-timing of work, as management seeks to take advantage of new, lower wage categories.”

Local 213 members have fought hard to prevent the company from taking advantage of part-time labor. Unlike most part-timers in the US, part-time workers at the IKEA store in Richmond receive benefits in addition to their wages.

Those who work between 15 and 19 hours receive 80 percent of the company’s benefits. Those working 20 hours or more receive full benefits.

IKEA is proposing to raise the number of hours required to receive the full benefit to 24.

Despite being locked out for more than 70 days, the more than 300 Teamsters at the IKEA store have maintained their solidarity.

However, 27 have returned to work, and union members recently voted to expel them from the union.

IKEA has used management staff and others to keep the store open, but hours of operation have been reduced, and some of the services that other IKEA stores provide have been shut down.

The Vancouver Sun reports that the lockout has closed Smaland, the children’s play area, and the 600-seat store restaurant.

Pensions on the line as Detroit files for bankruptcy

A Michigan judge ruled last week that the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state’s Constitution, which protects public pensions from cuts, but a federal bankruptcy judge subsequently ruled that the federal court has jurisdiction and that a hearing on the case would be held on Wednesday, Jul 24.

Union leaders on Monday said that they would continue to pursue legal action to block the city from declaring bankruptcy.

Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on behalf of the City of Detroit. As part of their plan for getting the city out of bankruptcy, Orr and Gov. Snyder are proposing cuts to retired workers pensions and the elimination of their health care benefit.

The average pension for a retired city frontline worker is less than $18,000 a year, and some are not eligible for Social Security because the city is exempt from making contributions to the Social Security fund.

“We urge Snyder and Orr to immediately abandon their course of action and to follow the (state) judge’s order directing the emergency manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition and to not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing that threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders in a press statement. “There is too much at stake to play political games with the hard earned retirement security of Detroit’s public workers. These retirees worked hard and played by the rules. . .  Attacking these pensions is not only unfair, it is illegal.”

On Monday shortly after the federal bankruptcy judge’s ruling, AFSCME Council 25, which represent public workers in Michigan, held a press conference where Council 25 President Al Garrett announced that the union had filed an objection to the bankruptcy proceedings in federal court.

The union is questioning Detroit’s eligibility for filing bankruptcy.

According to Ed McNeil, a special assistant Garrett, the city is required to negotiate in good faith over issues such as pensions and health care with its unions before declaring bankruptcy but has failed to do so.

Prior to Orr filing for bankruptcy, members of Orr’s staff met with union representatives to provide them information, but when asked by McNeil whether these meetings were negotiations, Orr’s staff responded that they were only information meetings and not negotiations.

At union’s press conference, union leaders said that the decision to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy had already been made before Orr was officially appointed as the city’s emergency manager.

“I think it’s really important for the media to report the hypocrisy and the dishonesty that Kevyn Orr says yesterday they reached out and they bent over backwards, and they’ve never had one negotiating session with any of the unions,” said UAW President Bob King, who was supporting Council 25 at the press conference. “That’s outrageous. People in Michigan should be outraged they’re being lied to every day.”

McNeil told reporters that before Orr was appointed emergency manager, the city’s 33 unions proposed contract changes that would have saved the city $180.2 million, but that the city was pressured by Gov. Snyder into rejecting the changes.

Garrett referred to e-mails showing that Gov. Snyder and Orr were discussing the possibility of filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy even before Orr was officially appointed.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, “Weeks before a state financial review team found Detroit’s fiscal condition so dire that Gov. Rick Snyder would soon appoint an emergency manager, discussions behind the scenes indicated that an orderly Chapter 9 bankruptcy for the Motor City might be the best option.”

The report goes on to say that the emails show that Orr had some reservations about filing bankruptcy, but one of Orr’s colleagues at the Jones Day law firm advised him in a January 31 e-mail that,

“It seems that the ideal scenario would be that Snyder and (Mayor Dave) Bing both agree that the best option is simply to go through an orderly Chapter 9,” Jones Day lawyer Dan Moss, who worked with Orr on Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy, told Orr in a Jan. 31 e-mail. “This avoids an unnecessary political fight over the scope/authority of any appointed emergency manager and, moreover, moves the ball forward on setting Detroit on the right track.”

At the Monday press conference, Garrett objected to the behind the scenes decision to file bankruptcy.

“Bankruptcy’s not the solution,” said Garrett. “It has been the plan of this administration because there’s been a decision made that the people running Detroit, the people who live in Detroit ought not have a say in the destiny of what the city of Detroit is.”

UAW southern organizing gathers momentum; AL autoworkers petition for union recognition

Workers at an auto parts plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama recently petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election.

The petition is the latest development in the UAW’s ongoing campaign to organize autoworkers in the South.

The workers work at a Tuscaloosa plant owned by Faurecia, a global auto parts supplier based in France. They make automotive interior components.

If the workers vote to join the UAW, they will become the sixth group of auto parts workers along a 60 mile corridor between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to become UAW members.

Most of the unionized auto parts plants along this corridor supply parts to Mercendes, which operates a manufacturing  plant in nearby Vance where the UAW has an active organizing campaign.

At another Faurecia plant in nearby Cottondale, workers in June 2012 voted 79-33 to join the UAW.

In February they negotiated and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement that among other things raises their pay by between $3 per hour and $5.30 per hour over the next three years; provides a signing bonus of $500; improves health care coverage and lowers health care premium costs; and establishes time and a half overtime pay when a worker works more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

In November, workers at a Johnson Controls plant in Cottondale also voted to join UAW.

“Workers here and everywhere are learning more about what it means to join a union, and they’re standing up and voting to be represented,” said UAW Local 2083 President Richard McGraw to UAW’s magazine Solidarity after the November election. “They want to be respected and compensated for the work they do to help make companies like Johnson Controls successful.”

Local 2083 is located in Tuscaloosa.

In addition to the Faurecia and Jonson Control plants in Cottondale, UAW has members at and collective bargaining agreements with three other auto parts plants along the Birmingham to Tuscaloosa corridor: ZF Industries in Tuscaloosa, Inteva in Cottondale, and another Johnson Controls plant in McCalla.

All of these plants supply parts to Mercendes.

Workers at the Mercedes plant in Vance, located about halfway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, have recently initiated an organizing campaign, but unlike the Faurecia workers in Tuscaloosa haven’t petitioned for an election yet.

David Gilbert, one of the workers supporting the union at the Vance plant, recently traveled to Stuttgart, Germany to attend an international conference of Mercendes workers who belong to unions all over the world.

In a letter to his fellow workers about the trip, Gilbert described himself as a pro-company worker who is also pro union.

After describing his experience in Stuttgart, Gilbert laid out some of the changes that he thought would be possible if the workers had a union.

“I’d like to see,” writes Gilbert. “A pension plan; profit-sharing instead of a team share based on ever-changing formulas; call-back rights in case (of) future (layoffs); using our vacation days on only the days that WE choose; Team Leader elections or a system where Team Members could give real input over who is selected to support the team; REAL STANDARDS instead of convenient exceptions or Group Leader discretion, and what about the policy of ‘equal pay for equal work of equal value’ as stated in Daimler’s (Mercedes)Principles of Social Responsibility.

“Right now the company holds all the power, makes all the decisions, and chooses when and whether or not to enforce policies,” continues Gilbert. “If we had a union we would have the power to negotiate over these decisions.”

While the Vance organizing drive is just getting underway, the one at the Faurecia plant in Tuscaloosa is much further along. After the NLRB certifies that the signatures on the petition are valid, it will set a date for a union representation election.

In addition to the organizing campaigns in Alabama, the UAW has active organizing campaigns at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

IG Metall, the world’s largest industrial union that represents German autoworkers, has been helping the UAW with its organizing work at the Volkswagen and Mercedes plants.

More port drivers join the Teamsters

The Teamsters recently announced that drivers who work for Toll Global Forwarding near the Port of New Jersey voted to join Teamsters Local 469.

This makes the second group of Toll drivers to vote for union membership. Toll drivers at the Port of Los Angeles joined the Teamsters in April 2012.

Teamsters accused Toll, an Australia-based logistics firm, of using illegal tactics to prevent workers from joining the union.

“New Jersey Toll drivers refused to buy into the lies and threats that the company told them and voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters,” said Fred Potter, president of Local 469 in Hazlet, New Jersey and director of the Teamsters Port Division. “Toll drivers in New Jersey now have the same rights as Toll Group drivers in Los Angeles, who are represented by Teamsters Local 848, and as Australian Toll drivers, represented by the (Australian) Transport Workers Union.”

The 112 drivers, who drive short-haul and long-haul trucks, and hostlers, who move trailers within the Toll yard, voted in a union representation election on June 24; the final vote count showed that 70 percent of those voting voted in favor of joining Local 469.

“As a port truck driver, I feel that our fight for dignity and respect on the job has finally been won,” said Fred Schmidt, a Toll driver. “As a Teamster, we will now be able to fight for what we have earned without fear of retribution: a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, affordable medical benefits and real retirement security.”

Prior to the vote, the Teamsters filed a charge against Toll with the National Labor Relations board. The charge accuses Toll of spying on union supporters and trying to intimidate workers into voting against the union.

A Toll executive told the Star Ledger that the charges were baseless.

The Teamsters second victory at Toll is part of an ongoing organizing campaign to bring justice to port trucking business, which underwent a radical transformation after the trucking industry was deregulated in the 1970s.

As a result of deregulation, many port drivers, who haul goods between the nation’s ports and warehouses of the nation’s retailers, now work for low wages.

The Seattle Times in 2011 reported that the average wage for a Port of Seattle truck driver is about $28,500 a year.

One reason for the low pay is that 90 percent of the nation’s 110,000 short-haul port drivers are classified as independent contractors.

Because they are classified by their employer as independent contractors, drivers pay for most of the expenses associated with operating their big rigs.

Some drivers in New Jersey have filed suit claiming that their employer has mislclassified them as independent contractors. As a result, say the plaintiffs, their employer, Ironbound, one of the biggest trucking firms at the Port of New Jersey, has illegally withheld wages to pay for their trucks’ expenses.

In addition to making workers responsible for work-related expenses, being classified as an independent contract prevents workers from bargaining collectively and, in most cases, makes them ineligible for company benefits.

The Teamsters and other unions have charged that companies not only in the port trucking business but across the nation have purposely misclassified workers as independent contractors to lower labor costs and deny workers essential rights.

The US Department of Labor has recognized the problem.

According to the Labor Department,

The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers, and to the entire economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections – such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance – to which they are entitled. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to the Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds.

As a result, the department has launched a misclassification initiative to reduce the incidence of misclassification.

In May, the department reported that it recovered more than $1 million in back wages and damages for 196 workers misclassified as independent contractors by a firm in Kentucky.

Unlike most port trucking company’s, Toll employees work directly for the company, which makes it possible for them to join unions.