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Bailout approved: Automakers to get $17.4B

12.19.08

Bailout approved: Automakers to get $17.4B

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By DEB RIECHMANN and TOM KRISHER, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON – Citing imminent danger to the national economy, President Bush ordered an emergency bailout of the U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans and demanding tough concessions from the deeply troubled carmakers and their workers.

Detroit’s Big Three cheered the action and vowed to rebuild their once-mighty industry, though they acknowledged the road would be anything but smooth as they fight their way back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The autoworkers union complained the deal was too harsh on its members, while Bush’s fellow Republicans in Congress said it was simply bad business to bail out yet another big industry.

Bush, who signed the massive $700 billion rescue for financial institutions only this fall, said he was reluctant to approve yet another government bailout of private business. But he said that allowing the massive auto industry to collapse in the middle of what is already a severe downturn “could send our suffering economy into a deeper and longer recession.”

Speaking at the White House, he also said he didn’t want to “leave the next president to confront the demise of a major American industry in his first days of office.”

President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office a month from Saturday, praised the administration action but warned, “The auto companies must not squander this chance to reform bad management practices and begin the long-term restructuring that is absolutely necessary to save this critical industry and the millions of American jobs that depend on it.”

Obama will be free to reopen the arrangement from the government’s side if he chooses, and the head of the United Auto Workers said the union would be appealing to the new president and the strongly Democratic new Congress on that subject.

Obama, commenting in Chicago as he named more economic Cabinet members, was noncommittal on possible changes. But he said he would “make sure that when we see a final restructuring package that it’s not just workers who are bearing the brunt.”

Stock prices rallied on Wall Street after Bush’s announcement but faded late in the day, and the Dow Jones industrials declined 25.88 points. GM shares, however, jumped 22.7 percent and Ford shares 3.9 percent. Chrysler is not publicly traded.

Some $13.4 billion of the rescue money will be available this month and next — $9.4 billion of it for General Motors Corp. and $4 billion for Chrysler LLC, the two auto giants that have said they could be facing bankruptcy soon without government help. GM is slated to receive the remaining $4 billion in loans after more money is released from the financial rescue account. Ford Motor Co. says it doesn’t need federal cash now but would be badly damaged if one or both of the other two went under.

Under terms of the loans, the government will have the option of becoming a stockholder in the companies, much as it has with major banks, in effect partially nationalizing the industry. Bush said the companies’ workers should agree to wage and work rules that are competitive with foreign automakers by the end of next year.

And he called for elimination of a “jobs bank” program — negotiated by the United Auto Workers and the companies — under which laid-off workers can receive about 95 percent of their pay and benefits for years. Early this month, the UAW agreed to suspend the program.

Underscoring the automakers’ peril — and how close the bailout is cutting to the edge — GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young said the company expects to have the first money from the government by Dec. 29, just in time to pay suppliers.

CEO Rick Wagoner said, “The timing was specifically aligned with the timing we said we needed in order to make our payments on a timely basis, so we’re right on schedule there.”

The deal also calls for two-thirds of the automakers’ debts to be converted to stock in the companies.

Also, Chrysler, GM and Ford were to pay billions into UAW-administered trust funds that will take over paying health care bills for hundreds of thousands of retirees on Jan. 1, 2010. The trusts, called Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Associations, were to last at least 80 years.

But if half the cash is swapped for stock, the trusts might not last that long if the value of the shares declines. Swapping stock for cash payments helps the cash-starved companies, though, because they have more money to spend on operations.

Bondholders may be left with a take-it-or-leave it proposition with the government requiring them to exchange two-thirds of their holdings for stock. But they, too, could try to negotiate with the Obama administration, said Pete Hastings, an auto industry corporate bonds analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co. in Memphis, Tenn.

If they don’t take the deal, GM could wind up in bankruptcy and the bondholders would get little or nothing, Hastings said.

Though auto stocks rose on Friday, the companies’ stockholders aren’t out of the woods.

Provisions in the bailout agreement will force GM to produce more shares, diluting the value of its stock several times over, said Efraim Levy, a senior auto industry analyst with Standard & Poor’s.

There’s no way the automakers will be profitable next year, said Levy. Things could be different in 2010 if the market rebounds and cost cuts kick in, he said.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Friday that Congress should release the second $350 billion from the financial rescue fund that it approved in October to bail out huge financial institutions. Tapping the fund for the auto industry basically exhausts the first half of the $700 billion total.

If the carmakers fail to prove viability by March 31, they will be required to repay the loans, which they would find all but impossible. A firm will be deemed viable only if it can show positive cash flow and can fully repay the government loans.

Friday’s rescue plan retains the idea of a “car czar” to make sure the companies are keeping their promises and moving toward long-term viability.

The short-term overseer will be Paulson. But the White House deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, said that if the Obama team wants someone else installed to bridge the administrations, Bush is open to that.

The White House package is the lifeline desperately sought by U.S. automakers, who warned they were running out of money as the economy fell deeper into recession, car loans became scarce and consumers stopped shopping for their vehicles.

The carmakers have announced extended holiday shutdowns. Chrysler is closing all 30 of its North American manufacturing plants for four weeks because of slumping sales; Ford will shut 10 North American assembly plants for an extra week in January, and General Motors will temporarily close 20 factories — many for the entire month of January — to cut vehicle production.

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said the initial injection of capital would help the company get through its cash crisis and give it a push toward eventually returning to profitability. He said Chrysler was committed to meeting the conditions set by Bush in exchange for the money.

Though Ford didn’t seek short-term aid, company President and CEO Alan Mulally said, “The U.S. auto industry is highly interdependent, and a failure of one of our competitors would have a ripple effect that could jeopardize millions of jobs and further damage the already weakened U.S. economy.”

House Republican leader John Boehner called the plan “regrettable.” He said that granting loans for automakers was never the intention when Congress passed the $700 billion plan to rescue financial institutions and that the new plan “has failed both autoworkers and taxpayers.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the congressional oversight panel for the Wall Street rescue program, said a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, not loans rewarding decades of mismanagement, would have been a better decision.

Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform, sent a one-word letter to Bush that said in huge letters: “No.”

___

AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Writer Kimberly S. Johnson contributed from Detroit.

Buzzflash.com gives Wings of Justice award to the United Auto Workers

12.17.08

WINGS OF JUSTICE

http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/honors/102

United Auto Workers

Whenever a proposed governmental action garners more than half of the American peoples’ disapproval, politicians tend to work overtime to set the problem at someone’s feet ## usually someone they don’t like all that much.

And that’s what’s happening with the auto industry. Bailout fatigue leads easily to the blame game, especially when a bruised political party sees a way to get back at a group they disagree with on a fundamental level.

The Republican Party wants to use the financial crisis to inflict as much damage as possible upon one of their long-time enemies, labor. According to Manu Raju writing for Politico, a memo distributed this past weekend to GOP operatives across the nation urged them to “stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor” by opposing the auto bailout.

You heard that right: Politicians should oppose the bailout because it is an excellent opportunity to hurt the UAW. Not because CEOs at major American car companies have ridiculously large compensation packages and golden parachutes. Not because American designers make cars Americans don’t want to drive. Not because these companies have been spending billions lobbying against changes in long-needed energy efficiency standards. Not because they willfully killed the electric car and other advances in transportation technology. Because of the workers.

The workers who had no choice but to make the cars mandated by the Big Three. They even agreed to concessions earlier this month to help the bailout of the auto industry go smoother, but that wasn’t enough to convince Congress to pass the measure.

The auto workers are part of that very small contingent of Americans who actually still make something in this country. They fought hard for decent wages and benefits, but they didn’t steal them. The car companies had just as much bargaining power, if not more, than the unions did, and they agreed to the current terms.

Last month, Andrew Ross Sorkin erroneously wrote in The New York Times that Big Three auto workers make $73 an hour. Keith Olbermann pointed out the fatal flaw in Sorkin’s logic on his television show, Countdown, noting that Sorkin added up everything the automakers pay out, including benefits paid to retired workers and to spouses of dead workers, then divided that by the amount of workers actually still employed by the Big Three.

“It’s a way to come up with a big, outlandish, sexy number and a way to blame only the workers and unions for the disaster in Detroit,” Olbermann said. “It’s mathematically and intellectually dishonest.”

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told Congress that compensation for new hires who are union workers is about $14 an hour, with experienced assemblers ranging up to $28 an hour. In that same testimony, he also noted numerous compensation cuts and other sacrifices the union has agreed to in the past few years to help Detroit balance its books.

“We recognize that the current crisis may require all stakeholders, including the workers and retirees, to make further sacrifices to ensure the future viability of the companies. We are willing to do our part,” Gettelfinger told the Senate Banking Committee. “But the UAW vigorously opposes any attempt to make workers and retirees the scapegoats and to make them shoulder the entire burden of any restructuring. Wages and benefits only make up 10 percent of the costs of the domestic auto companies.”

So, for continuing to try and stand up for themselves in this tough economy and under an onslaught of political vitriol, we salute the workers at UAW.

WINGS OF JUSTICE

***

Nominated by BuzzFlash staff.

Did Senators Block Auto Loan Because of Employee Free Choice Act

12.15.08

Did Senators Block Auto Loan Because of Employee Free Choice Act?

by Tula Connell, Dec 12, 2008

http://blog.aflcio.org/2008/12/12/did-senators-block-auto-loan-because-of-employee-free-choice-act/

The Center for American Progress spelled out clearly today another reason for the Senate junta to block the emergency bridge loan to the auto industry: It was an advance attack on the Employee Free Choice Act. Crossposting the CAP piece here.

Last night, conservatives in the Senate blocked the proposed $14 billion loan to General Motors and Chrysler. As Ali Frick notes over at ThinkProgress, conservatives blamed the bill’s failure on the United Auto Workers (UAW) refusal to accept steep concessions—introduced in a pay-cut amendment by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—that would have effectively neutered the union.

But various media outlets have reported that blocking the bill also had a wider purpose: sticking it to labor unions in advance of the anticipated debate over the Employee Free Choice Act. Often referred to as “card check,” the Free Choice Act would level the playing field for workers looking to form a union.

As the L.A. Times reported today, conservatives circulated “an action alert” calling for lawmakers to “stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor“:

In doing so, analysts said, Republicans were planting the seeds for a fundraising appeal to big business—other than the Big Three, of course—as they gear up for a major political fight next year over expected legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize.

The BBC noted this line from the conservative talking points:

This is the Democrats’ first opportunity to pay off organised labour after the election. This is a precursor to card-check and other items.

If the rescue loan was a “pay off” to the unions, it was a pretty lousy one, considering the UAW made serious concessions — including delaying Big Three payments into a retiree health care fund — as a prerequisite to the rescue bill proceeding.

Furthermore, conservatives denied the automakers their loan — potentially causing further harm to an already dismal economy — for the sake of preemptively sending a message on legislation that can help the economy. As David Madland and Harley Shaiken point out, competitiveness is “linked to productivity, quality, and innovation — all of which can be enhanced with higher wages” derived from unionization.

Yesterday, President-elect Barack Obama said that he wants to “strengthen the union movement in this country and put an end to the kinds of barriers and roadblocks that are in the way of workers legitimately coming together in order to form a union and bargain collectively.” It would appear that conservatives are already gearing up for the fight, even if that means sacrificing America’s auto industry and all the jobs that go along with it.

For some Senate Republicans, a vote against the bailout was a vote against the United Auto Workers, and against organized labor in general.

12.15.08

For some Senate Republicans, a vote against the bailout was a vote against the United Auto Workers, and against organized labor in general.

By Jim Puzzanghera
December 13, 2008

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-fi-gopunions13-2008dec13,0,1950236,full.story

Reporting from Washington ## The congressional push to help U.S. automakers was generally cast in terms of protecting the reeling national economy from another body blow ## the collapse of one or more of Detroit’s Big Three.

But in killing the stopgap rescue plan worked out by President Bush and congressional Democrats, conservative Republicans ## many from right-to-work states across the South ## struck at an old enemy: organized labor.

“If the [United Auto Workers], which is perceived as one of the strongest unions in the country, can be put under control, that may send a message across the whole country,” said Michigan State University professor Richard Block, a labor relations expert.

Such antipathy to unions was an undercurrent through the weeks of negotiations leading up to Thursday’s Senate vote rejecting the plan.

Handing a defeat to labor and its Democratic allies in Congress was also seen as a preemptive strike in what is expected to be a major battle for the new Congress in January: the unions’ bid for a so-called card check law that would make it easier for them to organize workers, potentially reversing decades of declining power. The measure is strongly opposed by business groups.

“This is the Democrats’ first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election,” read an e-mail circulated Wednesday among Senate Republicans. “This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.”

One of the leading opponents of the auto bailout, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), said: “Year after year, union bosses have put their interests ahead of the workers they claim to represent. Congress never should have given these unions this much power, and now is the time to fix it.”

Of course, for Democrats’ part, they were fighting for one of their most loyal supporters in backing the $14-billion bailout.

The UAW, which represents about 150,000 employees of the Big Three, delivered campaign contributions and foot soldiers to help elect Barack Obama president, especially in crucial states such as Michigan and Ohio.

What lent a bipartisan gloss to Senate Democrats’ effort was the fact that party leaders had negotiated for days with the White House and made a string of concessions that toughened the bill and won active support from the Bush White House.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), a strong auto industry supporter, acknowledged that some of his colleagues simply did not want to help the UAW.

“We have many senators from right-to-work states, and I quite frankly think they have no use for labor,” he said. “Labor usually supports very heavily Democrats and I think that some of the lack of enthusiasm for this [bailout] was that some of them didn’t want to do anything for the United Auto Workers.”

One major car dealer said conservatives let political ideology get in the way of protecting the country’s interests.

“Being a Republican myself, I feel very betrayed by the Republican Party right now,” said Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors Inc. in North Hills. Galpin has the nation’s largest Ford dealership as well as lots where it sells eight other foreign and domestic brands.

The anti-union sentiment rose to the surface in the final desperate hours of negotiations. Republicans insisted that the UAW agree to cut its wages to be competitive with foreign companies such as Honda, Toyota and BMW by a set date.

UAW officials and their Democratic allies balked, saying the autoworkers were being told to make sacrifices that had not been demanded of other industries receiving government bailouts.

“We could not accept the effort by the Senate GOP caucus to single out workers and retirees for different treatment and to make them shoulder the entire burden of any restructuring,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said, arguing the union had gone further than any other stakeholder in making concessions to help the companies avoid bankruptcy.

But DeMint argued that the unions had helped create Detroit’s plight.

“It is no coincidence that the healthy automakers in the United States are located in ‘right-to-work’ states and are not unionized by the UAW,” he said. “Right-to-work” states bar agreements between trade unions and employers making membership or payment of union dues or “fees” a condition of employment, either before or after hiring.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), a labor ally, said Friday that Republican senators who opposed the bailout might have “wanted to crush a longtime political rival, the United Auto Workers,” without concern for the economic consequences.

Democrats lauded the UAW as a hero in the bailout process for agreeing to new concessions on top of major ones given in 2005 and 2007. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) called the union “courageous” just before the House approved the bailout Wednesday.

But some Republicans framed the UAW as the villain, criticizing what they called lavish wages and benefits that they said had driven General Motors, Chrysler and, to a lesser extent, Ford to their knees.

“I’m sure that I’m going to be asked, ‘Congressman, I work at Honda’ or ‘I work at Mercedes. I get $40 an hour. Why are you going to take my tax dollars and pay it to a company that’s paying their employees $75 an hour?’ ” Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said last month.

That wage figure ## widely used by opponents of the auto industry bailout ## is not in fact the wage paid to current workers. It is an approximation of the costs of salaries and benefits for current and retired workers. After wage concessions in recent contracts, the UAW says its workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler plants range from $33 an hour for skilled trades to $14 an hour for new hires.

Precise wages and extrapolated benefits costs for U.S. workers at nonunionized foreign companies, such as Honda and Toyota, are difficult to ascertain, but Block estimated salaries for current workers are approximately the same.

The Big Three automakers have higher labor costs primarily because they have operated factories in the U.S. much longer than their foreign counterparts, so have many more retirees receiving pension and healthcare payments, Block said.

Even if UAW workers at GM took a 20% pay cut, it would only save the company about $1.1 billion annually because the company’s unionized workforce in the United States has decreased dramatically in recent years, to 55,000, he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) characterized the GOP opposition as “class-warfare assault by the Republicans.”

“They never ask about banker salaries. . . . They never asked they give money back,” he said.

When Congress convenes in January, the expanded Democratic majorities are expected to push for an Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the “card check,” under which companies would recognize unions if a majority of workers signed cards saying they favored a union. That would replace the traditional method of a secret ballot among workers.

Block and other analysts believe the looming fight added to the political maneuvering over the bailout.

“The opposition might be as strong, but it might not be as urgent,” Block said.

“If the public could be convinced the problem with the auto industry is the UAW . . . then it will be easier than otherwise to marshal public support against unions and their legislative agenda.”

Puzzanghera is a writer in our Washington bureau.

jim.puzzanghera@ latimes.com

Times staff writer Ken Bensinger contributed to this report.

SDACT union successful with favorable arbitration awards

12.15.08

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

SDACT union successful with favorable arbitration awards

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 4th- Arbitration wins are mounting for the union that once represented teachers employed by the Diocese of Scranton.

According to Michael Milz, President of the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) Union, the union recently received four new awards that require the Diocese of Scranton to pay former union members money owed under the terms and conditions of the previous contract agreement between the SDACT and the employer.

In the previous edition of the newspaper, it was reported the union, which represented most of the teachers of the Diocese of Scranton, won a major arbitration award that could cost them nearly $725,000. The union received the arbitrator award that will require the Scranton Diocese to pay the teachers the money owed to them for accumulated sick leave and severance pay when their employment with the smaller school system was terminated.

The union represented the teachers of seventeen of the fourty-two grade schools and nine of the ten high schools of the Scranton Diocese until Bishop Martino restructured the system in 2007. The new system eliminated the small school boards and created four regional boards. SDACT previously had contracts with each Board of Pastors that represented each school. Bishop Joseph Martino implemented a “Employee Relations Program,” which busted the union. Mr. Milz said the Scranton Diocese teachers now have what could be called a “company union,” similar to what the coal barons had throughout the region before the United Mine Workers Union became the miners bargaining representative.

Between May and September, 2008 arbitration hearings were conducted and on September 3rd the first arbitration award was handed down that affected the teachers once employed at Bishop Hoban in Wilkes-Barre. The arbitration ruling ordered the employer to pay $725,000 in back payment for the sick leave days not used by fourty SDACT members employed at Bishop Hoban which includes Mr. Milz.

SDACT has not represented the workers since August 2007, when their previous contract expired. SDACT now has 22 active members employed by the Diocese at St. Michael’s School in Tunkhannock. The current five year contract agreement with the Scranton Diocese will expire in August 2009.

All hearings are being conducted by arbitrators affiliated with the American Arbitration Association (AAA).

Mr. Milz was a 33 year employee of the Scranton Diocese, who worked as a science teacher and later a social studies teacher at Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre, now called Holly Redeemer. He is currently employed by the Northeastern Area Labor Federation (ALF) in Dunmore, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

The lastest decisions involve teachers employed at the former Bishop O’Reilly Junior High School, Bishop O’Reilly Senior High School in Kingston; Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport and St. Vincent’s Elementary School in Honesdale.

Mr. Milz stated, former Bishop O’Reilly Senior teachers will receive 1 month salary and $45.00 for every unused sick day which will cost the Diocese of Scranton approximately $88,000.

Teachers affected at the former Bishop O’Reilly Junior High School will receive 1 month salary, plus $20.00 for every unused sick day for a approximate financial cost to the Diocese of Scranton of $25,000.

Bishop Neumann teachers will receive $1,500 each that will cost the employer around $18,000. St. Vincent’s teachers will receive on average $625.00 each for a approximate cost to the Diocese of Scranton of $5,000.

Mr. Milz stated following receipt of the arbitrator’s rulings the employers were asked to pay the awards according to the verdicts so rendered. As of press time, December 8th, there has not been any response from the Diocese of Scranton about those requests for payment.

Michael Milz estimates the overall costs to the Scranton Diocese for their failure to pay union teachers what was owed to them under the previous contract agreement could be more than $2 million.

A ruling from the arbitration held ivolving the teachers employed at the former Bishop Hafey High School in Hazleton is expected before Christmas.

IBEW Union Local 163 requests election at Delta Electrical

12.15.08

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

IBEW Union Local 163 requests election at Delta Electrical

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 2nd- The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 163 in Wilkes-Barre filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia requesting the agency conduct an election to determine if employees of Delta Electrical Systems Inc. wants to be represented by the union.

According to the petition, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, did not state how many employees are in the unit that the union wants to represent for the purpose of collective bargaining. However, the petition does state at least 30 percent of the employees supported requesting the NLRB conduct the election. The employer representative to contact on the petition is Mike Jezewski.

According to a source in the NLRB, the agency will conduct a Representation Election at the company’s Garfield Street in Nanticoke office on December 12th.

Under NLRB rules, a labor organization must receive at least 50 percent plus one of the eligible voting employees to become the bargaining representative of the workers.

Local 163 office is located on the Sans Souci Parkway in Wilkes-Barre and the union represents workers employed within the electrical construction industry in and around Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton.

Building trades unions unhappy about PLA rejection

12.15.08

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

Building trades unions unhappy about PLA rejection

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

HAZLETON, December 3rd- In September, 2008 the Hazleton Area School Board passed a measure that would require the hiring of union construction workers on all future capital projects. The nine members of the school board voted seven for to one against approving a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) be signed with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council labor federation.

However, in early November the Hazleton Area School Board revoted and rejected five to four to implement the PLA.

Under a PLA, the district would be required to hire union construction workers but it would not restrict the hiring of nonunion contractors from bidding on any capital building projects.

On November 26th, the board voted a third time on the PLA issue, with four voting for the measure and four voting against, meaning the issue was dead for now. However, some of the fifteen unions that are affiliated with the building trades council, will continue to press the issue and some have voiced their disapproval of several members of the Hazleton Area School Board for changing their votes and not supporting the measure.

According to Michael Kwashnik, Business Manager and Principal Officer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 163 in Wilkes-Barre, he believes the non-union construction group, the Associated Buildings and Contractors (ABC) of Pennsylvania along with employees and family members of Hayden Electrical, a non-union electrical contracting business from the Hazleton area, was able to influence several board members who changed their votes from supporting the resolution in the first vote to against in the second and third vote. “There is no doubt, Hayden changed some of their minds,” said Mr. Kwashnik.

Local 163 and the building trades labor federation sponsored full page newspaper advertisements in the Hazleton Standard-Speaker days leading-up to the third vote, hoping to influence their vote and dispel what Mr. Kwashnik stated was “mis-information” about PLA’s.

The ABC, suggested signing a PLA with the building trades unions would drive-up the costs of a capital project and would be unfair to the non-union workers living throughout the area. However, Mr. Kwashnik states actually, under a PLA, it would be assured workers that live in the region would be employed.

According to Vern Johnson, Vice President/Team Leader, of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters Union Local 645, who attended the November 26th meeting, he is greatly disappointed with two union members that serve on the school board that voted to reject the resolution but earlier supported the PLA passage.

“What unions must get out of their head is Democrats will support us. Both of these union members that voted against us are Democrats and we shouldn’t forgive them for it,” said Mr. Johnson.

Jack Shema, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union District Council 87, voted on September 25th for the legislation but later changed his vote to no. Also, Paulette Platukis is a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Union and changed her vote from yes to no.

The largest school distrist in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Scranton School District, approved a PLA with the building trades unions four years ago and their board President Thomas Gilbride told the newspaper it has been beneficial to his district.

“The PLA has been very helpful. We are guanteed to have well trained workers at a great price to the district. I would recommend any school district to sign a PLA, it will save them money in the long run,” said Mr. Gilbride. “Having a PLA takes away much of the head-ache that you can experience with building projects.”

Mr. Gilbride told the newspaper he supported the passage of the PLA from the beginning while serving as the Chairman of the Scranton School District Building and Grounds Committee. “It has worked out for us. If any government official is against the passage of a PLA, they must not have no experience with it and don’t know what their talking about.”

IBT announce they organized more than 40,000 in 2008

12.15.08

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

IBT announce they organized more than 40,000 in 2008

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 1st- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union in Washington DC announced the union organized 40,000 workers so-far in 2008, the largest amount in one single year in decades.

According to Patrick Connors, Secretary-Treasurer, Business Representative and Principal Officer of IBT Union Local 401 in Wilkes-Barre, most of the union organizing took place in core industries, particularly those in the global supply chain.

On November 26th the IBT issued a press release stating there has been an annual increase in organizing every year since 2005 when the IBT left the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation and joined the Change-to-Win (CtW) labor federation and International General President Jim Hoffa, and the organizing department, placed a central focus on union growth.

Mr. Hoffa stated in the press release, the union has achieved what the agenda was for leaving the AFL-CIO, putting more emphasis on organizing and growth. The union has seen gains every year since 2005 with 2008 marking a record-breaking year.

Some of the gains made through union organizing include: UPS Freight, with more than 120 local unions in partnership with the Parcel and Freight Divisions, organized 12,000 drivers and dockworkers. The workers were former Overnite Freight employees who became Teamsters under an organizing rights agreement negotiated with the United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS workers including dock employees and drivers are represented by the IBT.

Also, earlier in 2008, the Teamsters added 3,200 workers employed by the Canadian National Railroad.

Within the school bus drivers and transit industry sector, the IBT was successful in organizing more than 8,700 workers bringing the total to more than 14,000 workers since the union attempted to organize private and public organizations including First Student busing, First Transit busing, MV Transportation and STA. The union stated more than 40 local unions were involved with the organizing.

The IBT also gained 8,600 mechanics of United Airlines in 2008. Seven IBT local unions were involved with the organizing of the United Airlines mechanics.

The Teamsters said one of the keys the union believes led to being successful in organizing in 2008 is building partnerships among Teamster members. Hundreds of volunteer member organizers conducted worker-to-worker contacts between current union members and the unorganized workers in the same craft.

The union believes the Teamsters are on the verge of explosive growth by organizing port drivers, airline workers and school bus and transit workers among others.

The IBT was founded in 1903 and has approximately 1.4 million active members throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Local 401 on South Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre represents IBT members in and around Luzerne County while Local 229 on North Main Avenue in Scranton represents IBT members in and around Lackawanna County

Former union member becomes Geisinger Labor Consultant

12.15.08

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

Former union member becomes Geisinger Labor Consultant

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 1st- Geisinger Health Plan announced the health insurance provider has created a Labor Relations Consultant that will deal directly with the labor community interested in having their members covered under Geisinger.

Anthony Bernardi, long-time Personnel Director for Lackawanna County, told the newspaper he was hired on October 20th, 2008 by Geisinger Health Plan as the organizations Account Executive Labor Relations Consultant.

Mr. Bernardi served as Lackawanna County’s Personnel Director from 1988 to January 7th, 2008. Mr. Bernardi worked for three different administrations including both when the Democrats held the majority and for four years while the Republicans held the majority. The current Democratic party majority terminated him after gaining control of the Lackawanna County Commissioners Office.

Mr. Bernardi told the newspaper he negotiated between thirty to fourty labor contracts between the county and the seven unions that represent Lackawanna County workers. Also, Mr. Bernardi’s reponsibilities as Personnel Director included dealing directly with the unions in arbitration and grievance meetings. “I really enjoyed working with the unions. I got to meet a lot of great people while in that position for the more than nineteen and half years I was the personnel director,” said Mr. Bernardi.

He was represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union Local 229 in Scranton while being employed by the A&P Supermarkets warehouse in South Scranton. “My father was a union member, and I was also while working at the A&P warehouse.”

Joseph Haddock, Geisinger Health Plan Vice President of Sales in Danville, pointed out Geisinger Health Plan and Geisinger Gold were named the top-ranked commercial and Medicare health plans in Pennsylvania and among the top ten plans in the nation, by the U.S. News and World Report/National Committee for Quality Assurance America’s Best Health Plans 2008 list.

According to the list, Geisinger Health Plan is ranked 5th, among the best Commercial Plans and ranked 3rd among the best Medicare Plans.

Geisinger Health Plan is available in all or portions of 42 counties in northeastern and central Pennsylvania and has more than 225,000 members. The Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre nurses are represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre nurses are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Mr. Bernardi said his primary position with Geisinger is meeting and working with the labor community so that they may have an opportunity to discuss union members health care needs. Mr. Bernardi can be contacted at 570-341-2020.

He added Geisinger Health Plan offers a wide variety of health care options which are very competitive in the market place. “We all know that health care is a major concern for unions and their members throughout our area and I would greatly appreciate meeting with the union leadership to discuss these concerns and to offer some options to consider,” said Mr. Bernardi.

Geisinger Health Plan begun in 1985 and is headquartered in Danville.

Mr. Haddock stated the members of the Geisinger Health Plan have access to complete health care benefits, from preventive care and routine office visits to hospital care and surgery, and an extensive network of primary care physicians, including affiliations with hospitals, pharmacies, and home health and rehabilition services.

Coverage is available for businesses of all sizes, individuals and families, and Medicare beneficiaries. Self-funded plans are sold through Geisinger Indemnity Insurance Company, PPO and high deductible plans are sold through Geisinger Quality Options, Inc., Mr. Haddock added.

The Glass, Molder, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Union Local 237 in Hazleton files NLRB complaint

12.15.08

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

The Glass, Molder, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Union Local 237 in Hazleton files NLRB complaint

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

HAZLETON, December 1st- The Glass, Molder, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Union Local 237 in Hazleton filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia alleging Silgan Whitecap Americas LLC violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

According to the complaint, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the union alleges Silgan Whitecap, which operates a metal enclosures manufacturing facility on Jaycee Drive, in the Valmont Industrial Center in Hazleton, violated Section 8, subsection (a) and five of the NLRAct.

“On or about August 8th, 2008 the Union had request information, the Union again request information on or about October 4th, 2008 to this date the Employer has still not met its obligigation to provide the information. The request for relevant information was made in order for the Union to properly perform its duties as the employees’ representative,” states the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge, filed with the NLRB on November 5th, 2008.
According to the complaint, Local 237 represents 185 workers at the Silgan Whitecap facility.

The union alleges because of the employer actions, through their officers, agents, directors, administrators and employees the company violated the NLRAct.

The employer representative named on the complaint to be contacted is Nancy Trovitch.

Retired union member involved with hiring for U.S. Census

12.12.08

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

Retired union member involved with hiring for U.S. Census

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 2nd- Retired union member Charlie Spano was named the Assistant Manager of Recruiting for the United States Census Bureau Scranton Office and announced job opportunities will be availible to help in counting people living in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Mandated by the United States Constitution Article One, Section two, it is required a census be taken every decade. This has been done every ten years since 1790.

The Scranton office of the United States Census Bureau is located in the Oppenheim building in Downtown Scranton and will be the hub of the census that will be conducted throughout the region. The office will oversee the counting of people throughout fifteen counties of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Spano, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Union Local 1147 in Scranton, which represent teachers of the Scranton School District and para-professionals, stated the Census Bureau is offering full and part-time positions, featuring flexible hours, competitive wages, and an opportunity to work near home. All jobs are temporary and will be eliminated after the census is completed. “This is a great opportunity for working people that are is need of a job while the economy is slow,” said Mr. Spano, a Scranton resident. The pay ranges from about $11.00 per hour to $14.00 per hour. Most jobs have a flexible schedule and can be done at night or on weekends.

Mr. Spano told the newspaper, the population and housing effort employs some of the most sophisticated technical and operational knowledge and tools to count every man, woman and child once and in the right place. Census results are the basis for congressional representation as well as the distribution of federal, state and local funds totaling more than $300 billion annually. Census Day is April 1st, 2010.

Interested applicants should call (866)861-2010 or visit the website at: www.census.gov/rophi/www/emply.html.

NALC Branch 17 files additional complaints against USPS

12.12.08

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

NALC Branch 17 files additional complaints against USPS

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsswb@aol.com

REGION, December 2nd- The National Association of Letter Carriers (NLAC) Union Branch 17 in Scranton filed two additional complaints against the United States Postal Service (USPS) Office in Scranton.

In the previous edition of the newspaper it was exclusively reported Branch 17 filed multiple charges against the USPS in October. Branch 17 represents 174 employees that deliver United States Mail to customers homes and businesses throughout Lackawanna County.

The union filed three Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges on October 9th, 2008 and one on October 10th alleging management of the Scranton Post Office on Stafford Avenue violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

On November 7th, the union filed a complaint alleging Scranton Post Office Postmaster Linda Shall is breaking the National Memorandum of Understanding by using unverified data to intimidate and harass letter carriers by ordering supervisors to claim data is valid thereby cheating carriers out of adequate time to complete assignments. “These actions are creating a hostile work environment,” states the ULP, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the second complaint filed on November 11th, Scranton Post Office Management is targeting union officials with constant harassment on the workroom floor. “Management is standing behind union officials and telling them “I am watching you.” The stewards are being isolated by management by not being allowed to talk to carriers of the floor,” states the ULP, also obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Under NLRB rules, the complaints will be investigated by the agency and if they find merit in the charges a hearing(s) will be conducted. Should the employer be found to have violated the NLRAct, the agency could seek monetary fines or other remedies to rectify the situation.

Senator Cardin calls for immediate release of TARP funds to U.S. automakers

12.12.08

CARDIN URGES PRESIDENT BUSH TO AUTHORIZE TARP FUNDS FOR U.S. MAKERS WITHOUT DELAY

“We must act. Bankruptcy is not an option.”

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, released the following statement urging the President to immediately authorize the use of funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) following the failure of legislation in the Senate that would have provided General Motors and Chrysler LLC with $14 billion of federal loans in exchange for major restructuring and government oversight.

“The Senate voted last night to abandon much of the leverage the federal government had to shape the restructuring of American automobile manufacturers. The agreement that I supported provided stringent mandates that would have forced GM and Chrysler to produce more of the types of vehicles that our country needs for our economic, environmental and energy security while making the companies themselves stronger and more competitive globally. The bipartisan agreement, supported by the White House and a majority of senators, also required sacrifices by both labor and management, in the form of compensation and benefit limitations. Oversight was in place and the proposed taxpayer investment was protected, if any of the participants failed to live up to the agreement.

“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Thanks to the actions of a minority of senators, we are at even greater risk today than before our vote last night. Nearly three million jobs – manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, and others – now stand on the brink of the unthinkable, waiting for President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson to act.

“I urge President Bush to act quickly to prevent the major U.S. auto makers from going into bankruptcy. No one would gain if they were to fail but so many nationwide would suffer. Our fragile economy – and the world financial markets – cannot afford yet another devastating blow.

“We always have known that the President had the ability, under the authority Congress granted him in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, to provide relief to General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, even Ford, as they weather the credit crisis and work to restructure their operations in such a way that would make them competitive and viable for the long-term. The President now must act decisively to save this core American industry.

“The major U.S. auto makers can come out of this financial quagmire stronger and more competitive. However, that requires the President make funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program immediately available so the companies could begin the arduous task of effectively recovering and retooling their operations.”

##

Sue Walitsky

National Communications Director

Office of U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)

202-224-4524 office

Support our union brothers and sisters of UE Local 1110 in Chicago

12.09.08

As you will see, there are links to help support our union brothers and sisters of Local UE 1110 in Chicago Il. I urge you to read about their plight and reach out to help them in any way possible. Thanks to Chris Snyder, UFCW Local 1776 for sending the sites for mobilization. The struggle continues.

In unity & solidarity,

Gregg Potter
President, Lehigh Valley Labor Council
610 360-9491

Below are links to support the brothers and sisters of Local 1110 (UE) of Chicago and their ongoing struggle. To read more about their situation, visit CtW Connect: http://feeds.feedburner.com/CtwConnect

A. Online form letters to give support and encouragement to the members: http://www.ueunion.org/republic_main.html

B. Online form letter to Bank of America demanding action for these workers: http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/bankofamerica

-Chris

Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union (IAFF Local 22) to march on City Hall

12.09.08

On Monday, December 15, 2008, members of the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union (IAFF Local 22) will be joined by local union officials, union members and concerned citizens in a march from Local 22’s union hall at 415 N. 5th St., to City Hall.

We will be beginning our march at 11:00 and arriving at the NEC of City Hall by 12 noon.

The march is to bring public awareness of the city’s plan to cut almost 10% of the public fire protection without an independent scientific impact study. The cuts are scheduled to take place on January 5, 2009, the start of the historically deadliest fire season.

Leading the members of Local 22 and the concerned citizens of Philadelphia will be IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger, IAFF 4th District Vice President William Taylor and IAFF Local 22 President Brian McBride.

Please make sure to set aside the date and join us to protest the dangerous cuts in fire protection by Mayor Nutter. We encourage everyone to invite family (including children) to attend. Please make sure to bring a home made sign to demonstrate your disapproval of the Mayor’s plan!

Philadelphia
Fire Fighters’ Union
David Kearney, EMT-P
Recording Secretary

Philadelphia
Fire Fighters’ Union
IAFF Local 22
415 N. 5th Street
Philadelphia PA 19123-4001 tel: (215) 440-4410
fax: (215) 440-4419
cell: (215) 828-2332
dkearney@iaff22. org
http://www.iaff22.org

Putting Labor on D.C.’s Map

12.09.08

Putting Labor on D.C.’s Map

by Mike Hall, Dec 7, 2008

http://blog.aflcio.org/2008/12/07/putting-labor-on-dcs-map/

Forget a tip of the hat. A huge round of applause is in order for Chris Garlock, editor of the Metropolitan Washington Council’s Union City, for launching an interactive labor map.

Click here for map http://www.communitywalk.com/washington_dc/dc_labor_map/map/315109

The just-launched D.C. Labor Map lets users find current and historic labor sites in Washington, D.C., along with union hotels, restaurants, international and local union organizations and labor art.

Whether you are using it for a virtual tour of labor in the nation’s capital or planning a real-life walking tour, the map offers a bunch of great information.

Click on the legend prompt to view and choose a category from a list that includes labor art, union struggles, union restaurants and historic makers. Selecting “labor art” will pop up 11 sites around town where you can take in murals, sculptures and other artwork dedicated to workers and their jobs.

For example, you can get directions to murals from Depression-era artist Harold Weston.

One of the best-kept labor and art secrets in D.C. (and there seem to be many) are the murals of Harold Weston. Depicting the construction of government buildings and office activities, these murals are excellent examples of New Deal art projects of the 1930s; they were designed to represent the recovery being made from the Great Depression.

Labor history buffs can check out memorials, statues and other sites honoring early labor leaders, including the “Abe Lincoln of the Seas,” Andrew Furuseth, who founded the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, an affiliate of the Seafarers (SIU); and Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. Also, somewhere in the National Archives, we understand there is a packet of Joe Hill’s ashes. Union hotels, eateries, and national and international offices are just a click away.

Kudos also to Jon Garlock, Lisa Garlock, Saul Schniderman and Peter Winch who helped put labor on the D.C. map.

Don’t Let Them Destroy Our Union

12.09.08

Don’t Let Them Destroy Our Union

by Frank Hammer

http://www.centerforlaborrenewal.org/?P=A&Category_ID=1&Article=230

As the fate of the Detroit auto industry is being debated, the arguments and positions are becoming crystal clear. There is now a chorus of right wing ideologues who are pushing to let GM go into bankruptcy. No argument here about “too big to fail.” No regard for consequences like we heard when the Congress approved the $700 billion stash for the banking and financial industries. The Detroit Three are accused of mismanagement at a crescendo much louder than the financial giants we had to save. Why the double standard?

The reluctance to bail out GM and the other Detroit automakers has everything to do with the UAW, as if the impending collapse is the fault of the workers at the bottom of the heap. The “free market” types want to use the current auto industry crisis to force a “restructuring” of the companies’ “relationships” – principally with the UAW. We hear a chorus about “bloated UAW contracts”, contract terms that “GM can’t live with,” or references to “overpaid” autoworkers, etc. Never mind that just one year ago UAW autoworkers agreed to huge concessions in what President Ron Gettelfinger describes as a “transformative agreement” (for which, in the Detroit media, he was heralded “man of the year.”). That agreement, according to Gettelfinger, was designed to make the UAW labor force cheaper than their non-union brethren at Honda, Toyota, etc. This from a once proud union which set the industry standard.

Before the 2007 agreements were negotiated, the average total UAW labor cost per vehicle was $2,400, or a little over 8% of the price of a vehicle. UAW workers then were among the most productive in the world, producing value added worth $206 per worker per hour. This is far more than he or she was earning in wages, even when benefits, statutory contributions and other costs are included. The margin of difference in labor costs with non-union Toyota before the transformative agreement was already then just $250-$300!

Autoworker Healthcare

The free marketers also complain about the “lavish” costs of autoworker healthcare, obscuring the fact that the UAW accepted all the risk for their retirees’ health care when it agreed - to a “Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association,” or VEBA at the Big Three’s behest. To the forces which have conspired for many years to establish a “union-free” domestic auto industry, none of these concessions matter.

One of the reasons the free marketers love the non-union auto companies in the Sunbelt is that they have no retiree pensions and healthcare obligations to speak of. They ascribe this to the fact that they are “union-free.” Unlike the mature domestics, the newer plants erected in the South don’t have many retirees – at least not yet. The advocates of pure capitalism wish that the domestics would cut free their retirees who, in their eyes, don’t add value to the corporate bottom line. Never mind that we retirees are now being swindled of the companies’ part of the bargain. The Detroit 3 got the value they wanted from our decades of labor, but now the health care coverage that we got in return…well, that’s now another story.

The UAW in the Bullseye

Here are two quotes from the free marketers which make the real target of the crisis very clear:

“It is a mistake to use part of the $700-billion rescue package to reward high-tax, non-right-to-work states such as Michigan, says Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). The automaker bailout is actually a UAW bailout. The union will not allow companies to deploy capital in ways that the market would dictate, such as closing plants and layoffs.”

The facts demonstrate how preposterous the last line is, considering the absence of any protest by the UAW over the past twenty years of plant closures! Here’s what Colorado’s “Grand Junction Sentinel” had to say:

“But the GM jalopy needs a complete overhaul, and putting taxpayer funds into the company as it now operates would do little but bump the problems down the road while keeping destructive United Auto Workers union contracts in place.”

“Destructive” UAW contracts, indeed!!! The deregulators are not satisfied to dismantle government regulations so the financial market can run wild. They must rid industries of contractual obligations negotiated by that other democratic institution: workers’ unions. The “destructive” contracts of which they speak have protected many lives in the factories, enabled workers to enjoy a good standard of living, and retire with dignity and security. Now this has been made out to be un-American, even un-patriotic. “Joe Six-pack” is back to being the villain. If these capitalists had their way, workers in Detroit will be making the same wages paid in Mexico. That way, the remaining work could stay here.

“Union Busting”

The financial catastrophe unfolding before our eyes is the means to thrusting a dagger in what’s left of the UAW’s heart, long sought by American capital. From the moment that autoworkers forced GM to sign an agreement in the midst of the last “Great Depression,” the union has been vilified as the interloper in the company’s prerogatives. Except today we in the UAW are now described as interfering with the real wages that the “free market” would and should deliver - as if the “free market” were ordained and ordered by God Himself.

Each time the de-regulators have insisted on more de-regulation, it’s been like a crazy man pouring more gasoline on the already raging fire. It’s only making the financial crisis worse. Credit may flow again, but how many of the working poor will be taking out loans for, say, a new car or a house? What will trashing the UAW contracts get us? Fewer people to purchase the cars we produce? More citizens confronted with foreclosures and being kicked out of their homes? Even fewer sales at the local Mall? We are heading for a second New Orleans (without the flood water) in the place once known as the “Arsenal of Democracy?” This is the same mentality that governed the US military’s conduct in Vietnam: “destroying villages in order to save them.”

UAW Must do More

The union must stand up for itself, or we will all face millions more of so-called “low wage” earners as part of the growing class of the “working poor.” The UAW has done very well by the rest of US workers, even if they don’t know it. The media has pounded the UAW, taking advantage of flaws in its organization and errors by its leadership. Not surprisingly, there’s less sympathy for the UAW than there once was. But it would be a tragic error if working people turned their backs on the UAW now. Even the non-union workers in Kentucky and Tennessee are benefiting from the wage and benefit standards set in Detroit by the UAW. With a UAW diminished – whether by (a) the fine print in a bailout agreement or (b) because GM is allowed to file for bankruptcy – the devastating consequences will serve to even further undermine the standards enjoyed by all working people.

This week UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is testifying in Congress to beg the case of the auto companies and the UAW before unsympathetic Republican Senators representing so-called “right-to-work” states. Apparently Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and his friends think it’s quite patriotic to have the foreign brands produce, and make the profits, from the transportation that the USA needs. There is a political subtext to all this, too. President-elect Obama’s victory was due in large part to the crescent of blue states stretching from Minnesota through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania right up to the tip of Maine. Don’t forget Michigan, where autoworkers rejected McCain/Palin and sent their campaign scurrying. Why would Republicans now reward a hostile constituency, when their remaining political base weaves itself through non-union workplaces in America’s “Sunbelt?”

With their younger workforces, the foreign brands manufactured here admittedly enjoy a distinct advantage. The UAW agreed in the ‘07 negotiations to help the Detroit automakers be “competitive” by freeing them of the responsibility of the “legacy costs” of retiree healthcare with the VEBA in 2010. It’s not been a year, and it’s already clear that it is a non-starter, as the automakers have yet to pay into the trust fund as had been agreed. Besides, the value of the Detroit Three’s payments into the trust are tied to the value of their stocks. GM’s has plummeted from $42 to $5 in the year since the agreement was made. A $25 billion “bridge loan” for all three companies can’t shore up both the VEBA commitments and the companies’ need for liquidity. It is politically untenable for the union to ask taxpayers to bolster the VEBA when so many workers are doing without health care at all. If we are looking for real, lasting solutions that will also help our economy, the parties must demand that Congress pass HR 676, the single-payer national health insurance bill that would cover not just UAW retirees, but the 45 million Americans who are doing without. GM and the UAW agreed in principle to this approach back in 2005 modeled on the health care system in Canada . Making it happen here and now would level the playing field for the Detroit Three.

This is a defining moment for the UAW, and the entire labor movement. 25 years ago PATCO was crushed by the deregulators’ champion in the White House, Ronald Reagan. Today we are faced with a much larger devastation at the hands of the outgoing George W. Bush and his Republican friends. Testimony by the UAW’s chief along with emails a by members and retirees to their representatives is fine, but it is not enough. We need to put a human face to the devastation facing UAW members. There should be an immediate “media day” at each of the UAW’s regional offices to give workers and retirees a platform to speak out in defense of their own jobs, pensions and health care. Other unions, dealers, salaried personnel – you name it - should be invited as well. There’ never been a time when the saying “we’re all in this boat together” has been truer. The leadership should organize a car caravan around the headquarters of the Detroit 3 or, with the help of the AFL-CIO, organize a caravan to Washington, D.C. or even Wall St. There’s no guarantee to what we could achieve, but we should nevertheless proclaim, “Not without a fight!” We are running out of time. Wouldn’t having UAW members out in the streets be a good way to let everybody know that we re not dead?

Frank Hammer is a retired UAW-GM Dept International Representative & Past President and Chairperson, UAW Local 909, Warren, Michigan

Reluctance to Help Detroit Reeks of Class Bias

12.07.08

By Warren Brown
Sunday, December 7, 2008; Page G02

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/05/AR2008120502198.html

It has happened repeatedly in the last several weeks ## well-paid, well-known journalists questioning the wisdom of “bailing out Detroit,” of helping an industry whose union-represented workers have substantially better wages and benefits than other manual or skilled laborers, or, more precisely, who are better compensated than their nonunion counterparts working at foreign-owned rival companies building cars and trucks in the United States.

The questions are tinged with outrage and ridicule: Why should Americans who earn less, have inferior pension and health-care plans, help the United Auto Workers union? Why can’t the UAW be satisfied with the same pay packages given at Honda, or with an even less-expensive compensation agreement for workers at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala.?

The queries often come from people who earn substantially more than the estimated $71,000 annually in wages and benefits paid to UAW members. They come from people who, having reached upper-middle-class status by virtue of their college educations and communication skills, certainly wouldn’t settle for earning less.

So, why are the questions being asked?

Might I suggest class bias?

There is a feeling in this country ## apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit’s automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill ## that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?

Let us stipulate for the record that both Citigroup and GM have made their share of management errors. Citigroup made loans it should not have made and sold lots of commercial paper it should have trashed. But Congress offered barely a whimper of protest to the government’s emergency action granting Citigroup $25 billion in bailout money. Similarly, the Mob of Pundits seemed not to care much that many of Citigroup’s managers remained just as rich after the federal bailout as they did before receiving the government’s aid.

What Citigroup manager was dragged to Capitol Hill to publicly present a long-term plan for business profitability and viability? Did I miss something?

Now comes GM, Ford and Chrysler ## supplicants all, companies that bet wrong on U.S. gasoline prices (the same error made by Toyota with its Tundra pickup, by the way) and that were as shocked as the rest of us by the fiscal carnage caused by bad loans made by banks such as Citigroup.

It apparently matters not that the domestic car manufacturers account for 3 million to 5 million U.S. jobs. It matters not that, despite some bad guesses on product development, they’ve remained engines of U.S. innovation. (Their work with biologically derived fuels and emergency communications systems are examples.) Nor does it matter that they pulled us through several wars and one terrorist attack (GM’s zero-percent financing plan after the Sept. 11, 2001, horror).

And, of course, it does not matter that the domestic manufacturers for decades have been operating in a country wide open to foreign competition, but bereft of anything resembling a sensible industrial or energy policy. That’s quite different from Japanese car manufacturers that have benefited mightily from financing and cooperation via Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

No. The only thing that matters is that Detroit’s automobile workers have earned enough money to allow their families to dream, to send their children to the colleges and universities from which many of their critics in the media graduated. How dare they!

Implicit in the criticism of UAW compensation packages is that union-represented automobile workers are being paid above their social class. Greedy, bad people. They are supposed to be satisfied with wages that cover only the basics ## food, acceptable clothing and housing. They are not supposed to receive pay that allows them to aspire to or dream of more. They should be happy with the development of America’s Wal-Mart economy, one in which less-expensive skills, talents, products and services are imported to satisfy the American consumer’s insatiable lust for the highest-quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices.

That is what stuff-makers and other manual laborers deserve. Wall Street’s money people and well-paid journalists, on the other hand, deserve much better. They studied, went to college. They use their brains. They should be paid more.

So, let Detroit’s automobile companies slide into bankruptcy. We’ll lose a few million more jobs. But those of us lucky enough to remain employed will still be able to buy cars from Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota. Or, if we are doing quite well, we can snatch something from BMW, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz.

What the heck? If things get really rough, we can always catch a sale at Wal-Mart. Citigroup most certainly would be willing to finance our purchases at favorable interest rates. What a country! We once rejoiced in building things, innovating, racing to the top. Now, at least for the people who use their hands to make this country go, we’re celebrating a mad dash to the bottom.

Are we not better than this? Is this the America we want to be?

Begging for billions: Facts and fictions as auto bailout unfolds

12.05.08

Begging for billions: Facts and fictions as auto bailout unfolds
by David Greising
December 5, 2008

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/columnists/chi-fri-greisingdec05,0,1100779.column

Bailouts, bankruptcies, bridge loans and budgets were all on the agenda Thursday as the Detroit Three asked for the biggest “B” of all—$34 billion in federal aid. There was a certain amount of bluster too.

To help sort out the mess, here are some facts, fictions, clarifications and extrapolations that will prove vital as Congress mulls Detroit’s request:

Wedding bells? While Chrysler Chief Executive Robert Nardelli expressed a wish to remain independent, the case for a merger with General Motors came out the other side of his mouth.

In a merger, Chrysler and GM would see $10 billion in new market opportunities, Nardelli said. They could save $4 billion a year on parts. And they could share the $1 billion cost of developing platforms for new car models.

Some lawmakers suggested making a merger a prerequisite of any bailout. Such micromanagement would set a bad precedent, and would be unnecessary to boot. GM would have bought Chrysler by now if it had the cash—a problem the bailout might quickly solve.

The “B”-word. Ford’s Alan Mulally said if an automaker filed for bankruptcy, “sales would fall off so fast that you couldn’t restructure to get back out.”

Mulally, a former Boeing executive, knows better. Airlines have retained customers in bankruptcy, overcoming fears that tight budgets might affect safety. Carmakers have a lower hurdle.

Carmakers could assure customers that warranties would be honored even in bankruptcy. The other concern—cancellation of car models—will happen with or without a Chapter 11 filing.

Airlines, retailers and others have kept customers through bankruptcy filings. Carmakers can too.

The “$73-an-hour worker.” That inflated figure, touted by opponents, is a distorted agglomeration, an all-in cost that loads workers with all the health, pension and benefits costs of retirees too.

In reality, pay at the Detroit Three is converging with the Japanese and German auto plants transplanted into non-union, Southern states. According to testimony, in an apples-to-apples comparison, a Chrysler worker today earns about $28 an hour, compared with $25 an hour for a worker at Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., plant.

Throw the bums out? Been there, done that. Detroit already has an infusion of fresh blood, with Ford’s Mulally from Boeing and Chrysler’s Nardelli from Home Depot and previously General Electric. Neither has devised a magic formula for the industry.

GM’s Rick Wagoner is the only career car man. His most frequently mentioned replacement, Robert Lutz, had stops at Ford, Chrysler and BMW before GM. Not exactly new blood.

Industrial policy. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) put his finger on an important issue: A bailout of Detroit amounts to creation of a government-mandated industrial policy for the U.S.

Senators offered thoughts on everything from mandating a Chrysler-GM merger to requiring auto workers to sacrifice pay and benefits.

Bennett said Congress’ proposed remedy to Detroit’s ills will provide an early answer to a key question: What is going to be the long-term goal and role of American government in the 21st Century?

Congress must avoid the temptation to micromanage this complex and vital industry.

A bailout will cost U.S. taxpayers at least $34 billion. A botched bailout could impose long-term impacts far heavier than that.

dgreising@tribune.com

Is Senator Shelby a Threat to American Economy?

12.05.08

Is Senator Shelby a Threat to American Economy?

Senator Shelby (Republican-Alabama) has a very negative record when it comes to protecting the economic health of the American nation. He has routinely endorsed every major, so-called “free trade” deal that has been proposed for decades. Shelby has routinely stood in the way of government provided, universal healthcare proposal for decades. Now, Shelby (like most other Republican Senators with similar voting records) is blocking the federal bridge loans to the American auto companies designed to save the American auto industry.

The stakes are huge. A million auto worker retirees have their healthcare and pensions put at risk by Shelby’s unpatriotic and reckless actions. The ripple effect of not approving the loans could destroy one out of ten jobs in the American economy.

Political and economic pundits along with most officeholders have refused to link the economic crisis facing the auto industry to government policy. The situation facing the auto industry is more a result of bad government policy than bad management decisions. The attempt by politicians like Shelby to blame labor unions is factually wrong and, in my opinion, intentionally dishonest. Shelby and his Senate allies created this auto industry crisis by adopting economic policies that have crippled the American economy.

All industrialized nations except the United States has government provided, universal healthcare. Only in America, do we place the costs of workers’ healthcare and their families’ healthcare on the backs of employers. This puts our employers at a huge competitive disadvantage with foreign corporations.

At the same time, foreign governments have helped their auto manufacturing in terms of research and development (R&D) much more than the American government has in recent decades. Senate Republicans have routinely placed the profits of HMO’s, drug companies and insurance companies over the health of American manufacturing. Shelby has undermined both the personal health of hundreds of millions of American citizens and our industrial base for decades.

Our nation spends 17% of our total economy on healthcare. We have 47 million uninsured and many more underinsured citizens. Our industrial competitors in Europe, Asia and Canada spend only 8% of their economies on healthcare. They cover all their citizens healthcare needs.

Without government provided, universal healthcare, it is economic death for American manufacturing to open up our borders to so-called “free trade” with nations who provide such healthcare to their citizens. Shelby and his Republican Senate allies are trying to murder American manufacturing.

The auto industry bridge loans are badly needed. Failure to pass these loans would be more than just irresponsible. It would be a threat to our economic and military national security. We cannot remain a major military power without a vibrant industrial base especially in vehicle manufacturing.

We need to address the long-term government policies that created the current crisis after approving the auto industry bridge loans. We must either adopt government provided, universal healthcare by passing legislation like the Medicare For All Bill (HR 676) or ending tariff free imports in manufactured goods.

We need to adopt a Re-Industrialization Policy designed to restore our economic health in the world economy. We must end the political dominance of the economic elite in our federal government by replacing politicians like Shelby with economic patriots who actually care about working Americans and national security.

Written by Stephen Crockett (host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.midatlanticlabor.com). Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702. Phone: 443-907-2367. Email: demlabor@aol.com.

Feel free to publish without prior approval.