Texas Hold ‘Em Accountable march and rally slated for Dec 6

The Texas Hold ‘Em Accountable march and rally takes place on Friday, December 6.

Teachers, union activists, and their supporters will rally and march for

  • public education
  • healthcare
  • immigration reform
  • voting rights, and
  • labor issues

Beginning at 10:45 A.M. at the Texas State Capitol.

They will then march to the federal building where Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. John Carter, and Rep. Roger Williams have offices to hold them accountable for their votes on these issues.

Texas Hold ‘Em Accountable is sponsored by Education Austin, National Council of Urban Education Associations, National Education Association, NAACP, American Federation of Teachers, Workers Defense Project, League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Sierra Club.

UC service workers strike for safe staffing levels and respect

AFSCME Local 3299 members at nine University of California campuses and five hospitals on November 20 held a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest UC’s intimidation of workers and UC’s lack of concern for the safety of its patients, students, and workers.

“Yesterday was an historic moment of solidarity for all who share in the moral obligation to make UC facilities safer places to live, learn, heal and thrive,” said Kathryn Lybarger, Local 3299’s president on the day after the strike. “From Berkeley to San Diego, it was clear that Californians understand the importance of addressing the unlawful harassment of those who have challenged UC’s neglect on issues of safety for workers, patients and students.”

The strike partially shut down UC campuses and interrupted non-emergency services at UC hospitals. UC graduate teaching assistants who belong to UAW Local 2865 staged a sympathy strike in support of Local 3299. UC members of  UPTE-CWA 9119, AFT-UC, and the California Nurses Association participated in support rallies for the strikers.

UC tried to prevent some Local 3299 members from participating in the strike, but a judge ruled against UC’s request for an injunction.

“Our members have both the legal right and moral responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve,” said Lybarger. “By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn’t just repeatedly broken the law–it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal, and to build a better life for their families.”

Local 3299 members, who provide an array of services to UC patients and students, have been bargaining with UC for 18 months. One of their priorities has been safe staffing levels to reduce accidents and other safety problems on campuses and at the hospitals.

“We have one person doing three jobs,” said Andrea Whaley, a UC Davis hospital operating room assistant to the Sacramento Bee. “That’s not safe for patients. Everybody here appreciates their job. It’s not about that. It’s about patient safety and worker safety.”

UC while giving 3 percent raises to its executives and other high paid staff has sought concessions from its low-paid service workers and ignored the union’s safety concerns.

In May, Local 3299 members held their first unfair labor practices strike.

According to a complaint issued by the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), UC tried to intimidate workers from joining the legally sanctioned strike and continued to harass Local 3299 members after the strike concluded.

During the summer UC imposed its contract terms on Local 3299 members at UC hospitals and then in September did the same to Local 3299 members on UC campuses.

After former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano became president of the UC System, she sought to restart negotiations with Local 3299.

But UC continues to ignore its workers’ safe staffing concerns and continues to harass union activists who speak up for safety on the job, which prompted the November 20 walkout.

According to Lybarger, the union has agreed to many of UC’s demands including its demands for higher employee pension and health care contributions, but said Lybarger in an op-ed piece in the Daily Bruin, “We simply won’t compromise on the safety of the people we serve.”

Lybarger also noted that lack of safe staffing levels has caused an increase in the number of on-the-job injuries. “The absence of safe staffing levels is causing one in ten service workers to get hurt on the job, a figure that’s nearly 20 percent higher than it was in 2009,” said Lybarger.

UC has also been negotiating new contracts with its nurses and professional and technical employees.

Just days before the strike began, UC reached a tentative agreement with 12,000 registered nurses who belong to the California Nurses Association. The agreement includes a substantial pay raise and contract language that protects vacation and sick time and maintains retiree health care benefits for current employees, issues for which Local 3299 continues to bargain.

“We congratulate our colleagues in the California Nurses Association on reaching a fair contract agreement with the University of California,” said Lybarger after the tentative agreement was announced. “We would hope that UC will afford other bargaining units—including the service workers and patient care technical workers represented by AFSCME 3299—a similar spirit of dignity and respect.”

Lybarger also noted that “UC has failed to offer AFSCME any substantive proposals on safe staffing, nor any proposals on wages that are commensurate with what it has given to other UC employees.”

“They have been tone deaf at the table about safety and staffing,” said Lybarger to CBS Los Angeles. “This is about money for them. This is about safety for us.”

Survey shows strong support for public workers

The results of a recent survey commissioned by the Pew Center on the States are quite surprising.

An overwhelming majority of the voters surveyed have favorable views of public service workers, and a solid majority have favorable views of their unions.

Also, two out of three people queried about the health of public pensions responded that there were either no problems with them or that the problems were minor.

The results are surprising because during the last decade the discourse on public pensions has been dominated by those who have exaggerated the problems of  public pensions and demonized public services workers and their unions.

But the survey results also suggest that voters can be swayed to support cuts to or the elimination of public pensions if the message for doing so if framed in the right way.

David Sirota, who broke the story about Pew’s survey in Salon, said that the survey’s results show that “the American public is powerfully rejecting the right’s anti-public-worker crusade.”

The survey was conducted by the Mellman Group, which usually works for Democratic candidates, and Public Opinion Strategies, which usually works for Republican candidates. They surveyed 1,000 voters and found that

  • 93 percent have favorable views of teachers,
  • 92 percent have favorable views of firefighters and police, and
  • 74 percent have favorable views of state employees.

Moreover, 57 percent have favorable views of teachers’ unions, 53 percent have favorable views of state employees’ unions, and only one-quarter think that public pension benefits are too high and only one-third think that there were major problems with public pensions.

“The overarching takeaway from these numbers is pretty straightforward,” writes Sirota. “The political class’ assumptions about the politics of public employees, budgets and pensions are way off the mark,” and Americans haven’t been persuaded by propaganda that demonizes public employees and their pensions.

However, cautions Sirota, these results won’t stop those who want to reduce or eliminate public pensions from pursuing their quest.

And, in fact, some other responses to the survey suggest that voters could be swayed to support public pension cuts or their elimination if the message for doing so can be properly framed.

For example, 81 percent agreed that financial sustainability should be one of the top goals for public pension systems and 71 percent agreed that providing public employees a secure retirement was important. Sixty-five percent had a favorable view of cash balance retirement plans,  a defined contribution plan with features of a defined benefit plan.

Recently, supporters of cutting or eliminating public pensions succeeded in Kentucky by arguing that replacing the state’s defined benefit pension plan with a cash balance plan would make public pensions sustainable and provide retirement security.

Pew, which in partnership with former Enron executive John Arnold, has been urging pension cuts and the elimination of defined benefit pension plans under the banner of “pension reform,” points to Kentucky as a model for successful pension reform.

Kentucky for years made a mistake that a few other public pensions have made: it gave cost of living raises without  funding them, leaving the pension seriously under funded

To deal with the problem, the legislature and governor agreed to a bi-partisan solution that among other things barred new hires from enrolling in the state’s defined benefit pension and moved them into a cash balance plan.

According to Pew, “Kentucky’s cash balance plan provides workers with the opportunity to reach a secure retirement” and along with other changes puts the state’s retirement system on a path toward financial sustainability.

What Pew failed to mention is that workers enrolled in the cash balance plan will end up with a smaller pension benefit because the benefit amount is based on a career long salary average rather than an average of an employee’s highest earning years.

In her book Retirement Heist, Ellen Schultz writes that some corporations in the 1990s converted their employees’ defined benefit pension to a cash balance plan to disguise pension reductions.

One company, Cigna a health care insurer, sent employees a fact sheet emphasizing some of the same points as Pew did a decade and a half later.

According to Cigna’s fact sheet, the cash balance plan would deliver a secure retirement and meet the needs of a more mobile workforce while making the company more competitive.

What Cigna didn’t tell employees was that their cash balance benefit would be less than their defined benefit, a fact that was common knowledge among those advocating cash balance plans.

Schultz in her book reported the following exchange at a 1998 panel entitled “Introduction to Cash Balance/Pension Equity Plans” put on by consulting companies that helped corporations convert defined benefit plans to cash balance plans:

“It is not until they are ready to retire that they understand how little they are actually getting (from cash balance plans),” said (an actuary from) Watson Wyatt (a pension consulting company). That got a good laugh from the audience, as did the response by a fellow panelist. “Right, but they’re happy while they’re employed. . . You switch to a cash balance plan where people are probably getting smaller benefits, at least the older, longer service people; but they are really happy, and they think you are great for doing it.” More laughter.

Supporters of locked out IKEA workers to rally on Nov. 23

Supporters of the locked out IKEA workers in Richmond, British Columbia will rally near the IKEA store in nearby Coquitlam (1000 Lougheed Highway) on Saturday, November 23 at 1:00 P.M.

The rally is sponsored by the BC Federation of Labor.

“The rally is about how IKEA is treating workers worldwide,” said Anita Dawson, business representative for Teamsters Local 213, the locked out workers’ union, in an interview heard on Vancouver’s Co-op radio.

In Canada, IKEA is trying to bust the Richmond workers’ union, said Dawson.

The lockout, which has lasted longer than any other labor dispute with IKEA anywhere else in the world, the company’s take it or leave it attitude, and its efforts to coax union members to cross the picket line and return to work all suggest that IKEA in Richmond wants to be union free.

In Turkey, after workers voted to form a union, IKEA went of its way not to recognize the workers’ union.

In France, police are questioning two IKEA executives about illegally spying on IKEA workers and customers. According to rt.com, the former head of risk management at IKEA France has already been charged with bribing police to obtain “car registration numbers and names connected with a list of mobile phone numbers” of union members who work for IKEA in France.

At the Colquitlam rally, Local 213 members will also be urging their supporters to continue to boycott IKEA stores and IKEA online.

Despite threats, Boeing workers reject company’s concession demands

At Boeing business isn’t just good, it’s great.

“Consistently strong operating performance is driving higher earnings, revenue, and cash flow as we deliver on our record backlog and return increased value to  shareholders,” said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney in the company’s third quarter  earnings release.

So far this year, Boeing has reported $62.8 billion in revenue, up 6 percent over the same time period in 2012 and net earnings of $3.4 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period in 2012.

It also has $15.9 billion in cash and marketable investments on hand while owing $9.6 billion in debt.

The future is even rosier. It has a backlog of orders worth $415 billion.

The crown jewel of this highly profitable enterprise is its commercial airlines division, which reported $38.3 billion in revenue for the first nine months of 2013 and has backlog of “nearly 4,800 (airplanes) valued at a record $345 billion.”

But Boeing is reluctant to share this bounty with its production workers at its commercial airlines operations in the Puget Sound area of the State of Washington and, in fact, has been trying to wrest concessions from them.

To do so, the company offered members of IAM District 751 a long-term contract guaranteeing that Boeing’s new  777X would be built in the Puget Sound at least through 2024, essentially guaranteeing jobs for the next 11 years.

To sweeten the deal, Boeing also offered the workers a $10,000 signing bonus if they ratified the contract by November 13.

In return, Boeing demanded a phasing out of the workers’ defined benefits pension plan, substantially higher out-of-pocket expenses for health care coverage, and a two-tiered wage system.

The offer would have extended the current contract which expires in 2016 to 2024.

District 751 members rejected the offer by a two to one vote.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my brothers and sisters,” said Robley Evans, a forklift driver at Boeing’s Auburn plant, to the Seattle Times. “We stood against the wall.   We won. We saved our union tonight. That contract would have destroyed our union.”

Had that contract been approved, workers would have stopped accumulating pension benefits in 2016, the company would have stopped making pension contributions, and, instead of a defined benefit pension, the workers would have over time been converted to defined contribution retirement savings plan.

Workers’ health care premiums would have been raised to $40 a month with a 10 percent increase each year until 2025. Co-pay and co-insurance costs would also increase, and the company reserved the right to increase worker costs even more in 2018 to avoid paying an Affordable Care Act excise tax.

New hires would not be eligible for regular pay progressions that would bring them to the maximum pay rate in their job category in six years. Instead, they would receive $0.50 per hour raises at six month intervals.

New hires would also not be eligible for the disability retirement benefit; instead, if they were to become disabled, the company would pay only a one-time lump sum of $15,000.

There was a lot of pressure on the workers to accept the concessions.

Boeing made it known that the company was scouting for alternative locations to produce the 777X and threatened to relocated the 777X production line unless the workers voted yes.

State leaders were also hoping for a yes vote. The state legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee approved tax incentives worth $8.7 billion to comply with a demand Boeing made in return for building the 777X production line in Washington.

The official position of District 751’s leadership was neutral, but the fact sheet about the proposal published on the union’s website emphasized the positives of the company proposal–long-term job security, the $10,000 signing bonus, etc. –and downplayed the negatives.

For example, in describing the health care cost increases, the fact sheet stated that, “Overall health insurance costs for employees under the company’s proposal will be below the national average, especially for employees with family plans, including prescription drugs.”

Despite the pressure, workers voted to reject the company’s concession demands and remained defiant despite the consequences.

“It’s a very real possibility that the company could act suicidal again … and move out of state, which doesn’t make any sense financially,” said Dan Swank, a 17-year Boeing workers on the Everett flight line to the Seattle Times. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney “hates unions so much, that could happen. We’ll fight those battles as they come.”

Shared Services at UT: Disconnect between assurances and reality

The administration at the University of Texas at Austin on November 15 held a public relations event on campus to hear concerns about the proposed Shared Services plan that if adopted would consolidate administrative services and eliminate 500 jobs at the university.

The questions that people asked expressed a deep sense of anxiety about the changes that the administration is proposing.

UT’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty did his best to allay fears about Shared Services, one piece of a larger transformation project aimed at making UT operate more like a business.

Details of the transformation project were made public in January when a committee of 13 private business executives appointed by UT President William Powers issued a report entitled Smarter Systems for a Greater UT.

Among other things, Smarter Systems called for UT to privatize and consolidate a wide range of services provided by UT staff.

Just prior to the November 15 event, Hegarty took another step to tamp down fears about the overall transformation project and Shared Services by announcing that for the time being UT would not be privatizing student food services or raising student fees, which had been recommended by the Smarter Systems authors.

The Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 called the announcement a “huge victory.”

The union and its partners from the Save Our Community Coalition have been organizing and mobilizing students and staff to protect UT, one of the state’s most valuable public assets, from private encroachment.

In a message to members, the union said that the victory was the result of ten months of organizing and mobilizing at UT.

The union also warned that the threat of privatization and downsizing isn’t over and cited the Shared Services plan, which would consolidate IT, human resources, and financial services through the implementation of a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

During the recent Shared Services public relations event, Hegarty responded to pre-screened written questions.

Among other things, people wanted to know if Shared Services would cause their jobs to be deskilled and their pay cut, if UT would give them sufficient warning in the event of layoffs, if their jobs would be privatized, if there would be more than 500 jobs eliminated; and if Shared Services would break down well established relationships between faculty, students and the administrative staff who serve them.

People also wanted to know what metrics would be used to evaluate Shared Services pilot projects on campus.

Hegarty replied that jobs would not be deskilled; that new career paths would be opened that could improve pay; that probably nobody would lose their jobs because the cuts would be accomplished through attrition; that no current jobs would be outsourced; that Shared Services would strengthen relationships between all members of the UT community; and that proper metrics would be developed when Shared Services was piloted.

Hegarty, dressed casually in jeans and a burnt orange sport shirt, set a reassuring tone.

But there was a disconnect between Hegarty’s reassurances and the realities of Shared Services.

Hegarty said that Shared Services has been implemented at other universities and that people were pleased with the results.

But the Yale Daily News in 2012 reported that faculty members unhappy with Yale’s Shared Service project said that it “does not meet the needs of individual departments.”

The paper quoted Shauna King, Yale’s vice president for finance and business operations, as saying that faculty had protested “most strongly” the fact that Shared Services caused “the reductions in and restructuring of departmental staff over the past few years.”

Yale began implementing Shared Services in 2010.

The Michigan Daily News more recently reported that 16 department heads in a letter to UM’s Provost said that UM’s version of Shared Services lacked transparency and accountability.

They were especially concerned that “faculty and staff will  have to reapply for their positions.”

The Daily News went on to report that the department heads questioned “the validity of the (Shared Services) campaign, citing similar efforts at
other institutions — including Yale University and University of California, Berkeley — that didn’t yield desired results.”

Hegarty said that Shared Services is the best and least painful alternative for cutting costs at UT.

But Dr. Alberto Martinez, a UT history professor, asked during the 15-minute live audience question period, if the projected Shared Services savings were realistic.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Daily Texan, Martinez said that to achieve the projected savings, 433 jobs will have to be eliminated by December 2014 and even more in subsequent years.

Martinez also wrote that the oft cited Shared Services implementation cost of $160 million to $180 million is too low. “The online plan ‘for campus discussion’ includes a cash flow graph that specifies that Shared Services and the ERP will cost even more: $213.5 million,” said Martinez.

Hegarty said that everything is being done to make the decision on whether to adopt Shared Services as transparent as possible.

But during the brief live question period that limited questions to one per person, Burt Hertigstad, who works in UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film, said that staff with whom he has spoken weren’t satisfied with the information that they have received about Shared Services and called the meager attempts to publicize the transformation project little more than “smoke and mirrors.”

“Thanks for giving me the chance to ask one question,” said Hertigstad. “But I really have about 50.”

Colombian union activist murdered; Colombia still not safe for union members

Another Colombian union activist has been murdered.

Oscar López Triviño, an 25-year employee at the Nestle food processing plant in Bugalagrande and a member of SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food workers union, was gunned down on November 9 after receiving a death threat from a group called Urabeños, described by the Wall Street Journal as “a violent drug-running and crime syndicate formed several years ago from disbanded right-wing paramilitary groups.”

SINALTRAINAL members had recently concluded a five-day hunger strike that called attention to the union’s campaign at the Nestle plant for union recognition and improved pay and working conditions.

Prior to the hunger strike, the union and the company had been in negotiations over a new collective bargaining contract but the talks had broken down.

Lopez was not one of the hunger strikers, but he was active in the union. Other SINALTRAINAL members and leaders at the Nestle plant also received death threats prior to Lopez’s assassination.

In 2011, the US and Colombia agreed to a Labor Action Plan (LAP) to protect workers’ right to join and freely participate in unions. The LAP was part of a Colombia-US trade agreement that became effective in 2012.

Despite the LAP, Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world for a worker to a member of a trade union.

Lopez and the other SINALTRAINAL members on November 8 received text messages from Urabeños accusing them of being guerillas fighting to overthrow the government, a baseless charge often used by right wing death squads to justify murders of union members and social justice activists.

Urabeños is composed of the remnants of paramilitary death squads that operated in the area during the height of Colombia’s civil war.

The union said that Lopez is the 15th SINALTRAINAL member who worked at Nestle to be murdered since the union began organizing Nestle workers in the 1980s.

Perhaps the most infamous of these murders was the killing of Luciano Enrique Romero in 2005.

In 1999, Romero led the worker resistance to a restructuring plan at CICOLAC, a powdered milk processing plant in Valledupar owned by Nestle.

The effort failed and most of the workers at the plant lost their jobs. Some were able to return to their jobs, but they only had temporary contracts.

In 2001 Romero helped expose Nestle’s practice of importing and repackaging expired milk at its CICOLAC plant.

Romero was fired in 2002 and went into exile after receiving death threats.

He returned to Colombia in 2005 and was murdered shortly after his return.

In 2012, two members of a local paramilitary death squad were found guilty of his murder.

Judge José Nirio Sánchez who presided over the trial said after he read the verdict that it was impossible that the two acted alone and ordered the state prosecutor to investigate the leading managers at the Nestle-CICOLAC plant to determine if they had a role in Romero’s murder. The investigation is still ongoing.

The LAP signed by Colombia and the US was supposed to end abuses such as the killing of Romero and Lopez.

But a recent report by two members of the US Congress finds that murder and intimidation continue to be an integral part of Colombian labor relations.

Rep. James McGovern and Rep. George Miller traveled to Colombia to gather information for their report.

“At a minimum 413 threats were documented and 22 trade unionists were murdered for their union involvement in 2012,” reads the report. “On April 1, 2013, the 991st death threat against members of the labor movement was received since President Juan Manuel Santos became president in June 2011.”

After the death of Lopez, SINALTRAINAL urged action to bring the murders to justice and get the negotiations between the union and Nestle back on track.

“Tell the (US) Department of Labor to pressure the Colombian government to ensure justice for the murder of trade unionist Oscar Lopez and to take action to prevent violence against unionists in Colombia,” said the union in a written statement about Lopez’s murder.

Colombia’s Minister of Labor on November 11 convened a meeting of the union, Nestle’s management, and a representative of the government to find a way to restart the stalled negotiations and resolve the issues raised by the workers’ hunger strike.

“To the organizations that support us in Colombia and the rest of the world, we give a big hug of solidarity and ask that you be extremely vigilant with regards to the negotiations underway and that you continue to demand that brother Oscar Lopez’s murders be brought to justice,” said SINALTRAINAL in a statement.