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Dave Lindorff: Organize! Many Employers are Just Using the Recession to Stick it to Workers


Dave Lindorff: Organize! Many Employers are Just Using the Recession to Stick it to Workers

Whatever the truth is about where this economy is heading, one thing is clear: employers are taking every opportunity to slash employment and, if they are unionized, to hammer unions for pay cuts, even when there is no justification for these actions.

Take Safeway Inc., a large national supermarket chain. The company, which had $44 billion in sales in 2007, and which, based upon third quarter figures for 2008 was well on the way to show record sales for 2008, appears to be using the economic downturn as a justification for laying off employees and making remaining employees work harder.

I can only give anecdotal information on this. The Genuardi’s Family Market store (a Safeway subsidiary) where I live in Upper Dublin, PA, an upper middle-class suburb north of Philadelphia, according to its employees, has been laying off cashiers and slashing its night work force ## the people who restock the shelves and unload the delivery trucks when the store is closed. The management is doing this not because sales have slumped. They haven’t. People may not be buying new cars, but they are still buying food, and in fact, if they are cutting back on eating out, as restaurant chains are reporting, they are probably actually buying more groceries, not less. Management is making these cuts simply because they can get away with it.

The layoffs, in the face of continued heavy business, means cashiers are working harder. It means the night staff, cut by half, is working twice as hard. But with jobs getting scarce, what is their option? If they don’t like the speedup, where are they going to go in the current environment? Meanwhile, if service gets worse, customers will accept the decline because they’ll blame it on the economy, not noticing that there is really no justification for employee cutbacks at the supermarket.

Temple University, a major public higher education institution in Philadelphia, is reportedly telling all departments to make substantial cuts in their budgets. This will inevitably lead to layoffs of faculty and support staff critical to the education mission. And yet, what is the justification for such draconian measures? The governor initially announced plans to cut the state’s contribution to the university’s annual budget for next year by a few million dollars, but the new Economic Recovery Act stimulus package includes huge grants to the states, including Pennsylvania, more than compensating for those cuts. Furthermore, state-funded universities across the country, including Temple, are reporting increased applications and enrollments, as students whose parents cannot afford to send them to private colleges, send them instead to public institutions, and as workers who lose their jobs decide that the economic downturn is a good time to go to college and get an education. That means more tuition revenues coming in. Moreover, student aid, including Pell Grants for lower-income students, have been substantially increased in the stimulus package, meaning more money for public colleges. Money might be marginally tighter at places such as Temple (while, as with most public institutions, the university’s endowment is not a significant contributor to the operating budget, small as it is, and certainly significantly reduced because of the market collapse), but it’s certainly not down by enough to put universities in crisis. It may not even be down at all.

It might be understandable that state and local governments would be considering layoffs, or reduced pay and hours for public employees, given the slump in tax revenues from property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes. It is certainly necessary for the auto industry, which has seen sales plummet, to lay off workers. Luxury stores such as Circuit City are going bust. But not all employers are hurting alike. Health care industries are still booming. Public colleges are doing fine. Supermarkets are doing well. Energy companies are okay.

Criticism of the nationwide wave of layoffs by companies and employers that really don’t need to beggar their workers or push them out onto the street came from an unusual quarter recently, when Steve Korman, chief executive of a privately held Philadelphia-area company called Korman Communities, blasted corporate executives for laying off workers when they don’t really need to. Korman got upset when he saw Pfizer Inc.’s CEO Jeff Kinder say, on a television business program, that he planned to lay off 8,000 workers in anticipation of a merger with Wyeth, another drug company. The layoffs were not being made because Pfizer was losing money or in trouble financially, but rather to improve profits. Korman, who owns stock in Pfizer, got angry and spent $16,000 to run ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, saying:

“I have listened to the executives of many companies say that they are eliminating thousands of jobs to ‘improve the bottom line,’ I own stock in many of these companies and would prefer that the company make a smaller profit and [that] the stock fall, in the short term, rather than affect the lives of our neighbors and their families as jobs are lost.

“Please join me in reminding all CEOs that we are not just dealing with numbers and profit, but with real people and real families who need to keep their jobs.”

Korman sent individual letters saying much the same thing to 16 companies in which he is an investor, including Federal Express, Google, Cisco Systems, Caterpillar, General Electric, ExxonMobil, Kraft, Nokia, Intel, Johnson&Johnson, Apple, EMC, Chevron, DuPont, Coca-Cola, Oracle, and Dow.

If this phenomenon is bad enough that it has upset a prominent capitalist such as Korman, it is clearly a major problem.

The irony is that as all these companies slash their workforces, and force remaining workers to work harder, and as public institutions such as Temple University and other colleges cut their faculties and increase class sizes for remaining teaching staff, they are undermining any stimulus that taxpayers are subsidizing in the massive stimulus bill, and thus making the recession worse, not to mention wasting the huge deficit-spending measure itself.

Nobody would argue with a company’s laying off of workers when sales collapse and there is no money coming in, but in many cases, this is not what has been happening.

One reason there is a tidal wave of layoffs even at viable businesses and institutions across the country is simply the lack of or weakness of labor unions. With workers at most employers unorganized (unions represent only some 8 percent of private employees), it is easy for managers to engender an attitude of fear and passivity among employees, which makes it easier to pick them off, and to make those on the job work ever harder. Furthermore, without labor contracts, there is little workers can do to resist speedups that can seriously threaten their health, safety, and well-being.

Only a new militancy and sense of solidarity among American workers, and a revitalization of the nearly moribund labor movement, can rescue this situation, which will only get worse as the economy continues to sink.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at

Investigation: The oil money behind the anti-stimulus fight


Investigation: The oil money behind the anti-stimulus fight

The compromise version of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan passed the House and Senate Friday and is expected to be signed by President Obama tomorrow in Denver. Despite Democratic leaders’ efforts to reach out for Republican support by dropping various controversial provisions and beefing up tax cuts, the measure passed with no Republican votes in the House and only three Republican votes in the Senate.

Public opposition to the plan was led by a group called Americans for Prosperity, which delivered 400,000 signatures on a petition to the Senate opposing the measure. As the group says in a statement at its website:

We lost. But we put up a heckuva fight!

We turned what was supposed to sail through with 80 votes and no controversy into a bloody knock-down, drag-out fight.

We showed that Americans won’t passively sit by while our future is plundered. Just the fact that the bill shrank in conference committee ## they almost always grow ## showed that we had an impact.

Who is Americans for Prosperity? According to, the group was founded in 2003 with money from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which is run by the billionaires behind Kansas-based Koch Industries ## the national’s largest privately held oil and gas company. Media Transparency reports that the group gets substantial financial support from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, another one of the Koch family foundations.

Why would an organization funded by oil and gas interests be hostile to the economic stimulus plan?

Could it be the $50 billion the bill offers for more sustainable energy alternatives?

Among other things, the stimulus bill allocates $5 billion to weatherize more than a million modest-income homes and another $6.3 billion to install energy-saving insulation, windows and furnaces in federally funded housing projects, USA Today reports. It also offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 for families that buy plug-in hybrid cars, and includes $500 million for green jobs training.

Americans for Prosperity has long worked against any government efforts to tackle climate disruption by promoting more sustainable energy. Last year we reported on the group’s “Hot Air Tour,” which featured a hot-air balloon that traveled around the country with a message challenging what AFP dismisses as “global warming alarmism.”

The organization is currently running TV ads in Virginia criticizing state efforts to address climate change. Last week, Gov. Tim Kaine signed a pact with the U.K., agreeing to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, research renewable energy and raise public awareness about climate change. Kaine has also championed legislation creating renewable energy tax credits and promoting the use of alternative fuels.

Here’s the text for one of the Virginia ads titled “Tell Congress Not to Waste Our Money,” which makes clear Americans for Prosperity’s hostility to government support for more sustainable forms of energy:

MAN: OK, we’re in a recession.

Times are tough and jobs are scarce.

Congress talks about economic recovery, but what are they doing?

Spending billions of taxpayer dollars in the name of global warming and green energy.

Who is going to bail us out and pay our bills? Instead, they will:

… Make energy more expensive

… cost us more to heat our homes

… and regulate our local businesses and our jobs out of existence

No thanks. Congress should stop wasting their time and focus on real problems.

ANNONC (VO): Isn’t it time Congress listened to the rest of us and got its science and priorities straight.

Paid for by Americans for Prosperity

One of the directors of Americans for Prosperity is North Carolina millionaire businessman and former state legislator Art Pope. He funds a network of pro-business think tanks that was behind an effort to scuttle efforts to address global warming in North Carolina, as we reported in our 2007 Facing South investigation titled “Hostile Climate.”

Americans for Prosperity has also been active on labor issues in North Carolina, where it’s fighting the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers unionize. Today the N.C. NAACP is holding a press conference to highlight the fact that the group is a front for big business.

Interestingly, Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president chose Colorado as the place to sign the stimulus legislation into law “to highlight some of the investments to put people back to work ## particularly clean-energy jobs.”

Employee of Guardian Eldercare request union removal


February 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Employee of Guardian Eldercare request union removal


NANTICOKE, January 15th- A License Practical Nurse (LPN) employed at Guardian Eldercare, Old Newport Road in Nanticoke, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia requesting the withdrawal of union shop authority and the removal of obligation to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Pennsylvania Healthcare Union in Harrisburg, formerly called SEIU 1199P.

According to the petition, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, Rebecca Distasin of Nanticoke and a LPN employed at the nursing home and long term elderly facility, filed with the NLRB on December 19th, 2008 stating at least 30 percent of the union membership in the bargaining unit covered by the labor contract agreement between Guardian Eldercare and the SEIU wants the union removed from representing the employees. The petition states there are 82 employees in the unit.

Under NLRB rules, employees could petitioned the agency to conduct an Decertification Election in which the employees vote in a secret ballot election to determine if workers within the bargaining unit wants to continue to be represented by a labor organization for the purpose of collective bargaining. A Decertication Petition must be filed when the contract agreement is scheduled to expire. Therefore, Ms. Distasin could not file a Decertication Petition until December 2009 or later.

The petition states Ms. Distasin wants all LPN’s, nurses aids, housekeepers, dietary, laundry workers, activities and maintenance employees to no longer be represented by the union.

The contract agreement between the parties expires on December 31st, 2009. Under National Labor Relations Board rules, a petition requesting the withdrawal of union shop authority must be filed within the month of the anniversary date of the expiration of the contract agreement.

One-year anniversary of the elimination of Catholic teachers union rally held in Scranton


February 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

One-year anniversary of the elimination of Catholic teachers union rally held in Scranton


SCRANTON, January 24th- Members of the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) Union were joined by regional labor union members, political leaders, representatives from the Pennsylvania American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Harrisburg and other supporters, for a rally in front of the rectory of the Diocese of Scranton to mark the one year anniversary the union was busted by Bishop Joseph Martino.

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 Martino implemented a “Employee Relations Program,” after he busted the union.

Around 200 attended the rally, including State Representative 121st Legislative District Eddie Day Pashinski of Luzerne County and State Representative 113th Legislative District Kevin Murphy of Lackawanna County. Mr. Pashinski announced at the rally he would introduce House Bill 26, that would amend the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act (PLRAct) to cover religious school employees under the law.

Bishop Martino would not recognize SDACT as the teachers bargaining representative and refused to negotiate for a new labor contract agreement when the previous pact expired. He cited the PLRAct has no jurisdition and therefore the Diocese of Scranton could simply ignore the desire of the teachers to be represented by the union. Representative Murphy told the newspaper he supports the legislation and will become a co-signer of the bill.

If the legislation is passed, parochial school employees would be able to file Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against their employers for violating the PLRAct.

According to Michael Milz, President of SDACT, which has a office on the O’Neill Highway in Dunmore, they gathered in front of the rectory on Wyoming Avenue in Scranton where Bishop Martino resides, to show him and the public the union is not going away and will continue to push for the right to represent the teachers.

SDACT has not represented the workers since August 2007. SDACT now has 22 active members employed by the Diocese of Scranton at St. Michael’s School in Tunkhannock, a school for troubled young people. The current five year contract agreement with the Diocese will expire in August 2009.

Mr. Milz told the newspaper, officials of the Diocese of Scranton have indicated they will negotiate with the union for a successor agreement for the members employed at St. Michael’s. No meetings are currently scheduled however.

The rally comes on the heals of the announcement of multible arbitration victories by SDACT for the failure of the Diocese to pay wages owed to former union members under the terms and conditions of the previous contract agreements.

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

SEIU Local 668 Union files complaint against Jewish Home


February 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

SEIU Local 668 Union files complaint against Jewish Home


SCRANTON, January 15th- The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Pennsylvania Social Services Union (PSSU), Local 668 filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia alleging the Jewish Home in Scranton violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

On January 6th, 2009 the SEIU filed a Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the agency alleging the Jewish Home on Vine Street in Scranton violated section 8 (a), subsections (1)(3) and(5) of the NLRAct. The group operates a nursing home.

According to the ULP, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the union represents 120 employees at the nursing home. The union has a office on Main Street in Dickson City in Lackawanna County however, the complaint was filed by the Harrisburg office.

“The employer interfered with the Union’s access to the facility, in violation of Section 8 (a)(3) and 8 (a)(5), and coerced employees in violation of Section 8 (a)(1).

By the above and other acts, the above-named employer has interfered with, restrained with, and coerced employees in the exercise of the rights quaranteed in Section 7 of the Act,” states the complaint.

The Employer Representative named to contact is Mary Rose Applegate, indentified as the Assistant Administrator of the nursing home.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA unemployment rate increases to 7.7 percent


February 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

MSA unemployment rate increases to 7.7 percent


REGION, February 4th- According to labor data provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, increasing by seven-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) includes Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 5.3 percent. The last time the region had a unemployment rate this high was April 1996, also at 7.7 percent.

The MSA’s unemployment rate continues to remain higher than Pennsylvania and the nation. The unemployment rate in the state is 6.7 percent, increasing by six-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,442,000 with 434,000 not working and 6,009,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, increasing by five-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. There are 11,108,000 civilians in the nation without employment.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA civilian labor force, workers between eighteen and sixty-five years old, increased by 1,900 from the previous month to 284,300 and increased by 7,200 during the previous twelve months. There are 22,000 civilians not working within the MSA, increasing by 2,400 from the previous month, and increasing by 7,200 from twelve months before.

The MSA has the fifth largest labor force in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 2,997,200 with 201,200 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA is second at 1,219,400 with 76,200 without jobs; the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force at 420,300 with 29,700 not working; and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force at 285,600 with 16,500 residents without employment.

Of the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the second highest unemployment rate with only the much smaller Johnstown MSA the only region with a higher unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, which rate increased by eight-tenths of a percentage point from the month before. The Johnstown MSA only has a civilian labor force of 68,300, with only the Altoona MSA and the Williamsport MSA with a smaller civilian labor force in Pennsylvania. The Williamsport MSA has the third highest unemployment rate in the state at 7.6 percent. The Lebanon MSA and the State College MSA are tied for the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.1 percent. The Lancaster MSA is second at 5.5 percent with the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA third at 5.8 percent.

Within the MSA, Lackawanna County has the lowest unemployment rate at 7.4 percent, increasing by eight-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and two and three-tenths of a percentage point from twelve month before. Lackawanna County has a labor force of 108,100, increasing by 700 from the month before and 2,700 during the past twelve months. There are 8,000 residents without jobs, increasing by 900 from the previous month and increasing by 2,700 from twelve months ago.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 7.9 percent, increasing by seven-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and increasing by one and five-tenths of a percentage point from one year ago. Luzerne County has a labor force of 161,500, increasing by 1,000 from the month before and jumping by 4,200 during the previous twelve months. There are 12,800, increasing by 1,300 from the previous month and increasing by 4,300 from one year ago, residents in Luzerne County not working.

Wyoming County has a unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, increasing by one full percentage point from the month before and increasing by one and nine-tenths of a percentage point from one year ago. Wyoming County has a labor force of 14,600, unchanged from the month before and increasing by 300 during the past year. There are 1,100 Wyoming County residents not working, increasing by 100 from the previous month and increasing by 300 from one year ago.

Machinists Union files complaint against Sun Buick


February 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Machinists Union files complaint against Sun Buick


MOOSIC, January 15th- The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Union District Lodge 15 in Cincinnati, Ohio filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Region Four in Philadelphia alleging management of Sun Pontiac GMC of Moosic, Inc. violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

According to the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge filed on December 2nd, 2008 and obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, the IAM alleges the employer through its officers, agents and representatives, has interfered with, restrained and coerced, and is interfering with, restraining and coercing employees of Sun Buick GMC, 4320 Birney Avenue in Moosic Borough, Lackawanna County, in the exercise of their rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the NLRAct.

The employer representative named on the complaint to be contacted is Lori Guitson, indentified as the owner of the car dealership.

The ULP also alleges the employer terminated the employment of Michael Polovauk because of his membership and activities on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and “at all times since such date, the Employer has refused and does not refuse to employ the above named employee,” the complaint states.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the union by Brian Bryant, indentified as Grand Lodge Representative for IAM District Lodge 98.