Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

AFL-CIO and CtW labor federations working together


August 2008 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

AFL-CIO and CtW labor federations working together


REGION, July 30th- The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation in Washington, DC political program is intended to get out the union member vote on November 4th and elect Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Obama is the Democratic party presidential nominee-in-waiting. The AFL-CIO endorsed Senator Obama for President over Republican party presidential nominee-in-waiting Arizona Senator John McCain. The labor organization did not endorse any presidential candidate during the primary election season.

The Change-to-Win (CtW) labor federation endosed Mr. Obama for the primary election and their affitiated unions will participate with the AFL-CIO political program called, “Labor 2008.”

The Pennsylvania presidential election contest was decided by a few percentage points in 2000 and 2004 with the Democratic party nominee winning in both elections. Many political observers predict this years election will also be decided by a few percentage points.

According to Rod Muchnok, AFL-CIO Field Representative who is the co-ordinator for the political program in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Labor 2008 is mobilizing union members across the state through worksite leafleting, door-to-door labor walks, (contacting union members at their homes), and contacting union members by phone at their residents.

Mr. Muchnok told the newspaper Barack Obama supports the working class and if elected President, will fight for raising the minimum wage, improving the prevailing wage, and will sign into law card check for union elections legislation.

Mr. Muchnok, a former coal miner and member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), said the program is intended to better educate union members about issues pertaining to their working lives and then understand why voting for Mr. Obama is in their best interest.

The AFL-CIO political program will be conducted at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union District Council 87 building in Dunmore Borough in Lackawanna County and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Union Local 542 building in Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County.

According to Sam Bianco, President of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council labor federation, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, this years election may be the most important for the labor community in the more than 30 years he has been the President of the labor organization. “This guy in the White House has damaged this country so bad it will take years to fix his mess,” said Mr. Bianco.

Mr. Muchnok said Senator McCain will oppose the union supported Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) if elected in November.

Under the legislation, employers would be required to recognize unions that receive majority support by employees through a card-check system. EFCA would replace government overseen elections in the workplace which are held following a sometimes lengthy campaign.

National Association of Letter Carriers Union Branch 162 files Unfair Labor Charge against Postal Service


August 2008 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

National Association of Letter Carriers Union Branch 162 files Unfair Labor Charge against Postal Service


PITTSTON, August 1st- The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Union Branch 162 have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the United States Postal Service (USPS) alleging the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

On July 1st, 2008, Branch 162 in Pittston, filed a Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) Charge with the NLRB Region Four in Philadelphia alleging USPS Postmaster Walter Shumlas violated the NLRAct.

According to the complaint, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the union alleges on July 10th, Postal Carrier Jeff Wojcik was scheduled to take an in-house exam for possible advancement in Harrisburg at 1 pm and was approved 8 hours annual leave.

The ULP states Mr. Shumlas called Mr. Wojcik and told him the exam was cancelled and report for work. However, he was later marked a no show for the exam.

The charge alleges Postmaster Shumlas was unreasonable and caused an unacceptable level of stress on Mr. Wojcik.

The union believes Mr. Shumlas lied to Mr. Wojcik about the cancelling of the exam causing him to resign because he did not have an opportunity to advance in the Postal system.

The charge states the carrier was considered a great worker by all and had a great deal of respect from his fellow workers. The union contends Management violated the collective bargaining agreement by its various actions in preventing Jeff Wojcik from taking the in-house postal exam and rescinding its approval of his annual leave request.

“Our intention is to enforce that every employee at every level of the Postal Service be treated at all times with dignity, respect, and fairness. Those who do not respect thses rights should not be tolerated. Along with this charge the Union has filed a grievance against this practice in an effort to prevent a reoccurence and have a more productive workplace,” states the NALC in the complaint.

The charge was filed by Erica Kuratnick, President of Branch 162 which represents approximately 85 mail delivery employees at the USPS Pittston Post Office.

Workers in Gouldsboro ratify first-time labor agreement


August 2008 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Workers in Gouldsboro ratify first-time labor agreement with Veracold Logistics


REGION, July 30th- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union Local 229 in Scranton have gained approximately 110 new members by organizing a food distributor in Gouldsboro.

According to Robert Weber, Secretary/Treasurer and Principal Officer of Local 229, workers at Versacold Logistics, located in the Covington Industrial Park, have ratified a first-time five year contract.

Mr. Weber stated the membership rejected the first company-union negotiated contract proposal.
“Over the past eighteen months this campaign experienced several delays and set backs, but the Organizing Committee of Local Union 229, along with the determined employees of Versacold Logistics stuck together and were successful in winning this organizing campaign.”

Mr. Weber told the newspaper the company closed a facility in New Jersey and opened the warehouse in Gouldsboro in mid-July 2006. The New Jersey facility employees were represented by the Teamsters Union. The company operates a cold storage warehouse.

“Negotiating a first time contract proved to be even a bigger obstacle, Versacold insisted that this contract would be on their terms and refused to consider any of the Union’s proposals.”

“With time running out, and with a strike looming, I along with the negotiating committee were determined that we were going to make this company understand that they must take our contract proposals seriously. After numerous negotiating sessions Local 229 was successful in negotiating a five year agreement which provides for significant increases in pay and benefits,” added Mr. Weber.

The company and the union agreed to a “card check” program rather that conducting a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Representation Election.

Mr. Weber said the majority of the workers signed authorization cards and the company recognized Local 229 as the employees bargaining representative.

Employees will receive a $3.00 an hour wage increase over the term of the contract. The contract language contains over-time pay after eight hours of work; guaranteed paid holidays, vacations; secured healthcare and pension benefits; strong seniority language; grievance and arbitration language; union security clause; and, just cause language.

IBT Local 229 has approximately 1,900 active members in and around the Lackawanna County area.

OSHA issues third largest fine in the history of the agency


August 2008 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

OSHA issues third largest fine in the history of the agency


REGION, July 28th- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on July 25th announced the agency issued citations proposing penalties totaling $8,777,500 against the Imperial Sugar Company and two affilliates alleging violations at their plants in Wentworth, Georgia and Gramercy, Louisiana. The fine is the third largest in history of the agency.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.

According to the citation, obtained by the newspaper, OSHA initiated the inspections following an explosion and fire on February 7th, 2008, at the Port Wentworth refinery that claimed the lives of 13 employees and hospitalized 40 others. Three employees still remain hospitalized.

OSHA’s inspections of both facilities found that there were large accumulations of combustible sugar dust in workrooms, on electrical motors and on other equipment. The investigation also determined that officials at the company were aware of these conditions, but they took no action reasonably directed at deducing the obvious hazards.

“I am outraged that this company would show a complete disregard for its employees’ safety by knowingly placing them in an extremely dangerous work environment. What is even worse is that a month after the devasting catastrophe in Port Wentworth that claimed the lives of thirteen people, this company had done little to ensure abatement of the combustible dust hazards at its other plant. If OSHA investigators had not inspected and posted an imminent danger notice regarding areas at the second plant, the same thing could have happened again,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Edwin Foulke Jr.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $5,062,000 in penalties for safety violations at the Port Wentworth refinery and $3,715,500 for safety violations found at the Gramercy refinery. The citations include 108 instances of willful violations related to the safeguards where combustible dust is present. OSHA also has issued ten citations for willful violations, 100 citations for serious violations and four citations for other-than-serious safety and health violations.

Under OSHA rules the company has fifteen business days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. OSHA’s Savannah, Georgia area office staff inspected the Port Wentworth site, while the agency’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana area office staff inspected the Gramercy, Louisiana.

According to the agency’s web-site, OSHA’s role is to promote the safety and health of America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health. The local OSHA office is located on North Wilkes-Barre Boulevard in Wilkes-Barre. Their phone number is 570.826.6538.

Mayor Barletta said he will support labor if elected


August 2008 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Mayor Barletta said he will support labor if elected


REGION, July 29th- Republican United States House of Representatives 11th District candidate Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta during a interview at the newspaper office on July 24th said if elected in November he would support the working people and their unions. Mr. Barletta is challenging incumbent Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski.

Mr. Barletta told the newspaper he does not support privitizing Social Security and said media reports that he favored privitizing the program during the 2002 campaign is wrong. “What I said was if Congress is going to continue to take money out of the trust fund, then people should be able to invest the money, other than in the stock market,” said Mr. Barletta.

Mr. Barletta said he was a member of the Democratic party until the mid-1980’s and change registration during Ronald Reagan’s second term. He said his late father was very active in the Democratic party in Hazleton and once served as party chairman.

He was elected to the Hazleton City Council and served only two years of a four year term because he ran for Mayor and won in 1999.

The city was facing a $1.2 million deficit of a 6.2 million budget. “I worked with the four unions that represent the employees of the city. They agreed to a wage freeze in the first year and we worked together to strengthen things out,” said Mr. Barletta.

Mr. Barletta cut all management salaries by 5 precent and trimmed his own salary by 10 percent. “I felt everyone needed to sacrifice, not just the union workers and the employees of the city.”

He told the newspaper the city could have applied to be put under the authority of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Financial Recovery Act 47 but believed his administration could balance the city finances, which he said they did. Act 47 was enacted in 1987 to help debt strapped municipalities from filing for bankruptcy.

Mr. Barletta believes Act 47 often harms municipality workers by removing language from labor contracts and balancing budgets on the backs of union workers like whats happened in Scranton. Scranton has been under the authority of Act 47 since 1992.

Mr. Barletta said he has a great working relationship with the four unions that represent the workers because he doesn’t just tell the union employees and their leadership what they want to hear. “If I can do something for them I will. However, if I disagree with something I’ll tell them.”

When asked if he supports Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s), which would almost assure union workers will be hired for any major construction project by the city, he stated “I certainly prefer that union labor is used whenever possible, particularly when it comes to projects funded by taxpayer dollars. I believe properly structured PLAs have the ability to help lower the cost of publicly funded construction. But, I do not support mandating the use of PLAs,” said Mr. Barletta.

“Because prevailing wage laws apply to all publicly funded projects at the state and federal levels, unions if they are confident in their own abilities, should embrace the opportunity to compete against non-union shops and prove their critics wrong. Mandating PLAs that force the use of union labor or union membership is not the way to convince the public of worth of union labor,” added Mr. Barletta.

Mr. Barletta stated he has always promoted the use of union labor on projects in Hazleton but, was never asked to sign a PLA by the constrcution unions while being the Mayor of Hazleton.

Mayor Barletta told the newspaper his father operated a unionized construction company in Hazleton until his death in the mid-1990’s. A. Barletta Construction Company was sold by the family after his father passed away and the company’s employees were represented by the United Steelworkers of America (USW) Union. “I worked for the company during summers when school was out. I always got along with the guys.”

He said if elected he will support raising the federal minimum wage and support Davis-Bacon laws.

Mr. Barletta said he has reservations about legislation that would reform federal labor laws involving how union elections are conducted. Under the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) legislation, employers would be required to recoginize unions that receive majority support of employees through a “card check” system.

“I have some reservations and would need to see clear evidence that this proposal would not undermine the integrity of the process,” he said.

He added workers have been hurt by illegal immigation because they work for low wages driving down the wage standard for area workers. The building trades union members are really being hurt by illegal construction workers, Mr. Barletta said.

The newspaper attempted to contact Mr. Kanjorski for comment on this story but his legislative office in Wilkes-Barre and campaign headquarters failed to return our repeated phone messages.