Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Don’t Count Out the Labor Movement



Almost every conservative political columnist, pundit, commentator, blogger, and bloviator has written about the decline and forthcoming death of the labor movement.

They happily point to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker shortly after taking office in January 2011 took advantage of a Republican majority in the House and Senate to ram through legislation that stripped numerous collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Among collective bargaining rights are those that assure decent working conditions and a fair grievance process to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory discipline.

The Republicans point to Ohio, where Republican Gov. John Kasich, with similar legislative support, signed legislation in March 2011 that restricted collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

They point to state after state where Republican legislators, with the financial support of private industry, have brought forth self-serving bills to oppose collective bargaining.

The conservative mantra is to pander to the middle-class pocketbook by creating a pseudo-populist appeal. The right-wing claims they are the ones who care about the people enough to cut government spending, which will lower all kinds of taxes. They altruistically scream that inflated payrolls and pensions caused economic problems, and the best way to help those who are struggling in a depressed economy is to lower those costs by curtailing the perceived power of unions. It sounds nice; it’s also rhetoric encased in lies.

Numerous economic studies have shown that the pay for public union employees is about the same as for private sector employees in similar jobs. And in some jobs, public sector workers earn less than non-unionized private sector workers, leading to professionals and technical specialists often switching jobs from government to private industry, usually at higher wages and benefits.

So what, exactly, is the problem? Tax cuts. Bill Clinton left office, having given the nation a strong economy. During the Go-Go years in the first part of the 21st century, under the Bush–Cheney administration, states and the federal government created tax cuts for individuals, and held out generous tax cuts, tax waivers, and subsidies to corporations. The Republican theory was that these tax cuts would eventually “trickle down” to the masses by stimulating the economy.

What happened is that instead of benefitting the masses, these forms of wealthfare and corporate welfare have done little to stimulate an economy that was heading down because the Republican executive and legislative branches, preaching less government, didn’t want government interference in financial institutions, the most politically conservative business. As a result of deregulation or, in many cases minimal regulation oversight, came the twin catastrophes of the Wall Street scandals and the housing mortgage crisis that spun the nation into the deepest recession since the Depression of the 1930s.

But you don’t hear the Republicans tell you they caused it, only that a run-away economy is because of those fictional high government salaries that need to be cut.

Joseph Slater, professor of law at the University of Toledo, says because of the 2008 crisis, states experienced massive budget shortfalls because growing unemployment decreased tax revenue. The problem in the states and the federal government, Slater told NEA Today, isn’t because of collective bargaining, “because some of the worst state budget problems are in the small handful of states that prohibit public sector collective bargaining, states like Texas and North Carolina.” However, said Slater in an article for the American Constitution Society, “states with strong public sector collective bargaining laws . . . have smaller than average deficits.”

In response to conservative calls to curtail “pension abuse” in the public sector, Slater pointed out that “the vast majority of states don’t allow unions to bargain over public pension benefits,” and that some of the worst pension problems are in the so-called right-to-work states that have no public employee unions.

In contrast to the all-out assault upon the workers by Republicans, Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Jerry Brown of California, both Democrats, have been reducing budget deficits, sometimes with a heavy hand as they slash programs and the number of workers, in consultation with the unions and without curtailing union rights. Unionized workers in both private and public sectors have taken temporary pay cuts or agreed to taking vacation days without pay. Few corporate executives and no state legislators have willingly matched the sacrifices of the workers.

Now, as for those conservatives who are dancing on what they think are the graves of the working class labor movement. There are a few stories they aren’t happily reporting.

In Wisconsin, the recall election of Scott Walker did fail, as out-of-state individuals, PACs, and corporations contributed about two-thirds of his $30 million campaign to keeping him in office, as opposed to his opponent raising only about one-eighth of that amount. However, in subsequent elections, all three Democratic senators survived recall votes, and two of six Republican senators were recalled, leading to a change in Senate membership from 19–14 Republican to 17–16 Republican, but effectively blocking a “super majority” from ramrodding further anti-worker legislation into law.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected, 62–38 percent, the new Ohio law that stripped collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. In defeat, Gov. Kasich, whose attacks upon collective bargaining were a central part of his campaign, said “It’s clear the people have spoken.”

Monday is Labor Day. It’s more than just picnics and a three-day weekend. It’s a time to honor the working class, and the unions that gave them the rights of collective bargaining. They may be struggling but they are far from dead.

[Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist and author. His latest book is the critically acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which has an underlying union theme. He is a proud member of several professional and trade unions, including The Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America.]

Plenty on the line for the labor community in November election


SEPTEMBER 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Plenty on the line for the labor community in November election


REGION, August 19th- The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation in Washington, DC and the rest of the labor community are getting ready for the fall political campaign. In November all of the House of Representative seats are up, Pennsylvania United States Incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Casey Jr. is attempting to gain a second six-year term in Washington, and Democratic United States President Barack Obama is seeking a second four-term term.

Beginning in January 2013, because of newly redrawn congressional boundaries in Pennsylvania due to the loss of one seat because of the 2010 census, the Lehigh Valley will be represented in Washington by two legislative districts. Currently the Lehigh Valley is represented in Washington by the 15th Legislative District. The seat is held by Republican Charlie Dent, who is seeking his fifth two-year term. Mr. Dent is being challenged by Democratic nominee Rick Daugherty.

Mr. Daugherty told the newspaper he could defeat Mr. Dent in November because he would better represent the working people of the Lehigh Valley in the nations capitol. He stated if elected he would be a Democrat such as defeated 17th Legislative District Congressman Tim Holden. Mr. Holden has the distinction of being called a “Blue Dog” Democrat, meaning his voting record indicates he hasn’t always supported Democratic party legislation. Mr. Holden voted against progressive initiatives such as housing finance reforms, greater consumer protections, energy reforms, health care reform legislation, and the American auto loans.

Mr. Holden lost to first-time elected office seeker Matt Cartwright in the April primary election. Mr. Holden has served in the House of Representatives for 20 years.

The newly 17th District will run from Schuylkill County to Lackawanna County including part of Northampton County. The City of Easton, the surrounding areas, and a part of Bethlehem are included in the 17th Legislative District.

Mr. Cartwright has made it clear if elected in November he would support progressive issues such as the raising of the federal minimum wage, and other issues important to the labor community. Mr. Cartwright is facing Republican home health nurse company owner Laureen Cummings.

Mr. Casey is being challenged by Republican Tom Smith, who has made an issue of the support Mr. Casey has shown for legislation supported by the labor community.

During the first term in Washington, Senator Casey supported legislation important to the labor community including increasing the federal minimum wage, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCAct), and extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed workers.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney choice of right-wing Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan indicates that the privatization of Social Security will again be a topic heading into the November election.

Mr. Ryan proposed a plan in 2010 that would allow younger workers to divert more than one-third of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts, which would damage the rest of the retirement system.

Postal Union files labor complaint regarding processing center


SEPTEMBER 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Postal Union files labor complaint regarding processing center


REGION, August 12th- The National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) Local Branch 308 in Scranton, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four office in Philadelphia alleging the United States Postal Service (USPS) violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct). The Union believes the USPS is acting improperly by moving the mail processing center operations from Stafford Avenue in Scranton to a facility in the Lehigh Valley.

The Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge was filed on behalf of the NPMHU Local Branch 308 by Robert Glycenfer, Scranton Local Branch 308 President.

The USPS announced in May it would consolidate 48 mail processing centers throughout the nation including moving the operations of one in Scranton to the Lehigh Valley. The agency stated consolidating the mail processing centers would save nearly $1.2 billion a year. Approximately 5,000 workers will be immediately affected by the consolidation including around 300 in Scranton, which will be offered jobs at the Processing Center in the Lehigh Valley. There are currently around 487 mail processing centers in the United States.

The USPS stated it plans to close about 250 processing centers after their downsizing plan is fully implemented in 2014, which the unions are attempting to stop. Many of the the jobs affected are American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and NPMHU members.

The reason for the cutbacks is because of the declining mail volume caused by the recession and customers no longer using the mail service.

The jobs that will be most effected by the Scranton mail processing center operations being moved to the Lehigh Valley are members of Local Branch 308 and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Local 101 in Scranton. Local 268 repressents APWU members at the Lehigh Valley processing center.

APWU Local 268 President Bernie Ogozalek previously told the newspaper he disagrees with the USPS decision to close the Scranton facility. Mr. Ogozalek stated the APWU does not want any mail processing centers closed.

The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) and the American Postal Workers Union represent the majority of USPS workers with a combined membership of nearly 410,000 workers.

The major reason the USPS loses money is because of legislation that was passed in 2006 that forces the agency, which is not funded through any government program but only through postage income, to fund pensions for workers that have not even been born. The pensions for the future workers must be funded 75 years in advance.

According to the ULP, which was discovered by the newspaper while reviewing petitions and ULP’s filed at the NLRB office, NPMHU Local Branch 308 alleges the USPS will not supply information pertaining to the study that was used to justify the removel and consolidation of the mail processing center to the Lehigh Valley. The NPMHU Local 308 represents workers both at the Scranton and the Lehigh Valley processing centers.

The complaint alleges NPMHU requests for the information was given to the plant manager and the USPS Labor Relations Manager in Harrisburg, but the information was not received.

“Without this information the USPS has in it’s possession the Union is “blinded” to the truth and cannot property seek justice through the grievance arbitration process over the decision to consolidate mail processing without having the full facts of the case,” states the ULP.

The ULP states the employer representative to be contacted is Sean Kesler, identified as the Plant Manager.