Posts Tagged: IAM


NUHW-Machinists Alliance: What’s the Game Plan?

by Carl Finamore

It surprised many when the National Union of Healthcare Workers—a quintessential service sector union—announced in February its intent to affiliate with the Machinists, which has an extensive industrial union history.

Details are still under discussion, but an alliance would ultimately bring more than 9,000 NUHW members together with 720,000 IAM members.

The announcement came at an important juncture for NUHW, which was born in 2009 after the Service Employees drove out key activists and leaders from its 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West local in California during a battle over democracy and local autonomy.

NUHW ran against SEIU in 2010 in elections for 43,000 service and tech workers at California’s Kaiser Permanente hospitals and lost. But a labor board ruling last year confirmed that Kaiser had colluded with SEIU during the election, and the board ordered a re-run.

Now NUHW will enter the field with strong backing from a powerful AFL-CIO ally.

An interview with three principal players delves into the thinking behind the match.

Carl Finamore, former president of IAM Local Lodge 1781 in California, spoke with Gary Allen, IAM general vice president; Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW; and Don Crosatto, Western Territory IAM District 190 senior area director.

Labor Notes: Where did the idea to affiliate come from?

Don Crosatto: I was always very much aware of the dominant presence of SEIU-UHW in successful organizing, bargaining, and community coalition building in California. They had the gold-standard contract in the health industry, had very active steward participation, and were the fastest-growing union in California. Their record stood out. After they were kicked out of SEIU and formed NUHW, I saw that same leadership continuing to run impressive campaigns, but this time on a shoestring budget.

Stands to reason, I figured, that they would be thinking about linking up with an organization with resources.

Of course, some will think this relationship with the IAM is strange because we do not have much experience in health care. But NUHW has that part pretty well figured out; they do not need that from us.

They need to be part of a larger organization that values local autonomy and that does not micromanage from headquarters in Washington, D.C.

LN: How did the consultations develop?

DC: I knew former SEIU-UHW President Sal Rosselli for 20 years and asked if he wanted to talk with Gary about how we view local autonomy and democracy. There were intense discussions for a couple months that included our international president, R. Thomas Buffenbarger, and the international’s nine-member executive council, that ultimately led to a letter of intent to affiliate.

Gary Allen: The thing that moved me was blatant abuse by SEIU of basic union democracy against duly elected SEIU-UHW leaders over disagreements on bargaining priorities and organizing. Unfortunately, this was not a complete surprise. It’s my opinion that over the last several years, SEIU chose growth at all costs, negotiating future organizing access instead of bargaining standard-of-living increases for their members.

In the IAM, decisions about collective bargaining priorities are left to our members.

LN: What were the first reactions of the IAM?

DC: Health care is not one of our bread-and-butter industries and most of our leadership is not in California. So, most IAM leaders did not really know the players up close. However, we found our general philosophies are pretty much the same.

We both believe members should drive negotiations by selecting the bargaining committee, developing contract demands, and ratifying agreements. In addition, the IAM is not in the habit of forcing consolidations into mega-locals, with smaller locals giving up their independence as demanded so often by SEIU.

LN: What does the IAM think it will get out of this relationship?

GA: It would be disingenuous to say we are not interested in thousands of new members or that we do not appreciate the value of becoming a major player in the rapidly growing health care industry. But an even bigger benefit for the IAM is NUHW’s huge pool of organizing talent.

DC: We definitely hope their example and experience will energize our locals to organize more, which, frankly, we can use.

LN: How will NUHW benefit?

DC: Of course, NUHW needs resources to go after bigger targets like Kaiser.

But, as its name indicates, NUHW is a national health care union. Our organizing perspective is not about picking SEIU apart but about organizing vast areas of the unorganized.

SEIU is much bigger, but most of their members are concentrated in New York, Illinois, and California where, for example, they have 700,000 members.

SEIU is not present in large sections of this country. The IAM’s extensive geographic presence is an enormous advantage, especially in the South. We do not have tens of thousands of members in these states but we do have a presence. Instead of blowing in with a blizzard of purple shirts, our organizers get introduced by IAM members who not only lived and worked in that community but whose parents have also lived their whole lives in that community. Being introduced as a good guy by these deeply rooted local folks matters in small towns.

Sal Rosselli: With the IAM located in every state in the union and in every province of Canada, we have a tremendous opportunity to organize. Most hospital workers in this country are not in a union—a whopping 90 percent of them, or 9 million in all. It’s great that the IAM shares our vision and confidence about national organizing.

LN: How will this all affect the upcoming Kaiser NUHW/SEIU representation election involving 43,000 employees?

SR: Well, IAM resources will hopefully make it easier for us to communicate to the 10,000 folks we could not even reach last time.

But the Kaiser campaign this year is fundamentally different in two other huge ways.

First, Kaiser has shown its true colors. In the last election, we could not very effectively criticize Kaiser because the good relationship with the old SEIU-UHW built up over the years produced the best contracts in the industry. This was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Today, it’s the opposite. Kaiser is trying to jam through concessions despite their enormous profits. This has angered thousands of workers who previously trusted Kaiser.

Secondly, SEIU-UHW has changed. In 2010, we were a brand-new organization and it was difficult to explain our differences with SEIU. Not true today. SEIU has failed to pursue grievance complaints and, at the same time, caved to numerous concessions dictated by Kaiser and other hospitals.

By contrast, in the last year and half, NUHW has settled half a dozen contracts with no takeaways, proving by example that you can avoid concessions and even gain some improvements if you stand up to the employer.

Along with our new relationship with the IAM, these are things that, I believe, make a huge difference this time around.


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Striking Joliet Caterpillar workers reject latest offer

Story Image

Shorewood resident Mike “Hammer” Pesek holds an American flag as striking Caterpillar machinists from Local Lodge 851 vote on a new contract at the operating engineers hall Wednesday, May 30, 2012, at 1050 North East Frontage Rd. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

Striking machinists at Joliet’s Caterpillar Inc. plant have rejected the company’s latest contract proposal, a union official said.

Workers voted 504-116 against the Peoria-based company’s latest contract proposal, said Steve Jones, the union’s directing business agent.

Caterpillar worker Mike “Hammer” Pesek of Shorewood summed up the mood of the striking workers after Wednesday’s vote, which was taken by paper ballot.

“I would rather be unemployed than Caterpillar slave labor,” he said.

“The last contract we were in was a seven year deal with no increase, no raise,” Pesek added. “And now they want us to take a six year deal with no increase. I’m sorry, I’m not looking to get rich. But I’ve been working for this company for 18 years, I think I deserve 25 cents an hour as an increase.”

A Caterpillar spokesman said the company would comment on the vote later Wednesday.

Hundreds of workers showed up at a Joliet union hall to cast ballots.

Strike began May 1

Machinists from Local Lodge 851 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers went out on strike at the Joliet plant on May 1 after their seven-year contract expired.

Caterpillar had offered the 780 workers a new six-year pact, but union members overwhelmingly rejected it on April 29 with 94 percent voting against the offer. Eighty-two percent of the workers rejected the revised deal Wednesday. Jones said the drop is to be expected.

“A month on the street will do that to a group,” said Jones, who added that the workers were still strong on the basic issues.

Union officials said the deal offered no raises, eliminated the defined benefits pension program, weakened seniority rights and required machinists to pay higher contributions for health care at a time when the company is making record profits.

The company has said it is trying to keep costs down so it can remain competitive in a global market and is willing to offer workers market-rate wages and the type of benefits “most Americans” are getting.

The union’s bargaining committee urged the workers to vote against the latest proposal, union members reported as they waited outside the Local 150 Operating Engineers hall in Joliet for the vote results.

The company modified what it had said was its “last, best and final” offer, but workers said the changes were minor. Changes included a $1,000 signing bonus, a limit of one year on how long workers could be “loaned out” to other shifts and a performance reward.

Employees said the performance reward was “unfeasible,” because the production rate included in the contract had never been reached at the plant before.

“They wasn’t really much new,” said Greg Johnson of Morris. “It’s still a lot of take-aways.”

Paul Patrickus of Downers Grove said the contract didn’t reflect the high production level at the Joliet plant.

“As a matter of fact, it’s insulting,” he said as he held his 7-month-old daughter, Scarlette, in his arms.

Dan Governale of Joliet has been at the plant 16 years.

“I believe it’s the company’s way of finding out how strong our resolve is, by the results of the vote,” he said. “They’re just trying to feel us out to see where we are.”

Crossed the line

About a dozen machinists have crossed the picket line and are back working at the plant. Johnson said they should have worked harder to find interim jobs to supplement the $150 a week the union is paying the striking workers.

“There’s jobs out there,” he said.

Pesek said union members who crossed the picket line could be kicked out of the union and lose their jobs.

“There will be a tribunal held for each individual union member,” Pesek said.

Some workers were ready for the strike.

“I’ve been through three contracts,” Governale said. “I saw this coming and I prepared for it — thank God.”

Sharlyn Bokus of Morris said the contract offer was “bait” to try to lure workers back to the plant so Caterpillar can catch up on back orders. She said she’s worked very hard to become a machinist.

“It makes me feel happy that all of us are in the same frame of mind,” she said of Wednesday’s vote. “We’re looking to have a better life for ourselves. I don’t want to struggle.”

Donna Rogers of Dolton agreed.

“If we all stick together and hang in there, it will be OK,” she said.

The Caterpillar plant on U.S. 6 in Joliet makes hydraulic components for tractors that are assembled elsewhere. The Peoria-based company has said production at the Joliet plant won’t be disrupted by the strike. Caterpillar is staffing the plant now with supervisors and retired supervisors.

The plant has about 1,200 other employees who are not affected by the contract negotiations.


3,600 Lockheed Martin Workers Go on Strike in Texas

(Photo courtesy of IAM Local 776)  

'Everyone is sick and tired' of company's demands, says IAM 

Strikes involving thousands of workers in the “right-to-work” state of Texas are extraordinarily rare. Yet on Monday, 3,600 Lockheed Martin workers, members of IAM Local 776 who make F-35 and F-16 fighter jets in Fort Worth, Texas, went out on strike to protest proposed healthcare and pension cuts.

Workers are upset about a proposed contract that would make workers’ pay much higher insurance deductibles. Lockheed Martin has already implemented this plan for its nonunion employees. 

Workers are also upset about a plan that would eliminate defined-benefit pensions for new hires. In recent years, many other unions have agreed to this concession while retaining defined-benefit plans for current union members—a group of 15,000 GE workers agreed to a similar change for future hires last summer. Lockheed workers in Texas, however are fed up.

“The first time…, they take away pension for new hires. Next time around, when new hires [are in the union], they say ‘we are going to freeze the pension.’ Of course, the new hires that don’t have a pension aren’t going to strike, so then the pension is frozen,” says IAM spokesman Bob Woods. “Companies like Lockheed Martin simply want to eliminate defined benefit pensions plans.”

In a statement, Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout said,

We believe our offer included terms that constituted a fair and equitable contract for the IAM members, including wage increases of 3 percent annually in each of the three years, a $3,000 signing bonus, an annual cost of living supplement of $800, increased retirement income for current employees, and various other improvements. We’re disappointed that the IAM members rejected the company’s last, best and final offer and voted to strike. Our operations will remain open and we will implement our contingency plan while focusing on meeting our commitments to our customers.

The union feels confident, though, that Lockheed Martin—the largest federal defense contractor, with $17.34 billion in federal projects last year—would be unable to operate the Texas plant without the skill of its unionized workforce.

“They could try to bring in scabs, but this is the most advanced aircraft in the world,” Wood says. “The skills of these workers out here are second to none. All they are doing right now is having a few management guys go around and fiddle with things.”

Workers at the Fort Worth facility went on strikes in both 2000 and 2003 to resist concessions. Wood says that the union is prepared to stay out on strike for weeks, even months, in order to get Lockheed to drop its concession demands.  

“Every three years they want to come and take some other benefit. Everyone is sick and tired of it. These folks are prepared to be on strike for a long time” says Wood.

From In These Times, By Mike Elk


Could a Union Strike Ground the Pentagon's New Jet?

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 1:13 PM PDT

The union builders of one of the Pentagon’s priciest pieces of equipment are going on strike, threatening the beleaguered trillion-dollar program and the Beltway contractors who are counting on it.

Last Sunday, workers at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, construction plant votedby more than a 9-to-1 margins to strike for better conditions. The plant’s 3,600 union machinists handle most of the parts and assembly for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an over-budget, under-performing, behind-schedule fighter jet that’s on record as one of the biggest wastes of money in Pentagon history.

At 12:01 a.m. this morning, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 776 walked off the job. At issue was Lockheed’s proposal to slash pensions and health-care programs for new hires and rehired machinists. “But there are other things that are still open on the table that are unacceptable,” union president Paul Black told MSNBC. Workers are ready for a lengthy work stoppage, according to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

Nick Hight, an 8-year Lockheed employee, said he was willing to strike for weeks if necessary over the pension issue. “No pension for new hires, that’s not good. What if my granddaughter wanted to work here.”

"They keep taking things away from us," said Kim Nguyen, an aircraft assembler who has worked 15 years at the Lockheed plant. "They’ve gotten too greedy. We’ve got to fight for something."

It’s not like the laborers are trying to get blood from a stone: Thanks largely to the F-35 program, Lockheed is the single biggest defense contractor in the United States, with $17.34 billion in federal projects per year—more than “Beltway bandits" KBR, Boeing, and General Dynamics combined. So far, Lockheed’s made $400 billion off the F-35, despite cost overruns and concerns over the craft’s airworthiness that have delayed its delivery forservice, first slated for 2010.

A spokesman for Lockheed only told the Star-Telegram that the company considered its final offer to the workers “equitable,” since its equally profitable competitors “no longer offer defined benefit pension plans to new hires.” In contrast, Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens made $25.4 million last year, including a $4.7 million bonus—a 16 percent increase over his 2010 compensation, even though company earnings fell 8 percent in the same period, according to SEC filings. Of course, as my colleague Josh Harkinson has reported, some of America’s most successful CEOs have always gotten rich by squeezing workers. But defense contractors rarely get the same scrutiny as bank, insurance, and retail executives.

Could a lengthy strike further delay the F-35? Maybe; Lockheed reports no effects on its assembly line so far, though it has notified the military services that there could be problems delivering the jets on time. But with conservatives on a renewed hunt for communists and the House Armed Services Committee meeting this week to discuss the annual defense budget, expect Republicans to defend their No. 1 private contractor while tossing a couple of barbs at those “unpatriotic” union workers down in Texas.


Healthcare workers union and machinists union working toward affiliation

In a move that’s fascinating if you’re at all into union inside baseball, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have agreed “to pursue a formal relationship between our two unions and to work toward a potential future affiliation.”

NUHW has its roots in an SEIU local; when the local’s president, Sal Rosselli, and other leadership came into conflict with then-SEIU President Andy Stern, they created NUHW as an independent union in 2009. It has been organizing new workplaces and battling the SEIU to represent workers who had been part of the SEIU local once led by Rosselli. That has been a bitter battle, with the election to represent the largest block of workers initially won by SEIU but then overturned by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge due to misconduct by the SEIU and the employer, Kaiser Permanente.

While NUHW has seen some organizing successes, it still has relatively few members and, as an independent union that broke away from and is locked in a struggle with a large, powerful union, its status within the broader labor movement has been unclear—it has garnered support from some unions at some times, but many others question its legitimacy or tactics. Affiliating with a large, longstanding union like the IAM, then, would a major step forward for NUHW in terms of resources and perceived legitimacy. It’s less clear what the move offers the IAM, though the two unions’ joint press release suggests it’s not just NUHW that bears some animus toward the SEIU. A fact sheet (PDF) NUHW has posted on the IAM emphasizes the range of occupations represented by the IAM, its commitment to internal democracy, and its recent work organizing unemployed people; the union also won a victory at an Ikea Swedwood plant in Virginia last summer.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this one.

10:45 AM PT: Saying it wasn’t clear why the IAM would do this was something of an overstatement—I should note that the IAM is surely interested in NUHW as a union that’s been doing a lot of organizing and represents an industry with growth potential.