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.

International unions to organize support for locked out IKEA workers

After conducting a fact finding inquiry, a panel of international trade union representatives said that they would return home and organize support for more than 300 IKEA workers in Richmond, British Columbia locked out since May.

“We will do everything we can that’s in our power,” said Peter Lövkvist, secretary of the Nordic Transport Workers’ Federation to the The Tyee. “We’re not ruling anything out.”

The federation represents 400,000 union members in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

“It was a real honor to meet so many great brothers and sisters facing this lockout together with dignity and respect,” said Erin Der Maar, of the International Transport Workers Federations on the workers’ Facebook page. “. . .  we will be following up on this as soon as we get back to Europe.”

Members of the panel talked to workers on the picket line and to management inside the IKEA store.

They heard testimony from workers at a November 7 hearing. Company representatives were invited to attend and speak but declined.

At the hearing, Jim Sinclair, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labor, explained why it’s important that workers throughout the world take up the cause of the locked out IKEA workers, members of Teamsters Local 213.

At the start of negotiations, said Sinclair, IKEA demanded concessions that would have cut wages and benefits and implemented a two-tier wage system that would have affected new hires and workers with less than four years of service.

The company also wanted to cut benefits and make them harder to get for part-time employees.

IKEA demanded concessions as if it were losing money, but since the economy has turned around, the company has been doing well.

IKEA has also engaged in union busting activity and intimidation, said Sinclair. The company passed out anti-union disinformation from a Canadian anti-union group that works to decertify unions, called union members at home to urge them return to work, and tried to use strike breakers.

Sinclair said that if workers let IKEA impose concessions while it is making money and get away with its union busting, these actions will set a dangerous precedent and encourage other companies throughout the world to do the same.

The lockout began after Teamster members rejected IKEA’s concessionary contract proposal three times.

Before workers voted on May 9 for the third time, IKEA threatened to lock them out if they rejected the company’s final offer, but the workers rejected it anyway.

The next day IKEA locked them out.

IKEA offered to lift the lockout if the workers would return work under the terms of the rejected  contract.

The workers said no again.

In August, IKEA dropped its demand for a two-tier wage system but made a new proposal tying wage increases to achieving productivity and sales goals unilaterally set by the company. Under the new proposal, it could in some instances take 20 years to reach the maximum wage rate.

The union had originally proposed a six-year period to reach the maximum wage.

During the November 7 testimony, workers described how things have changed at the Richmond IKEA store.

When the store originally opened in the 1990s, store management seemed to buy into the so-called IKEA value system that encourages respect for customers and  workers who serve customers.

But now said Marc Caron, an IKEA values trainer and 21-year employee, “IKEA is more concerned about the bottom line.”

Caron gave an example about how work at IKEA had changed. Before the lockout, Caron and another worker were talking when they were approached by a supervisor. They asked the supervisor about a new scheduling policy that made it difficult for workers to balance their work and life outside of work.

“The supervisor responded that ‘it’s not about work life balance anymore here’,” said Caron. “‘The work schedule is going to stay the same. If you don’t like it, there’s the door’.”

Keith Austin, a 27-year IKEA worker, said that the problems at IKEA in Richmond began in 2003 when IKEA built another store too close to the original store.

“IKEA became problematic in the 2003 when it opened another store in Coquitlam,” said Austin. About 40 percent of the Richmond customers started shopping at the Coquitlam store.

Once the Richmond store starting losing customers, it had a harder time meeting the production goals set at IKEA headquarters.

That’s when IKEA in Richmond started drifting away from its original values.

Austin said that building the store so close to the Richmond was a big mistake. The rule of thumb is that stores operated by the same company should be at least 60 kilometers from each other. The store in Colquitlam was 23 kilometers away from Richmond.

“IKEA made a strategic mistake in locating the store in Colquitlam, now they want workers to pay for their mistake,” said Austin.

Austin said that if IKEA forces concessions this time, they’ll ask for more concessions in the future.

Tim Beaty, director of global strategies for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, told the panel that IKEA labor relations are deteriorating in other parts of the world.

He pointed to Turkey where IKEA has resisted recognizing the workers’ union.

Beaty said the UNI Global Union, an international confederation of unions in the retail and wholesale trades, had surveyed IKEA union members throughout the world.

The results of the survey show that union members in northern Europe were satisfied with their relationship with IKEA, but  workers further away from the IKEA center were much less satisfied.

Beatty said that its time to put an end to the erosion of labor relations at IKEA and that it would take international action.

Lövkvist said that panel members would complete a report on their findings in about a month. In the meantime, the unions would begin publicizing the lockout back home and would seek a meeting with IKEA executives in Sweden.

Depending on the results of the meeting, the unions, said Lövkvist, may take further action including refusing to handle IKEA goods. Nothing is off the table said Lövkvist.

Richmond IKEA workers told the panel that they were willing to continue their fight. “We’ve gone too far to back down now,” said Caron. “I’ll stand on this picket line as long as it takes.”

Ovetz critiques UT’s Shared Services plan at union sponsored speech

Speaking before a standing room only crowd at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Robert Ovetz described a proposal to transform UT into a more businesslike institution as another in a long line of endeavors to convert public resources into private revenue streams.

These endeavors began 400 years ago at the dawn of capitalism when land owners enclosed public lands known as the commons to take advantage of new market opportunities–selling food to the rapidly growing population of new urban dwellers many of whom were forced off their land by enclosures.

Ovetz was speaking at an event called Shared Services and Other Bad Ideas organized by the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 and co-sponsored by the UT Graduate Assembly, the Save Our Community Coalition, and UT Young Democrats.

Ovetz attended UT during the late 1980s and 1990s and received his PhD there. His dissertation “Adversarial Research for Resisting the  Entrepreneurialization of the University” describes how a public resource–UT–was being transformed into a private asset.

Shared Services, a proposal from a committee of  business executives appointed by UT President William Powers, if adopted would consolidate UT’s human resources, IT, and financial services through the implementation of a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and eliminate 500 jobs.

Other services would eventually be privatized.

The proposal calls for UT to spend between $160 million to $180 million to design, develop, and implement Shared Services. Most of this money would be paid to private contractors.

Critics of the Shared Services proposal argue that UT would be spending nearly $200 million to eliminate 500 jobs; that the proposal’s estimated cost savings are illusory; and that UT students and workers will pay most of the costs for its implementation.

Shared Services is only one feature of a much broader transformation of UT envisioned by President Powers and his Committee on Business Productivity, composed of 13 “distinguished” business executives who Powers commissioned to “offer advice on aspects of the University’s business operations and processes that could be improved, streamlined, and leveraged to better effect.”

This particular transformation, according to Ovetz, is the latest in series of transformations at UT that “is part of the enclosure of higher education” and the privatization of human knowledge acquired through collective effort.

These transformations got underway in the 1980s when patent regulations and laws were changed to allow businesses to commercialize and profit from research done at public universities.

The commercialization and privatization of public knowledge at UT was not without costs.

UT, according to Ovetz, could have offset these costs by charging a fair royalty for products originating from UT research. It chose to charge only modest royalties.

At the same time, more students were enrolling at UT, which also drove up costs.

The state Legislature could  have helped UT to keep up with higher costs by taxing those who benefitted most from commercialization. It chose not to.

Instead UT and state officials looked to students and employees to pay for the rising costs.

In 1983, UT tuition was $4 per semester hour. By 1999,  it increased to $52 an hour.

Workers at UT were also squeezed.

At one time, university workers received the same raises as other state employees.

But UT and other higher education officials convinced the Legislature to decouple university worker raises from those received by other state employees. Consequently, salaries at UT lagged behind.

To save money during this period, UT radically transformed the way it delivered education. More courses were taught by graduate assistants and adjunct instructors, a low-paid, low-benefit workforce with almost no job security.

Ovetz witnessed this transformation and wrote about it in his dissertation.

He called this era of commercialization and privatization, “the first wave” of the enclosure of public knowledge at UT.

The Shared Services proposal, he said, is the first ripple in the second wave.

Shared Services, according to Ovetz, would be the first step toward transforming UT administrative services into profit oriented businesses.

Each administrative function would be judged on how well it pays for itself, not on how well it serves the university community or the public. Some services will likely be privatized.

Work will be deskilled and made interchangeable.

Those who keep their jobs will work longer and harder for less money.

Before all this takes place, UT, according to the Shared Services proposal, will need to spend money up front to design and implement the plan.

But money is tight at UT, so where does this up front money come from?

Students will pay a hefty share. Parking fees will increase 7.5 percent annually for 15 years, food services will increase by 5 percent, and housing costs will increase by $184.2 million.

Higher costs for students, harder work and lower pay for employers, layoffs, and more public resources siphoned off to private interests sounds similar to the austerity measures being imposed in Europe–and they are.

In Europe austerity was justified by the continent’s economic crisis.

UT’s austerity measures are also justified by an economic crisis–state funding has not kept up with the growing need at UT. The only way to deal with this shortfall is, according to President Powers, to make UT run more like a business.

But Ovetz called UT’s budget crisis a self-imposed crisis.

In addition to deciding not to seek higher royalty payments, UT has chosen not to spend available money.

When he was researching his dissertation in the early 1990s, Ovetz found that UT was earning $1.3 billion in short-term investments from money being held rather than spent in the university’s discretionary and unrestricted funds.

Ovetz argued that the Shared Services proposal is deeply problematic.

  • The cost savings envisioned by the Shared Services proposal can’t be justified even by its own math.
  • It sets up an  administrative hierarchy that skirts existing university governance and will put much decision-making authority in the hands of private contractors.
  • It creates a huge conflict of interests. Several members of the Committee on Business Productivity work for Accenture, a government outsourcing company with a spotty record.

“Shared Services “should be resisted by students, staff, and the local community,” said Ovetz. “It’s a highly questionable plan from a highly questionable source.”

Culinary Union takes direct action to win a contract at Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas

Three thousand workers on November 1 blocked three lanes of traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard to demand a contract for workers at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vega, a casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip.

Another 120 were arrested inside the casino after they sat down, started chanting, and refused to leave.

The acts of civil disobedience were the latest in an ongoing campaign by the 60,000 member Culinary Union to win a contract that provides union scale pay, benefits, and job security for its 2,000 members at The Cosmopolitan.

“Cosmopolitan workers do the same jobs union members do but get paid less, have high health insurance costs, and no job security,” said Vivian Gray a housekeeper at MGM who took part in the union’s most recent action. “We’re all workers, and we all deserve the opportunity to provide for our families.”

After The Cosmopolitan opened in 2012, a majority of its workers signed union authorization cards stating that they wanted to join the Culinary Union and have a collective bargaining agreement.

Cosmopolitan management was willing to recognize the union, but it was unwilling to pay union wages and benefits.

For example, union casinos on the Strip pay the full premium for their workers’ health insurance; Cosmopolitan refuses to do so.

Workers also want the same kind of job security that other union members enjoy.

At Cosmopolitan, management can cut back worker hours, and unlike workers at other union casinos, Cosmopolitan workers have no recourse.

“Right now, I’m full time, but I’m scheduled at 32 hours a week,” said Andy Spicuglia, a master cook, to the Las Vegas Sun. “They can cut hours and send people home early, and I have to take vacation time to make up for lost wages. Then when it comes time to take a vacation, I don’t have any left.”

The union also wants a successor clause in the new contract to ensure that any new buyer of The Cosmopolitan recognizes the union.

There is some speculation that Deutsche Bank of Germany, the Cosmopolitan’s owner, is looking to sell.

The Culinary Union, which is affiliated with UNITE HERE of the AFL-CIO, is undoubtedly Nevada’s most powerful union and has used its power to make work at the union casinos good paying work.

The average pay and benefits for non-tipped union workers on the Strip is $21.27 an hour; at non-union casinos, it’s $10 an hour.

Union casino owners on The Strip have been paying close attention to what is happening at The Cosmopolitan, and are looking to take advantage of it.

The union contracts expired on June 1 without the two sides reaching an agreement.

The two sides are continuing to talk, but management keeps pointing to The Cosmopolitan when the union seeks to protect and improve pay and benefits.

The Culinary Union in a recent bargaining update to members said that, “In negotiations on October 9, MGM Resorts said: ‘The Cosmopolitan pays $2 an hour less, and they don’t pay benefits. (MGM is) at a great disadvantage, and we have serious concerns about competitors and what they pay’.”

The November 1 actions by Culinary Union members was the third time this year that workers have committed acts of civil disobedience to press their case for standard union pay and benefits for workers at The Cosmopolitan. They were joined by Culinary Union members who work at MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and other unionized companies in Las Vegas.

USW’s global campaign supports Crown Holdings strikers in Toronto

What does dedication, commitment, teamwork, and personal accountability get you? Not much if you work for Crown Holdings, the world’s leading producer of cans used to package food and aerosol sprays.

Workers at Crown’s factory in Toronto were recognized by the company with an achievement award for their “dedication, commitment, teamwork, and personal accountability.”

But when it came time to renew the workers’ collective bargaining agreement, Crown got down to business. Instead of rewarding the workers’ productivity with a fair contract, the company demanded concessions.

Among other things the company demanded an end to the workers’ cost of living allowance, implementation of a two-tier wage system that would pay new workers less than current employees for the same work, and the continuation of its nine-year freeze on workers’ pensions.

Had the company been struggling to make a profit, the workers might have been willing to consider the concessions, but Crown’s profits nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012.

The concessions demanded by Crown left the 120 United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9176 members at the Toronto plant no choice but to strike, and for the last eight weeks the workers have remained on strike.

Crown is an international company with headquarters in the US. It employees 21,900 people and operates 149 factories in 41 countries.

To support Local 9176, USW launched an international “Take Backs No More” campaign, which includes united actions with Crown workers in Turkey who are trying to organize a union.

The most recent Take Backs No More action took place at the headquarters of Carnival Cruise Lines in Doral, Florida.

Carnival was  in the news last year when the Costa Concordia, a ship owned by one of Carnival’s subsidiaries, went aground off the coast of Italy killing 30 people.

The CEO of Carnival is Arnold Donald, also a member of Crown’s board of directors.

USW  members on October 30 passed out a leaflet about the strike at the Carnival headquarters. Among other things the leaflet showed how cutting workers’ wages as proposed by Crown could hurt Carnival’s business. Additionally, the leaflet urged Carnival CEO Donald to bring an end to the strike by supporting a fair contract for Crown workers.

USW said that lack of action by Donald could hurt Carnival.

“Donald’s role in the Crown strike is bringing unwanted attention to Carnival at a time when the company is recovering from numerous setbacks and blows to its image due to the Costa Concordia disaster and other major incidents of cruise ships malfunctioning at sea, stranded passengers and on-board fatalities,” said USW in a press release.

Twelve days earlier, an international delegation led by Local 9176 member Mike Cruttenden demonstrated at Crown’s European headquarters in Baar, Switzerland.

“We asked for a fair and honest contract, and you (Crown) asked for relief,” said Cruttenden at the demonstration. “Workers gave you relief nine years ago (when Crown froze pensions), but you’re still asking for relief even though you doubled your profits.”

In 2011, Crown reported net earnings of $282 million, which increased to $557 million in 2012. As of June 30, 2013, Crown has reported net earnings of $275 million.

During this time, Crown has been generous to its stockholders. Between 2010 and 2012, Crown spent $824 million on share repurchases.

After the demonstration in Baar, Cruttenden left for Turkey to attend a rally by Birlesik Metal-Is, Turkey’s metal workers union.

Workers at the Crown plant in Kartepe, Turkey voted to join Birlesik Metal-Is, but Crown has refused to recognize the union.

On October 21, Birlesik Metal-Is held a rally at the plant.

“In spite of all pressure and intimidation by Crown management, workers have chosen to have a union and the Ministry of Labor recognized Birlesik Metal-Is as the authorized union which Crown cannot pretend not to see,” said Adnan Serdaroglu, president of the Turkish union at the demonstration. “Even though Crown tries to stall our bargaining process using anti-labor legislation, we do believe that workers will win, not just here in Turkey, but also in Canada and elsewhere in the world.”

“As a striking worker since the beginning of September, I am proud to see such worldwide actions,” said Cruttenden at the demonstration in Turkey. “Crown management must hear this rising voice of the workers worldwide.”

As strikes escalate in Columbia, so does government repression of unions

Authorities in Columbia on October 23 arrested another leader of FENSUAGRO, the farmworkers union, which led a national strike to protest government policies that have aggravated the already large gap between the country’s working people and the country’s upper class.

Strikers placed much of the blame for the deterioration of their living standards on the recently adopted US-Columbia trade agreement.

The arrest of Wilmer Madronero came about six weeks after the end of National Agrarian and Popular Strike, known locally as the “paro agrario nacional.” At the height of the strike in late August, the authorities arrested one of its main organizers and vice president of FENSUAGRO Huber Ballesteros.

According to Justice of Columbia, the Columbian government is currently holding 60 members of FENSUAGRO as political prisoners.

The paro agrario began August 19 as farmworkers and small and medium land owners set up barricades on highways connecting rural areas to Bogata, the nation’s capital.

The next day coal miners, coffee workers, health care workers, public school teachers, and other workers came out in support of the strike and made their own demands.

CUT, the country’s national labor federation, supported the strike and issued a statement blaming the strike on the worsening conditions of workers caused by President Juan Manuel Santos’ “terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies.”

The widespread support of the strike was the result of a general sense that only a privileged few have benefited from the recent growth of Columbian economy.

“The economy has improved but the quality of jobs has gone down,” said Jehiz Castrillon, an evangelical pastor who works with striking coal miners in northern Columbia to Bloomberg. “We want a basic monthly salary, health and work security so we can buy a house and send our kids to college.”

The paro agrario was called by three organizations of rural workers. They coordinated their efforts, but each issued its own demands.

FENSUAGRO demands included more government infrastructure investment in rural areas, the creation of Peasant Reserve Zones to protect small farms from the encroachment of large-scale agribusiness farms, lower fuel and fertilizer prices, more government support for small and medium-sized farms, health care and pensions for farmworkers and farmers, and an end the enforcement of the US-Columbia trade pact.

FENSUAGRO also demanded more popular participation in the peace process now underway to end Columbia’s decades-long civil war.

The strike lasted for 18 days despite heavy government repression that included early morning raids in villages where strike leaders and activists lived.

During the strike 12 people were killed, 500 wounded, and 600 were detained.

The government refused to bargain with FENSUAGRO, but agreed to many of the demands raised by the union.

Among other things, the government agreed to give farmers easier access to credit, lower prices on supplies, and limit food imports. The government also agreed not to enforce a part of trade agreement with the US that prohibits farmers from using self-grown seeds.

The paro agrario was not an isolated event. Last spring farmers and farmworkers conducted a similar strike that forced concessions from the government.

The government’s failure to make good on the concessions was one of the reasons that the paro agrario was called.

Furthermore, strikes have become more frequent in other sectors.

Bloomberg reports that so far this year there have been there have been 283 strikes in Columbia making it likely that the number of strike’s this year will exceed last year’s record-breaking number of 290.

Bloomberg reports that the increased strike activity is the result of the government’s more tolerant attitude towards unions and collective action.

But the government’s heavy-handed repression during the paro agrario and the subsequent arrests and detention of labor leaders like Ballesteros, Madronero, and other FENSUAGRO leaders suggest that recent attempts by the government to portray itself as more tolerant of union activity is little more than an empty gesture.

Ballesteros said in video smuggled out of the prison where his now held said that he is “at the mercy of what they say is ‘the justice system’ in Colombia, but which in reality is nothing more than a tool used to repress, persecute and criminalize the work of trade union leaders.”

“To lose our freedom is one of the realities and probably one of the consequences which all of us as social leaders here know we may face,” added Ballesteros.”

But Ballesteros remained defiant. “We, here in our country, in whichever conditions we find ourselves, whether on the streets, whether on strike or in my case from a prison of the Colombian state, will continue to fight tirelessly with our heads held high because we believe that our struggle is not only just but also necessary,” said Ballesteros.

UC workers take strike vote to stop pay cuts and employer intimidation

AFSCME Local 3299  announced that 96 percent of its members voted to authorize another unfair labor practices strike against the University of California, which imposed a pay and benefits cut on 21,000 Local 3299 members at UC’s ten campuses and five medical centers.

In September the California Public Employment Board issued a complaint against UC for intimidating workers before, during, and after a previous unfair labor practices strike.

“Our membership stands united for a workplace that is free of illegal intimidation against employees who stand up for the safety of the students and patients they serve,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “We believe UC should be held accountable for their serial law breaking.”

The results of the strike authorization vote, which took place between October 28 and 30 were announced on November 1. .

In July, UC imposed terms of a new contract on 13,000 patient care technical workers at UC’s five medical centers who belong to Local 3299. The imposed terms froze pay for four years and increased worker pension contributions and health care premiums, which in effect reduced workers’ take home pay. The imposed terms also reduced future retiree health care benefits for some workers, added another tier of pension benefits, and did not address safe staffing level concerns raised by workers.

In September, UC did the same thing to 8,000 maintenance, landscaping, custodial, and food service workers at UC’ s ten academic campuses.

Lybarger said that UC’s cuts fall hardest on workers who can least afford them. Average pay for the affected workers at the 10 UC campuses is $35,000 a year and if their UC wages were their only income, 99 percent of them would be eligible for some form of public assistance.

During a UC Regents meeting, Local 3299 members described what it was like to live on the wages that UC pays.

“I’ve been working full time at UC for 33 years,” said Eugene Stokes, a 53 year-old senior building maintenance worker at UC Berkeley. “I work another job to try and make ends meet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire. Yesterday, I had to choose between paying the mortgage, or helping my daughter with her tuition. On other days, that choice is between medicine and food.”

While UC is demanding sacrifices from its lowest paid workers, it continues to lavish its highest paid staff with excessive salaries and benefits.

According to Local 3299, nearly 700 of UC’s executives and other highly paid staff have salaries higher than the President of the United States and this year received a 3 percent pay raise.

“Today, UC is being transformed into a symbol of the widening income gap that is condemning growing numbers of Americans to a life of poverty,” said Lybarger. “Taking from UC’s lowest paid, full time workers in order to line the pockets of UC executives is not just an attack on collective bargaining—it’s an assault on basic morality.”

In May, workers at UC medical centers tried to put a stop to this growing level of inequality by voting for and participating in a two-day unfair labor practices strike.

UC, according to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), retaliated with threats and coercion.

The PERB in a complaint issued in September charged UC with using threats to dissuade workers from participating in the legal strike, threatening workers with adverse action during the strike, and punishing workers who participated in the strike.

In September, UC imposed the same pay cut and benefit reductions on Local 3299 members at UC academic campuses, which led union members to vote for another unfair labor practices strike.

The strike was postponed when UC’s chief negotiator requested that bargaining between the two sides resume and told the union that UC had a new proposal on retirement, wages, and other issues.

Local 3299 responded that the union was willing to restart talks but noted that UC had done nothing to address the intimidation and coercion charges described in the PERB complaint, which led the union to call for the most recent strike vote.

Meanwhile, members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 and the California Nurses Association who work for UC held a statewide Unity Day on November 1.

Members of the two unions are facing the same take aways imposed on Local 3299 members.

During Unity Day, UPTE and CNA members will staff information tables at work locations throughout the state, answer questions about the bargaining that is currently underway, and urge members to sign a strike pledge.

“UC is holding wage increases hostage to try to get us to give up on our retirement benefits,” reads the opening sentence of the strike pledge. “Despite four years of budget increases at UC, $500 million in profits at the med centers, and executives making more than ever, UC negotiators want to turn back the clock decades, with historic cuts to our retirement. This is a priority crisis, not a budget crisis.”