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The union way up- By Robert B. Reich

01.26.09

The union way up

America, and its faltering economy, need unions to restore prosperity to the middle class.

By Robert B. Reich
January 26, 2009

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-reich26-2009jan26,0,1124419.story

Why is this recession so deep, and what can be done to reverse it?

Hint: Go back about 50 years, when America’s middle class was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big enough to allow us to buy all the goods and services we produced. It was a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs.

At the center of this virtuous circle were unions. In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.

Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys, such as a comprehensive poll that Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted in 2006, suggest that a majority of workers would like to have a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. So there must be some other reason for this dramatic decline.

But put that question aside for a moment. One point is clear: Smaller numbers of unionized workers mean less bargaining power, and less bargaining power results in lower wages.

It’s no wonder middle-class incomes were dropping even before the recession. As our economy grew between 2001 and the start of 2007, most Americans didn’t share in the prosperity. By the time the recession began last year, according to an Economic Policy Institute study, the median income of households headed by those under age 65 was below what it was in 2000.

Typical families kept buying only by going into debt. This was possible as long as the housing bubble expanded. Home-equity loans and refinancing made up for declining paychecks. But that’s over. American families no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. Lower paychecks, or no paychecks at all, mean fewer purchases, and fewer purchases mean fewer jobs.

The way to get the economy back on track is to boost the purchasing power of the middle class. One major way to do this is to expand the percentage of working Americans in unions.

Tax rebates won’t work because they don’t permanently raise wages. Most families used the rebate last year to pay off debt ## not a bad thing, but it doesn’t keep the virtuous circle running.

Bank bailouts won’t work either. Businesses won’t borrow to expand without consumers to buy their goods and services. And Americans themselves can’t borrow when they’re losing their jobs and their incomes are dropping.

Tax cuts for working families, as President Obama intends, can do more to help because they extend over time. But only higher wages and benefits for the middle class will have a lasting effect.

Unions matter in this equation. According to the Department of Labor, workers in unions earn 30% higher wages ## taking home $863 a week, compared with $663 for the typical nonunion worker ## and are 59% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance than their nonunion counterparts.

Examples abound. In 2007, nearly 12,000 janitors in Providence, R.I., New Hampshire and Boston, represented by the Service Employees International Union, won a contract that raised their wages to $16 an hour, guaranteed more work hours and provided family health insurance. In an industry typically staffed by part-time workers with a high turnover rate, a union contract provided janitors with full-time, sustainable jobs that they could count on to raise their families’ ## and their communities’ ## standard of living.

In August, 65,000 Verizon workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America, won wage increases totaling nearly 11% and converted temporary jobs to full-time status. Not only did the settlement preserve fully paid healthcare premiums for all active and retired unionized employees, but Verizon also agreed to provide $2 million a year to fund a collaborative campaign with its unions to achieve meaningful national healthcare reform.

Although America and its economy need unions, it’s become nearly impossible for employees to form one. The Hart poll I cited tells us that 57 million workers would want to be in a union if they could have one. But those who try to form a union, according to researchers at MIT, have only about a 1 in 5 chance of successfully doing so.

The reason? Most of the time, employees who want to form a union are threatened and intimidated by their employers. And all too often, if they don’t heed the warnings, they’re fired, even though that’s illegal. I saw this when I was secretary of Labor over a decade ago. We tried to penalize employers that broke the law, but the fines are minuscule. Too many employers consider them a cost of doing business.

This isn’t right. The most important feature of the Employee Free Choice Act, which will be considered by the just-seated 111th Congress, toughens penalties against companies that violate their workers’ rights. The sooner it’s enacted, the better ## for U.S. workers and for the U.S. economy.

The American middle class isn’t looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to prosper. Making it easier for all Americans to form unions would give the middle class the bargaining power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong and prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to succeed.

Robert B. Reich, former U.S. secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and the author, most recently, of “Supercapitalism

International Association of EMT’s & Paramedics Union Local 5000 unsuccessful in organizing ambulance workers

01.26.09

February 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

International Association of EMT’s & Paramedics Union Local 5000 unsuccessful in organizing ambulance workers

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsabe@aol.com

LEHIGH VALLEY- On January 7th workers employed by the Centronia Ambulance, William Avenue in Allentown, rejected being represented by the International Association of EMT’s & Paramedics Union Local 5000 in an Representation Election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia. The employees voted 19 for to 73 against being represented by the union for the purpose of collective bargaining.

In the previous edition of the newspaper it was exclusively reported Local 5000 of Quincy, Massachusetts filed with the NLRB a petition requesting the agency conduct the election. Under NLRB rules, the petition requesting for the agency to conduct a election must have the support of at least 30 percent of the unit of employees.

According to the petition, filed on November 26th, 2008, and obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the union wanted to represent all full-time and regular part-time, per diem and PRN-paramedics, EMT’s, wheelchair/para-transit drivers, dispatchers and registered nurses employed by the employer.

A labor organization must receive 50 percent plus one of the eligible employees to vote for union representation to become their bargaining representative.

Lehigh Valley MSA unemployment rate increases to 6.5 percent

01.26.09

February 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Lehigh Valley MSA unemployment rate increases to 6.5 percent

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsabe@aol.com

LEHIGH VALLEY, January 5th- According to labor data provided by the Department of Labor and Industry, the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by four-tenths of a percentage point to 6.5 percent, the highest rate for the region since January 1996. The MSA includes Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties of Pennsylvania and Warren County, New Jersey. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 4.4 percent.

Of the fourteen Metropolitan Statistical Area’s in Pennsylvania, the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area has the fourth highest unemployment rate.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 6.1 percent, increasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. There are 394,000, increasing by 22,000 from the month before, Pennsylvania residents without jobs. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted workforce of 6,414,000 with 6,020,000 employed. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, increasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the month before. There are 10,331,000 residents nationally unemployed.

The Johnstown MSA has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 7.1 percent. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the second highest unemployment rate in the state at 7.0 percent, with the Williamsport MSA having the third highest unemployment rate at 6.7 percent.

The Lebanon MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 4.8 percent, the State College MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 4.9 percent, with the Lancaster MSA having the third lowest unemployment rate at 5.0 percent.

The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest civilian labor force, workers between eighteen and sixty-five years old, in Pennsylvania at 418,900, increasing by 5,300 from twelve months ago. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest civilian labor force in Pennsylvania at 2,986,400 with 184,100 residents not working. The Pittsburgh MSA has the second largest civilian labor force in the state at 1,216,300, with 70,700 residents unemployed. The Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest labor force in Pennsylvania at 284,900, with 15,100 residents unemployed.

Within the MSA, Carbon County has the highest unemployment rate at 7.8 percent, increasing by six-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and increasing by two and five-tenths of a percentage point from twelve months ago. Carbon County has 2,400 civilians not working, increasing by 200 from the month before and increasing by 800 from twelve months ago. Carbon County has a labor force of 31,100 the smallest civilian labor force in the MSA.

Lehigh County has the lowest unemployment rate in the MSA at 6.3 percent, increasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month, and increasing by one and nine-tenths of a percentage point from twelve months ago. Lehigh County has 11,200 civilians without jobs, the most within the MSA, increasing by 700 from the month before and increasing by 3,500 from a year ago. Lehigh County has a labor force of 175,900, the largest in the MSA.

Northampton County has a unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, increasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and increasing by two full percentage points from twelve months before. Northampton County has 9,700 civilians not working, increasing by 500 from the previous month and increasing by 3,100 during the past twelve months. Northampton County has a labor force of 151,700.

Nonfarm jobs have decreased by 2,600 during the past twelve months for a total of 343,700 with manufacturing jobs leading the decline, decreasing by 1,900. There are 289,700 service-providing jobs in the MSA, decreasing by 500 from twelve months ago.

SEIU Local 668 critical of Governor Rendell’s budget and makes suggestions

01.26.09

February 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

SEIU Local 668 critical of Governor Rendell’s budget and makes suggestions

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsabe@aol.com

LEHIGH VALLEY, January 11th- The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668, which represents approximately 20,000 human services workers in Pennsylvania, responsed to Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell’s request for suggestions on closing the state’s budget shortfall, by identifying millions of dollars that could be saved.

SEIU Local 668 stated the Governor should cancel contracts with private contractors for work that can be done more efficiently and for a lower cost by state employees.

“The need for human services is at an all-time high due to the present state of the economy. Yet there are fewer and fewer people to provide these vital services, due to flat funding of public agencies and the hiring freeze imposed by Governor Rendell. Our agencies have been flat funded since day one of this administration, so we’ve actually been paying for our own raises through the loss of staff for the last 6 years,” said Kathy Jellison, President of Local 668 in Harrisburg. Local 668 has a local office on East Lehigh Street in Bethlehem.

Ms. Jellison said the Rendell Administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollards on private contractors for work that can de done by state employees. “Mr. Rendell has ignored repeatedly suggestions for cost-cutting measures that would save taxpayer dollars by the Union,” she added.

“It is time this administration to open the books and disclose the huge amounts of taxpayer money being wasted on private contractors. Our members can do this work more efficiently, and at a lower cost to the taxpayers. There is no justification for these private contracts, when our members can do a better job and have more experience at providing the same services. We believe this is why vital human services have not been fully funded in Pennsylvania,” said Ms. Jellison.

The union pointed out as one example, a state contract with the University of Massachusetts to identify Medicare receipients that show payments are being made by the state under this contract that equal between $285 and over $500 for each recipient the University identifies. “Yet our members can do this exact same work for approximately 37 cents per recipient if given the proper tools,” said Ms. Jellison.

Ms. Jellison also pointed to over $300 million paid to Delotitte Consulting, a firm with ties to top officials in the Rendell Administration, for work done in the Department of Public Welfare, some of whcih was previously handled by state employees.

“Our agencies provide services needy families, the elderly and disabled, the unemployed, the mentally ill and mentally retarded, emergency services, youth and children. In addition, our members are trained to help prevent fraud and, as a result, have saved taxpayers an average of over $26 million annually in addition to awards for efficiency and delivery of Food Stamps, $4.6 million last year alone,” added Ms. Jellison.

She called upon Mr. Rendell to sit down with the SEIU Local 668 and other state unions and implement some of their suggestions to help the budget shortfall without cutting vital services.

CWA Union files complaint against T-Mobile Communications

01.26.09

February 2009 Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

CWA Union files complaint against T-Mobile Communications

By PAUL TUCKER
theunionnewsabe@aol.com

ALLENTOWN, January 11th- The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Union District 13, Parkway Center in Pittsburgh, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia alleging company representatives of T-Mobile Communications in Allentown violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

The CWA filed the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the NLRB on January 8th, 2009 alleging the company violated Section 7 of the NLRAct.

According to the complaint, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the named employer representative to contact is Cyrus Nowroozani.

“Since on or about July 15th, 2008 the above named employer, by its officers, agents and representatives engaged in surveillance and other acts and conduct, interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act,” the charge states.

The ULP states the company employs 1400 workers at their facility at 794 Roble Road in Allentown. T-Mobile is a communications company which provides wireless phone service.

The National Labor Relations Board after receiving a complaint will investigate the charge(s) and if they find merit in the ULP(s), a hearing will be scheduled.

The newspaper reported in the November 2008 edition the CWA filed a complaint with the NLRB for alleging the company violated the NLRAct for terminating the employment of Sandra Bradley because of her activities on behalf of the Union.

According to that ULP, also obtained by the newspaper, she was fired to discourage union membership by other employees after she provided mutual on-the-job aid to the CWA.

Should it be found the National Labor Relations Act was violated the agency could seek monetary fines or other remedies to rectify the situation.