Honeywell workers reject company’s latest offer

After enduring a lockout that has lasted six months, workers at two Honeywell plants in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York, on November 12 rejected the company’s latest contract proposal.

“We’ve been out here for too long to cave for something like this,” said Tom Simpson, a member of UAW Local 9 to the South Bend Tribune.

The lockout began in May when members of Local 9 in South Bend and UAW Local 1508 in Green Island rejected Honeywell’s contract proposal that would have raised health care premiums, raised health care deductibles by as much as 400 percent, frozen pensions, stopped company pension contributions, and given the company complete control of the workers’ health care plan, which meant that the company could impose more benefit reductions without bargaining with the union.

“We’ve got a lot of people that relied on the quality insurance they had,” said Adam Clevenger to Workers Independent News. “And what they want to offer now is gonna just put a burden on those people and what they’ve worked for all these years.”

In its latest proposal to end the lockout, the company offered to limit premium increases to 15 percent per year for the next five years and make contributions to workers’ health savings accounts to offset some of the higher premium costs.

But Honeywell’s proposal still included major reductions to the workers’ health care and pension benefits.

Honeywell is hardly a struggling company that can ill afford to provide quality health care and retirement security to its workers.

It ranks 75th on Fortune’s list of the world’s 500 largest companies.

It employs about 350 production workers at its South Bend and Green Island facilities, where it produces wheels, brakes, and fuel systems for commercial and military aircraft.

But it  is a highly diversified company that owns manufacturing facilities all over the US and the world that produce consumer products, automation and control systems, and other aerospace products.

It even owns a uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois.

It also is a very rich company. According to Bloomberg, with $9.1 billion in cash on hand, “Honeywell International, Inc. has more cash than almost every one of its peers.”

Only General Electric and Boeing have more.

But instead of using a pittance of its pile of cash to maintain quality health care and retirement security for its workers in South Bend and Green Island, Honeywell is looking for other ways to spend its money.

It recently announced that it was raising its annual investor dividend by 12 percent..

It is also about to go on a buying spree. Bloomberg reported in March that Honeywell was planning to spend $10 billion to buy other companies.

In a report to investors, Honeywell said that it had already spent $2.5 billion on new acquisitions and $1.9 billion to repurchase stock from investors.

Meanwhile, its workers in South Bend and Green Island have endured a six-month lockout over what amounts to a tiny fraction of the company’s cash stash.

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XPO workers resist anti-union campaign; vote to join Teamsters

XPO Logistics workers in Illinois and Connecticut resisted an intense anti-union campaign and voted in two separate elections to join the Teamsters.

“This is all about us workers standing up to this corporate bully and demanding fair wages, affordable health insurance and an end to the mistreatment,” said Ted Furman an XPO employee at the company’s North Haven, Connecticut warehouse. “XPO’s CEO, Bradley Jacobs, had the audacity to come to our warehouse and tell us we don’t need a union, and then he returned just a couple of days before the election. Well, Mr. Jacobs, we are now proud Teamster members!”

The North Haven warehouse workers on October 13 voted 72-49 to join the Teamsters and became XPO’s first warehouse workers in the US to unionize.

On the same day, XPO drivers in Aurora, Illinois also voted to join Teamsters Local 179.

“Our victory is important to all of us because we have seen how XPO operates since taking over Con-way Freight,” said Cliff Phillips, a driver in Aurora. “XPO is treating us unfairly, denying us any voice on the job and just seems interested in the bottom line. But now we will fight back as Teamsters!”

XPO Logistics is one of the world’s largest transportation and logistics companies. It operates businesses in every link of the supply chain all over the world.

It has been on a buying binge as it tries to capture more of the transportation and logistics market. In 2015, it purchased Con-way Freight, where the Teamsters were conducting an organizing drive.

After the purchase, XPO continued and expanded the anti-union efforts initiated by Con-way.

In Aurora, XPO spent money on a union avoidance company to keep its Aurora site union free.

On the days before the Aurora union vote was taken, consultants from the union avoidance company hopped into the cabs of freight trucks and gave drivers lecutures on the right to work for less by remaining union free.

XPO has used other tactics to prevent workers from joining a union.

In Laredo, Texas, workers at what then was Con-way voted in 2014 to join the Teamsters.

Instead of bargaining with the union, the company went to court to overturn the election.

When XPO bought Con-way, XPO could have withdrawn the challenge and recognized the workers’ union, but the company chose not to.

Unfortunately for XPO, a federal judge in September denied XPO’s request to set aside the Laredo election results.

“The company has tried to do everything to delay and frustrate the workers, but for over two years they have remained strong and united in their fight for a more secure future and a voice on the job,” said Frank Perkins, president of Local 657.

Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters Freight Division, urged XPO to halt further efforts to nullify the union vote.

“We demand that the company gets serious about negotiating a contract in Laredo. These workers have waited far too long,” said Johnson.

Shortly after the union victories in Connecticut and Illinois, the Teamsters took advantage of the momentum generated by the pro-union vote and conducted a mass leafletting of XPO work sites.

“The national campaign continues to gain momentum (as). . .workers have realized that the new XPO, which is highly unionized in Europe, needs to be a union employer here in the US, too,” said a posting on the Teamsters XPO Facebook page.

The next union election will take place at an XPO site in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where 52 drivers will vote on whether to join the Teamsters.

Ryan Janato, an XPO driver in Aurora had a message for the King of Prussia drivers and other XPO workers who want a union voice on the job.

“They said it couldn’t be done. We did it; you can’t be scared of these guys. The union busters come in; they did what they tried to do. It didn’t work. We made a better future for our families and co-workers, and you can do it too. Just believe in your local,” said Janato.

Washington farmworkers vote yes for a union

Farmworkers in the state of Washington have voted to join a union.

In a secret ballot election held on September 12, workers at the Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Washington voted to join Familas Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ).

“This win is a win for all farmworkers,” said Ramon Torres, president of FUJ. “Now we will be getting ready for a union contract negotiation process.”

Sakuma Brothers Farms is a vertically integrated agribusiness that among other things is a large scale producer of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries on its farms in Washington.

Sakuma sells its berries to Driscoll’s, a global agribusiness that distributes berries to markets all over the world.

The workers at the farm in Burlington are immigrants from Mexico. Most are Triqui and Mixteco indigenous peoples from the state of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico.

Three years ago they formed FUJ and began organizing to fight for better pay, better working conditions, and better housing in the dilapidated labor camps where many of the workers live while picking berries.

A wage theft suit initiated by FUJ won an $850,000 settlement in which Sakuma agreed to pay workers for unpaid wages.

FUJ’s organizing also won increased wage rates for workers.

However, Sakuma refused to recognize FUJ as the workers’ union and refused to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

To win union recognition, FUJ called for a boycott of berries produced at Sakuma Farms. The main target of the boycott was Driscoll’s, Sakuma’s primary distributor.

Supporters of the boycott established solidarity boycott committees primarily in cities along the West Coast. The committees urged stores such as Costco and Whole Foods to stop selling Driscoll’s berries.

In another act of solidarity, members of the International Longhore Workers Union in July refused to load Driscoll’s berries onto a ship in the Port of Seattle.

In the summer of 2016 when the berry picking season began, things began to heat up in the fields.

On July 20, 200 workers walked off the job in a blueberry field to protest wage rates and the limited number of hours they were allowed to work.

They went back to work the next day without the issues being resolved.

Another walkout took place on August 9 when workers objected to a management decision to lower the blueberry wage rate in a particular field from $0.60 a pound to $0.56 a pound.

At the same time, workers in another blueberry field were being paid $0.77 a pound.

After walking off the job, the blueberry pickers marched to a blackberry field and urged workers there to join the walkout.

Management tried to stop the blueberry workers from talking to the blackberry workers and even threatened to call the police.

After intense discussions between the two sides, management agreed to sit down and talk with representatives from the workers, and the two sides reached an agreement.

The company agreed to raise the wage rate in the blueberry field where the walk out took place to $0.65 per pound if the workers agreed to return to work.

Despite the victory, workers were frustrated by this and other ad hoc agreements with the company. They wanted something in writing that would guarantee fair treatment. In short, they wanted a contract.

Three weeks later, FUJ called for another walkout and urged community supporters to join workers on the picket lines.

When workers in blueberry fields began walking off the job on August 27, they were cheered on by FUJ members and supporters who had gathered on a picket line.

Those who walked out and their supporters marched to other fields and urged more workers to join the strike.

“We don’t walk out of the field because we just feel like it,” said Tomas Ramon, a member of the FUJ coordinating committee. “This is the only way that Sakuma listens to our demands for pay that is fair for our labor. That is why we need a union contract, so we can work and not to be calling for work stoppages in order to get a fair wage.”

After the walkout, Sakuma’s management sat down with leaders of FUJ for more talks. As a result, the two sides agreed to hold a secret-ballot union representation election on September 12 in which farmworkers would vote on whether to join FUJ.

In return, FUJ agreed to end the boycott.

During most of the organizing drive, Sakuma’s management contended that only a small percentage of farmworkers supported FUJ.

But when the ballots were counted, 77 percent voted to join FUJ.

“We want to thank all our supporters that helped made this victory happen,” said Felimon Pineda, vice president of FUJ. “We are looking forward to a new and productive relationship with Sakuma.”

Strike at IKEA store in Massachusetts

Workers at the Stoughton, Massachusetts IKEA store on November 16 held a one-day strike after IKEA management refused to recognize their union.

“Instead of doing what’s right, IKEA has chosen to fight hard-working employees,” said Chris DeAngelo, one of the striking workers. “That is wrong. All we want is the chance to earn a better life. We wish IKEA would honor its own policy and respect workers’ rights.”

The strike took place in the store’s Good Flow In Department, the department responsible for implementing IKEA’s business strategy of getting goods from suppliers to store shelves as quickly as possible.

As a result of the strike, newly arrived goods remained unloaded in trucks outside the store.

In a media release, the workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCU), said that the strike shut down normal store operations.

The strike began Monday morning at 2:00 A.M. when the workers walked off their jobs and began picketing the store.

The previous week, workers in the Good Flow In department presented a union authorization petition signed by 75 percent of the department’s 33 workers and requested that management recognize their union and bargain collectively.

At that point, IKEA could have acknowledged that an overwhelming majority of the department’s workers wanted a union and wanted to bargain collectively over wages and working conditions.

Instead, the company refused, sparking the strike,

IKEA, a company based in Sweden with stores and distribution centers all over the world, promotes itself as a socially responsible corporation committed to social and environmental justice.

IKEA’s internal code of conduct states that employees have the right join a union of their choice and bargain collectively, but IKEA management in Stoughton has actively worked to prevent workers from joining a union.

“The (strike action) highlights a failure to follow IKEA Group policies, which explicitly state support for the right of workers to bargain collectively and join a union of their choice in the company’s internal code of conduct,” said UFCW’s media statement.

IKEA’s anti-union actions began almost as soon as the workers began talking about forming a union.

In June, the National Labor Relations board charged IKEA with interfering with the Stoughton workers organizing attempts.

“My co-workers and I came together to make IKEA better because we love our jobs and we believe in the company’s values,” said IKEA worker Nancy Goetz in June after the NLRB charged IKEA. “In other countries, IKEA works collaboratively with the workers’ unions to solve problems. I never thought that IKEA would allow supervisors to intimidate and interrogate us. I expected more from IKEA. I expected that my rights would be respected.”

In October, the NLRB reached a settlement with IKEA that required the company to post information on the store’s premises informing workers of their right to join a union.

One of the grievances that led to the union organizing campaign is the lack of  job security at the store.

“I’ve been here for two years, and I’ve seen them fire a lot of people for no reason,” said Veronica Cabral to the Brockton Enterprise. “I want job security because I have a family to take care of.”

Workers consider the company’s arbitrary attendance policy that does little to recognize family and life commitments outside of work as the main culprit for the many unfair firings at the store.

Shawn Morrison told the Enterprise that minor violations of the attendance policy can easily mount up and lead to a worker being fined.

To make matters worse, a fired worker has no right to appeal the firing even if it is capricious and without merit.

The Stoughton IKEA workers are the first workers at an IKEA store in the US to join a union.

Workers at IKEA’s furniture plant in Danville, Virginia and at two IKEA distribution centers–one in Perryville, Maryland and the other in Savannah, Georgia–have joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Truthout reports that workers IKEA stores in College Park, Maryland and Seattle, Washington are also trying to form unions and that in response to these organizing drives, IKEA has hired Jackson Lewis, the most prominent union avoidance firm in the US.

Strikers: “We want a better life;” raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour

Thousands of fast food, home care, and other low-wage workers in 270 cities across the US on November 10 joined the largest unfair labor practices strike yet in the campaign to increase the US minimum wage to $15 an hour.

They were joined by FedEx workers, Las Vegas parking valets, short-haul truck drivers at ports, and many other who support a living wage paycheck for all.

In Oakland, California, strikers and their supporters chanted, “We want a better life,” which succinctly expressed the desires of the strikers and the motivation behind the Fight for $15 movement whose growing momentum has vaulted it into a national political issue.

Speakers at rallies supporting the strike described the Fight for $15 as a civil rights issue, and at several rallies, speakers talked about the connections between the Fight for $15 and the Black Lives Matter and the immigrant rights movements.

In Milwaukee, Fight for $15 strikers and their supporters were joined by Black Lives Matter and Voces de la Frontera Action, an immigrants rights group, in a march to and rally at the Republican  presidential debate. A banner at the front of the march, expressed the solidarity of the marchers. It read,

FIGHT FOR $15

BLACK LIVES MATTER

IMMIGRANT JUSTICE

“What you saw last night was three of the most important social movements in this country coming together into one movement that puts forward a common agenda and a vision of hope, ” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, in a statement issued the day after the march and rally.

Fight for $15 organizers see the successful strike and the attention that it gathered as an important step toward politicizing the fight for a decent minimum wage.

A banner at the top of the Fight for $15 website has this message for federal, state, and local candidates running in an election: “Come get my vote.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President, got the message.

Sanders spoke at a rally of federal contract workers. These low-wage workers, who clean federal buildings and work in the dining facilities that feed US House members and senators,  joined the nationwide Fight for $15 strike and have been engaged in an ongoing effort to organize a union.

“People in this country who work 40 hours a week deserve a living wage,” said Sanders to the strikers as he held an umbrella to keep the rain off his head. “And workers all over this country deserve the right to organize a union.”

In California, supporters of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour took another step toward making the fight a political movement.

On November 9, the day before the Fight for $15 strike, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that it had gathered 500,000 signatures on a petition for a ballot initiative that will give California voters a chance to decide whether to make $15 an hour the state’s minimum wage.

In order to qualify for a ballot initiative, the petition needed 350,000 signatures of registered voters.

“Public support for this initiative is overwhelming because people know you simply can’t live in California on $19,000 a year, and they want to create a path to a better life for all low-wage workers and their families,” said Martha Alvarez, a certified nursing assistant and member of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.

Minimum wage workers, weren’t the only ones to join the Fight for $15 strike.

FedEx workers in Gardenia, California on November staged a one-day unfair labor practices strike to push for their own demands for union recognition by FedEx.

US Uncut reports that the strike interrupted delivery service in the South San Francisco Bay Area.

The Gardenia FedEx workers were joined by other FedEx workers and others who are seeking to join the Teamsters union.

The Teamsters expressed the union’s support for all workers fighting for better wages and working conditions.

“The Teamsters joined with thousands of truck drivers, valet attendants and low-wage workers across the country today in a day of action to raise awareness about the sorry state of wages and benefits for millions of everyday Americans on the job,” said the Teamsters in a statement about the day of action.

The union’s statement of support for those fighting for a decent wage said that if workers want fair wages, they need to join a union.

“The Labor Department’s own statistics prove why joining a union is important,” said the Teamsters.” The median union worker earns more than $200 a week . . . than a non-union one. That’s why the Teamsters have stressed the importance of labor union membership in our recent “Let’s Get America Working!” campaign.

NLRB rules Tucson taxi drivers are employees not independent contractors

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director has ruled that Tucson, Arizona Yellow Cab taxi drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and that a union representation election at Yellow Cab can move forward.

NLRB Region 28 Director Cornele Overstreet reversed a decision he made in 2013 in which he ruled that the Tuscon taxi drivers were independent contractors.

Overstreet wrote that he reversed himself after the NLRB reviewed his original decision and remanded the case to him for further review in light of the Board’s 2014 ruling in the FedEx Home Delivery case that “refined (the NLRB’s) approach for assessing independent contractor status.”

I have concluded that the drivers in the petitioned-for unit are statutory employees and are not independent contractors. Accordingly, I shall direct an election in the petitioned-for unit,” writes Overstreet.

Back in 2013, the Tucson Hacks Association (THA) petitioned the NLRB for a union election at Yellow Cab. When Overstreet denied the association’s petition, it requested a review by the NLRB.

When the NLRB agreed to review the original decision, THA turned to the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) for assistance.

OPEIU, which represents 4000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego, provided attorneys who argued THA’s case before the NLRB.

Mel Schwarzwald, OPEIU’s general counsel said that the new ruling will have a far-reaching impact beyond Tucson.

“We believe that it means a great deal not only to these drivers but to many cab drivers across the country,” said Schwarzwald to Workers Independent News. “What the regional director has done is said that taxicab drivers are really employees, rather than independent contractors.”

Overstreet wrote that the NLRB’s refined test for determining independent contractor status requires that “empirical considerations should predominate over a surface reading of the bare terms of a contractual arrangement.”

The director noted that Tucson Yellow Cab drivers sign a contract in which their status is defined as an independent contractor, but that for a worker to be a truly independent contractor, the worker must have “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain.”

When looking at the facts of the case, Overstreet determined that the drivers’ entrepreneurial opportunity was greatly restricted.

For example, Yellow Cab fired one taxi driver who set up his own dispatch system to service his personal clientele of about 100 regular riders even though the company encourages them to build personal clientele.

Overstreet also noted that the drivers have little control over setting rates for the service they provide and the hours that they work.

“Economic realities dictate their schedules,” writes Overstreet. “Drivers must work 60-119 hours a week to cover the cost of (leasing their cab) and expenses.”

Drivers also have little control of the dispatch system. According to Overstreet, the dispatch system is like a game of roulette over which drivers have little control.

“The Employer like the proverbial house, controls and benefits from the game by controlling the parameters.”

Driver pay, the amount left over after the driver pays to lease the cab and other expenses including fuel, is determined by the company.

Cab leases typically cost between $90 and $105 a day. Weekend lease rates increase to as high as $150 a day. Discounts are available for 12-hour leases and for new drivers.

Overstreet estimates that gross pay not including tips ranges between $12 an hour and $2 to $3 an hour. The estimated hourly wage for most drivers is somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum.

Drivers pay the full amount of the Social Security tax if they want to be eligible to draw Social Security and the full amount of any health insurance they might purchase.

Both the THA and OPEIU are anticipating that a union election will be held soon, and in an open letter to fellow taxi drivers, Robert Aros, co-chair of THA, explained the benefits of unionizing.

“In 1982, when I started working as a cab driver, we were unionized,” said Aros. “We were paid by commission, worked eight hours a day, and had complete benefits. As independent contractors what have we gained? More importantly, what have we lost?”

He also emphasizes the precarious nature of the drivers’ present status. If they get hurt on the job, there’s no Workers Compensation; there’s no grievance procedure; and there’s no earnings guarantee.

“How many hours do you have to work just to live at subsistence level? Do you even make minimum wage?” he asks his fellow drivers.

The company may ask the NLRB to review Overstreet’s decision, and if it does, the union election could be delayed.

But Schwarzwald told Workers Independent News that he believes “there should be a vote fairly soon.”

More adjunct faculty vote to join unions

Adjunct faculty at two universities in September voted to join two different unions. At another university, a union election has been delayed by the lockout of government employees who supervise union representation elections.

Adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College voted 50-9 to join the United Steelworkers (USW); however, the university has said that it will not recognize the union pending its appeal of an earlier ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

By a vote of 128-57, adjunct faculty at Tufts University in the Boston area voted to join SEIU, and they expect to begin negotiating a new contract soon.

Instructors at Bentley University near Boston also voted in a union representation election. Their ballots were supposed to be counted on October 4. But the shutdown of the federal government has caused staff at the NLRB who would normally count the ballots to be locked out.

After instructors at Duquesne petitioned for a union election, administrators appealed to the NLRB seeking to stop the election from proceeding arguing that the school’s affiliation with the Catholic Church exempted it from US labor laws. The NLRB denied the appeal, but the university has continued to press its case for an exemption on religious grounds.

The university’s case was undercut recently by the Association of Pittsburg Priests. The association on October 8 published a letter in the Pittsburg Post Gazette reaffirming its support for the adjuncts’ effort to seek a living wage and to organize a union.

“We believe that it is both appropriate and necessary to question and challenge recent assertions by Duquesne University that it should be granted a ‘religious exemption’, from the sanction and procedures of US labor law in order to block adjunct teaching faculty’s ability to organize, form a union, and collectively bargain,” reads the letter.

The challenges facing part-time faculty at Duquesne were driven home by the recent death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught French at Duquesne.

After teaching for 25 years, Vojtko’s contract was not renewed last spring.

She died on September 1 of a heart attack. At the time of her death Vojtko was 83 years old and living in poverty.

The situation for adjuncts at Tufts is not nearly as drastic as their counterparts at Duquesne.

Their pay is higher than most adjuncts, and they have some health care benefits.

But they still face job insecurity, and the Tufts administration has been seeking takeaways.

Their pay has been frozen since 2008, and the university has changed their pay structure.

Andy Klatt, a Spanish instructor at Tufts told Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Education that the organizing drive was a defensive move.

“The university has already started taking things away from us,” said Klatt to Flaherty. “We’re  relatively better off than others, but there certainly seems to be a desire on  the part of the university to cut us down to size.”

Flaherty reports that when bargaining begins, the union will seek more job security, a raise, and equitable pay per course.

Tufts joins a number of urban based institutions of higher learning where adjuncts have voted to join SEIU.

Their effort is part of SEIU’s metro strategy, which seeks to use the power of already existing SEIU locals in metropolitan areas such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington DC to attract and organize adjuncts in their respective areas.

SEIU created Adjunct Action to carry out the metro strategy.

Bentley University is another of the institutions where Adjunct Action’s campaign has taken hold.

Adjuncts last spring petitioned for a union election because like other adjuncts across the country they don’t know from semester to semester whether they will have work or if they do, how much work they will have.

Bentley adjuncts also want better pay and affordable health care. Adjunct faculty have access to the university’s health plan, but Bentley doesn’t pay anything for the premiums.

“Better pay, benefits, and job security for adjuncts will directly transfer to a rising quality of education for our student body,” said Elaine Saunders, an instructor to The Vanguard, the Bentley student newspaper. “Also, we have had support from full-time faculty who care about the disparity because they know we are equally dedicated to our students.”

Voting on union representation began in September, but  since 1,600 NLRB staff have been forced off the job by federal government shutdown, ballots have not been counted.