Posts Tagged: union busting

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Military Servicemen Working for General Dynamics Face Anti-Union Barrage

In These Times writer Mike Elk recently published a captivating story about military veterans working for government contractor General Dynamics who are forced to attend anti-union meetings on army bases. The company is doing this to prevent the workers from joining International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 286. They have even had high level executives fly in on private jets to help misinform the workers about the dangers of joining a union.

A union election was held June 29th but the IUOE has not been given an equal opportunity to share their side of the argument. However, as Elk’s story points out it seems that the tactics and their borderline legality have actually swayed many of the workers to want to unionize:

The story revolves around Jason Croic, an Iraq War veteran who is one of 120 workers, half of whom are veterans, being forced to attend these meetings.

“We have had these meetings where they provided one side of the story,” says Croic. “The message is we won’t be as employable to the Army as we are now because we won’t be as versatile. Being non-union, they say we are more attractive to the Army because we can be moved around easier.”

The union election is scheduled on June 29, and General Dynamics has been forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings nearly every day for the last month. These anti-union meetings aren’t being held on General Dynamic’s private property, but on public property at the U.S. Army base at Fort Lewis. The Army declined to comment for this story and has not taken a position on these meetings nor the claims that the workers voting to join a union would make them less attractive to the Army.

“I think it’s bullshit the way they are talking to us,” says Croic. “You think when it’s prior military veterans who have done their part, they wouldn’t do this kind of thing to us.”

This specific case shows the limitations of President Obama’s Executive Order 13494 which prohibits federal contractors from being reimbursed for the cost of their anti-union activity:

Under the cost principle of federal contracts, companies can bill additional unexpected labor costs above the price of their initial contract price to the federal government for reimbursement. The new rule simply prohibits federal contractors for seeking reimbursement for additional costs related to union-busting but it does not prohibit contractors from spending non-reimbursed money on union busting.

“The rule doesn’t mean they can’t hire anti-union consultants or hold meetings. They just can’t charge the costs to any contract,” says former Acting Deputy Administrator of Office of Federal Procurement Policy Richard C. Loeb, now a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School. Thus companies like General Dynamics, which received $19 billion in federal contracts in 2011, are essentially allowed to write in the costs of any potential union-busting before the bid for a project; the rule only prohibits them from asking for reimbursement later.

To read this story in its entirety visit Working In These Times.

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Department of Energy Drops Language to Protect Collective Bargaining Agreements

It seems like Obama does not want me to vote for him, WTF is this shit!?!?!

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In These Times Magazine, By Mike Elk

Workers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, run by the Department of Energy, who now risk losing union protections. (Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory)  

Last year, In These Times detailed how the Obama’s Administration Department of Energy was helping one of its contractors, Honeywell, force concessions on unionized nuclear weapons workers in Kansas City. Now it appears that the Department of Energy for the first time is removing successor contract language that protects unionized workers as a contract shifts from one contractor to another.

Currently, more than 2,400 nuclear weapons workers employed as contractors in both Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Amarillo, Texas, are represented by the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. “These two plants have been in existence since the 1940s. Many of the employees are second- and third-generation people who have worked there over the years for different contractors,” says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill.

However, for the first time in their over 60 year history, the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration plans to consolidate the contracts for the two facilities into one contract which will begin at the end of 2012. And for the first time, the bid language given out to contractors does not include guarantees that require the contractors to rehire the same unionized workers at similar rates.

According to a letter sent by AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department to the Department of Energy, “The NNSA has drafted a final Request for Proposal that does not contain the provisions that would require the successor contractor to employ the existing workforce. The final Request for Proposal also does not contain the provisions that require the successor contractor to maintain the wage rates and fringe benefits that have been provided to all employees in their collective bargaining agreements.”

The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment about why it would not include these provisions in writing. However, union leaders are worried that the absence of these provisions could open the door to contractors seeking to union bust at these facilities. AFL-CIO Metal Trade Department President Ron Ault says that he and other union leaders have met with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss their concerns, but that the Department has failed to listen to them and address their concerns.

“They have [completely changed] 63 years of procurement history. They just threw everything in the trash,” says Ault. “They are claiming to us that they are telling the contractors that they have to offer protections, but they won’t put it in any kind of writing. They are telling us they will chop the hell out of management, but will leave most of our employees alone. It is insane. They are telling us none of our fears will come to realization, but they will give us no protection in writing.”

Ault is baffled as to why a Democratic Department of Energy would fail to give assurances to protect the livelihood of workers at this nuclear weapons plant.

“Our question is why, after 60-some years of practices—why now? Why are we doing something that gives no written protection? These people … what they do is not making McDonald’s Chicken. They are building, remodeling, and refurbishing nuclear weapons.”

Ault feels that this move is yet another sign that the Obama administration’s Department of Energy is not protecting union workers employed by its contractors. As Ault told me in an interview last November, “Nobody can screw you like your friends. We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than Chu.”

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Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

An oldie, but a goodie:

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Sexist antics and union-busting cast doubt on American Apparel’s progressive cred

BY Ari Paul

Full disclosure: As I write this piece, I’m wearing a gray American Apparel T-shirt. In fact, I own more than one T-shirt from this company. The clothing is comfy and stylish, and you can get it for a price you can live with and without the burden of supporting sweatshop labor.

Once an obscure clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles, American Apparel stores have recently exploded, with 53 stores opening in five countries since 2003. Meanwhile, their sexy ads dominate the pages of trendy, urban magazines geared to the slightly liberal twenty-something set. Newspapers and TV shows have highlighted the rise of the company, celebrating the success of this self-proclaimed socially conscious, anti-sweatshop clothing line.

Lately, however, both my own experience and recent coverage have made it seem that, like any other clothing company, American Apparel is oppressive towards women and hostile towards workers and unions.

First, there are the ads. Ultra-sexy–some featuring porn actresses–their full-page magazine displays are most conspicuously not showcasing the socks. Jason Rowe, a columnist for New York University’s Washington Square News, puts it best: “Photographs of young women in compromising positions, some as young as 15, are juxtaposed alongside text giving accounts of meeting the models on the street and inviting them to be photographed, conveying the feeling of some sort of perverted conquest.”

But while the ads can be dismissed as a mere image problem, other, more institutional problems at the company have recently surfaced.

Founder and senior partner Dov Charney has been at the center of controversy over his fondness for sex in the workplace. In two separate sexual harassment lawsuits, writes Business Week, “two of the women accuse Charney of exposing himself to them. One claims he invited her to masturbate with him and that he ran business meetings at his Los Angeles home wearing close to nothing. Another says he asked her to hire young women with whom he could have sex, Asians preferred.”

The views he publicly expresses about women are equally dicey. In a Jane magazine article, Charney suggested that women who complain about come-ons at work are suffering from a “victim culture.”

“Out of a thousand sexual harassment claims, how many do you think are exploitative?” Charney asked, before opining, “women initiate most domestic violence.”

But while Charney’s misogynist views have only recently become a public concern, my doubts about the company’s progressive commitments go back further.

Last year, I was living in Chicago and looking for a third job to supplement my freelance writing and catering gigs. When I heard that American Apparel was opening a store in the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, I rushed to the spacious, luxurious loft apartment in Bucktown where the interviews were being held.

After filling out my application, I was called into the living room to meet my interviewer. But before we sat down, there was something all new applicants had to do. I stood up against the wall, said “Cheese,” and had my Polaroid taken.

“I’ll never get this job now,” I thought. There was an aesthetic they wanted in their employees that I was guessing I didn’t have. But I did have something that I thought would set me apart from the other applicants.

“Why do you want to work here?” my interviewer asked.

“Well, I’ve been a fan of your company’s mission for many years. I used to be active in the United Students Against Sweatshops.”

Apparently, my four years of anti-sweatshop campaigning at the University of Michigan and my affiliation with USAS, which has a track record of forcing many companies to adopt more humane labor standards, was a big black spot on my resume for this “sweatshop free” company.

The interviewer stopped taking notes when I mentioned USAS. She nervously looked straight at me, the first time she had done so in our entire conversation.

“Oh,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of problems with them.”

It seemed like an odd comment. Everyone I knew from USAS in Michigan either had no opinion of the company or liked it. The worst criticism I had heard was that such a venture doesn’t challenge industry standards, but only creates a niche for sweatshop-free clothes. A valid point, I thought, but even a niche is a place to start.

I asked what she meant.

She huffed that USAS kids in L.A. had worked with UNITE HERE, the garment workers’ union, and aggressively campaigned for a union at the company’s downtown L.A. manufacturing facility. She said that union activists visited the houses of many of the company’s workers to ask them about their workplace and if they wanted a union.

Her impatient tone subsided. She then smiled and told me in a cheery voice that the factory’s workers rallied against the union because working conditions were so favorable.

I told her that I knew nothing about this, and we rushed through the rest of the interview. I never got a call back. While it is possible that my un-hip appearance reduced my chances, I still wondered: Could my association with union activists have blacklisted me from this “progressive” company?

The UNITE HERE campaign was launched in September 2003. Even though American Apparel workers made higher wages, they lacked certain benefits guaranteed to union garment workers. Stephen Wishart, a senior research analyst with UNITE HERE, writes on its Web site, BehindtheLabel.org, “Issues such as no paid time off, lack of affordable healthcare, production methods, and treatment by supervisors were the main issues of workers trying to organize.”

When American Apparel heard the news, management got tough. Wishart reports, “The company’s activities included holding captive meetings with employees, interrogating employees about their union activities and sympathies, soliciting employees to ask the union to return their union authorization cards, distributing anti-union arm bands and T-shirts, and requiring all employees to attend an anti-union rally. The company’s most devastating tactic, though, was threatening to shut down the plant if the workers organized.”

These are rather excessive means, especially for a company that made its name by touting improved labor standards. Eventually, a complaint was filed to the National Labor Relations Board. The company backed off from the tactics, but the plant remains non-unionized as a result of Charney’s union-busting blitzkrieg.

Sure, we should be grateful that the success of anti-sweatshop clothing company shows that companies can make a profit and not exploit overseas workers. But seeing the company’s true intentions, it seems that its claims may just be part of an image designed to lure the younger generation to its product.

I don’t wholly buy the argument against American Apparel that says the company is only creating a niche for sweatshop-free goods. It is like Whole Foods, some argue, a store that doesn’t challenge the grocery store industry standards, but only makes organic food available to a small, bourgeois group that can afford it. American Apparel, according to this logic, doesn’t motivate Nike, for instance, to change its ways. A part of me believes that even creating a niche like that can bring change if a firm’s mission is really progressive.

But knowing that the company has bullied its workers, and that sexism pervades from the ad department up through the office of the CEO, it becomes clear that American Apparel is different only in degree, not kind, from its competitors.

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Editor’s note: Two corrections apply to the following article:

1) American Apparel was not charged with any labor violations as a result of the complaint that UNITE filed with the National Labor Relations Board. As part of a no-contest settlement, the company voluntarily posted a notice informing workers that it would not interfere with their rights to organize.

2) The quotes from Jane magazine are incorrect; they were sourced from an article in NYU’s student paper, Washington Square News. The Jane article is now available online. The domestic violence quote appeared in the Concordia University student paper, The Link. According to Charney, he never spoke to the reporter from The Link.

We regret these errors.
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When you have a economy based on consumerism and no one makes enough to buy anything, the system fails.  Give tax cuts to the rich won’t help one bit either.  Yes the rich buy all kinds of absurd expensive bullshit. However, they don’t buy nearly enough to make up for the black hole that is made by reduced consumer spending due to low wages and shitty jobs.  Eg, one rich guy buying 4 Porsches every year won’t make up for 100 people buying one new car each.  This also shows how the idea of a “fair tax” and increasing sales taxes to save the economy is the stupidest idea that only the most Fox News propagandized fools would believe in.  Additionally busting unions lowers wages for union workers and non union workers alike.  Lower wages mean less spending, less spending means economic collapse.  Funny to think that income inequality in the US is even worse than it was in the 1920’s.  You know what came after the 20’s?  The 30’s.  You know what happened in the 30’s?  The fucking Great Depression.

When you have a economy based on consumerism and no one makes enough to buy anything, the system fails.  Give tax cuts to the rich won’t help one bit either.  Yes the rich buy all kinds of absurd expensive bullshit. However, they don’t buy nearly enough to make up for the black hole that is made by reduced consumer spending due to low wages and shitty jobs.  Eg, one rich guy buying 4 Porsches every year won’t make up for 100 people buying one new car each.  This also shows how the idea of a “fair tax” and increasing sales taxes to save the economy is the stupidest idea that only the most Fox News propagandized fools would believe in.  Additionally busting unions lowers wages for union workers and non union workers alike.  Lower wages mean less spending, less spending means economic collapse.  Funny to think that income inequality in the US is even worse than it was in the 1920’s.  You know what came after the 20’s?  The 30’s.  You know what happened in the 30’s?  The fucking Great Depression.

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Change.org Promotes Corporate Education Agenda, Undermines Teachers

Change.org, a petition based social advocacy site, promotes organizations focused on corporate education at the expense of progressive values. The company recently ran a petition by Stand for Children – Illinois, an innocuous and misleading name, demanding the Chicago Board of Education and teacher’s union go back to the bargaining table. Harmless enough but the text of the petition reveals the organization’s for-profit and anti-teacher agenda, forcing a Chicago teacher to create a petition against Change.org on Moveon’s Signon petition site.

The letter sent to the board of education and the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis reads:

400,000 Chicago students could be locked out of Chicago classrooms because contract negotiations are starting to break down, causing a premature strike-authorization vote to occur before anyone knows what is in the contract proposal. We strongly call for all parties to bargain in good faith to reach a new agreement. Don’t hold our students hostage in a negotiation where they have no voice!

These words are the same talking points used by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, calling the vote premature and saying the students are being held hostage. Advocates of so-called “education reform” like to claim neither side looks out for the students’ interests. Meanwhile, CTU’s demands include lowering the student to teacher ratio, programs to educate the whole child, and improving the conditions of schools.

Change.org’s promotion of Stand for Children-Illinois runs counter to the company’s state mission.

We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear – fairness, equality, and justice. We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.

Chicago Public Schools teacher, Jennifer Johnson decided to demand Change.org’s founder and CEO, Ben Rattray, stop promoting anti-labor groups.

I’m a public school teacher who has taught high school History for 9 years in Chicago. I am one of many teachers who are tired of being blamed for everything that is wrong with public schools when our system is underfunded and our efforts under supported. I and other teachers have been trying to honestly negotiate with the school district, but they refuse to negotiate over the actual conditions in our schools. The district refuses to negotiate with teachers to fully provide and staff schools so that students receive basic art and music instruction or a reasonable number school nurses and counselors, playground and libraries. Forty percent of our schools do not have full time art and music programs. Ninety-eight of our schools don’t have playgrounds and 160 schools don’t have libraries at all.

The state of public schools in Chicago is not a result of teachers getting rich. Who goes into teaching expecting to retire a millionaire? The lack of music and art programs comes from state and city budget cuts. The City of Chicago has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from property taxes into a corporate slush fund for the Mayor. Tax Incremental Financing districts (TIFs) were supposed to help blighted areas but now serve to give millions to profitable companies. But it is the teachers union who is somehow at fault?

Sponsored campaigns (read paid campaigns) provide a great way for organizations to grow and spread their message. Sadly, Stand for Children does not uphold to common values stated by Change.org. Fairness, equality, and justice do not exist in the organization run by Jonah Edelman, who gave a very blunt speech last year.

So our analysis was he’s still going to be in power, and as such the raw politics were that we should tilt toward him, and so we interviewed 36 candidates in targeted races. … I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting because of Bruce Rauner’s leadership … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. That was really an show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.

After the election we went back to Madigan, and I confirmed – reviewed the proposal that we had already discussed and I confirmed the support. He said he was supportive. The next day he created an Education Reform Commission and his political director called to ask for our suggestions who should be on it. And so in Aurora, Ill., in December, out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal. In addition, we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a state public affairs firm. We had tens of thousands of supporters. … We raised $3 million for our political action committee. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees.

Edelman readily admits to buying off legislators in order to get a venture capitalist’s (Bruce Rauner) ideas enacted in Illinois. Edelman continues:

So in the intervening time, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor … and he strongly supports our proposal. Jim [apparently Crown] … talked about the talking point that we made up and he [Emanuel] repeated about a thousand times, probably, on the campaign trail about the Houston kids going to school four years more than the Chicago kids.

Dividing schools and taking away the rights of teachers only disenfranchises students. It takes away the person they interact with the most outside of their own parents! The steady increase in charter schools (who can pick their students) has further depleted resources in deteriorating public school buildings. Politicians want to listen to campaign contributors and lobbyists, instead of investing and trying to improve upon what is already in existence.

Change.org says they do not take any official position and only asks that the organizations are ethical in their practices and policies. Edelman’s blunt admissions show that Stand for Children is anything but ethical.

Stand and other organizations want to promote an education agenda that follows the same ideals of Michelle Rhee and her tenure in D.C. Her success though, falls short of her claims. The achievement gaps she left in D.C. point to failures of her leadership and ideology, not successful reforms.

For Change.org to promote and accept money from organizations like Stand for Children and StudentsFirst flies in the face of it’s own mission statement. The mere presence of these petitions deceives progressives and should be taken down. Sign the petition to stop these kinds of petitions! Yes, a little meta but it does make a difference.

*Full disclosure – I write as a freelancer for Care2.com’s Causes & News site. I have petitioned for the company to drop StudentsFirst and engaged internally my frustrations with their promotion of Rhee’s organization as well.

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RECALL THE CHEESE EATING UNION BUSTING RAT! Solidarity with my union sisters and brothers in Wisconsin!

Aside from union-busting, Walker also enjoys tanking the Wisconsin economy:
“Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also lost more private-sector jobs than any other state.”
http://www.csmonitor.com/
USA/Elections/Governors/2012/0425/Wisconsin-posts-biggest-US-job-loss-as-Gov.-Scott-Walker-fights-for-his-job

Let’s not forget another Walker past-time: corruption.
“The two-year-old corruption investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached a major inflection point just days before his recall election next week when it came out that Walker had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund and seemed to acknowledge that he is the center of the probe.”

http://www.salon.com/2012/
06/01/scott_walkers_john_doe_scandal_explained/singleton/


If you’re in Wisconsin, vote the champion of the 1% out, fuck the bosses!

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Red Cross internal union busting memo

Click the link to the facebook album.  Union busting rats…

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No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say

From NEA Today:

If many so-called education reformers really want to close the student achievement gap, they should direct their fire away from public school educators and take aim at the real issue—poverty. This was the consensus of a panel of policy advocates and academics that convened recently on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to discuss the impact of poverty on student learning over the past 40 years. The panelists presented data that showed the current state of student achievement and discussed what changes needed to be made to address the needs of students and schools in low socio-economic areas.

“It’s time to stop arguing whether schools prepare students for the future and launch a full scale attack on poverty,” said panelist Peter Edelman of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.

Joining Edelman on the panel were Sean Reardon, Professor of Education and Sociology at Stanford University School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey; Eric Rafael González an Education Policy Advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.; and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education.

The panel used their presentations to demonstrate how more affluent schools have made significant gains in academic improvement over the past 40 years while under-funded schools, despite making some strides, have been unable to close the achievement gap. The panelists urged lawmakers to avoid blaming the public school system and instead put programs in place to address the crippling poverty that obstructs student learning.

“We do have a responsibility to build a system of public schools that address poverty needs as soon as the students walk through the door,” Sciarra said.

The ability to reach and engage these students in an academic setting at an early age is obviously critical, but extreme funding shortages and misplaced priorities have prevented too many students from having access to a quality pre-kindergarten classroom. The panelists agreed that immersing students in education early would produce long-term, sustainable benefits for all students.

The stakes, Sciarra warned, are high.

“All 3 – 4 year olds need to be put in high-quality pre-schools or the achievement gap will never close,” he said

Unfortunately, a new report lays out how stark the funding picture is for early childhood education across the country. According to the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER), funding for state pre-K programs has plummeted by more than $700 per child nationwide over the past decade. Though enrollment in these programs has soared over the past 10 years, just 28 percent of all 4-year-olds and only 4 percent of all 3-year-olds are enrolled. NIEER also found that many states expanded enrollment without maintaining quality.

“Overall, state cuts to pre-K transformed the recession into a depression for many young children,” the report said.

NIEER’s report followed findings by the Schott Foundation for Public Education that detailed how lower-income students of color in New York City were being denied the critical resources needed to close the “opportunity gap” with more affluent students.

At the Capitol Hill forum, Sean Reardon of Stanford University demonstrated how the achievement gap between children from high-and low-income families is roughly 30 – 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than in 1976. If states received more financial assistance and listened to schools in determining how these funds should were allocated, the achievement gap between wealthier schools and struggling schools would slowly close.

Unless the funding course is reversed, financially strapped schools will continue to scramble to put together barely adequate programs and educational inequalities will only intensify.

“If we don’t discuss the poverty issue, we end up in a society where the American Dream becomes less and less possible,” said Reardon.

By Robert McNeely

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University of Michigan GSRAs sue over law that blocks effort to unionize

Two University of Michigan graduate student research assistants have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a recently passed law that bans them from unionizing.

Alix Gould-Werth and Christie Toth filed the suit against the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) in federal court Tuesday.

It claims that the law — which Michigan Republicans pushed through as an administrative judge was set to rule — violates the Michigan Constitution and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

They argue the law, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed March 13, singles out graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).

"It restricts a single class of public employees from the rights available to every other public employee, whether employed by a university, a college, a public authority, a school district, a city or a county," they said in the lawsuit. "(The law) asserts that graduate student research assistants are not employees without a factual basis for the conclusion."

Representatives from MERC couldn’t be reached for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a debate over the issue and is being watched closely at other Michigan universities that use GSRAs.

A group of GSRAs is asking MERC to overturn a 1981 ruling labeling GSRAs students. The U-M Board of Regents had voted 6-2 to both recognize the GSRAs as employees and oppose the new state law.

An administrative judge held hearings on the issue over the last month, but the Republican lawmakers pushed the bill through just as the judge was wrapping up hearings.

A group of GSRAs who oppose unionization characterized the lawsuit as a last-ditch attempt to push through a union election.

"We are confident that this latest attempt to interfere with the affairs of the university will be unsuccessful, and that U-M’s academic mission will remain free of outside influence," said Stephen Raiman, a U-M student and leader of the group.

Sam Montgomery, president of the Graduate Employee Union, said she is hopeful the court will rule in the GSRAs’ favor so MERC can decide the matter.

"GSRAs filed to have an election to form a union over a year ago — we just want to have a vote," she said in a statement.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com

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Is the Federal Government Helping to Bust Unions?

IAM Local 778 members picket outside the federally-owned Honeywell facility on October 10, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo by IAM Local 778)

Defense contractor Honeywell pushed concessions onto striking workers—and unions say Washington supported the company behind the scenes.

BY Mike Elk

'Nobody can screw you like your friends,' says AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department President Ronald Ault. 'We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than [President Obama's DOE Secretary Steven] Chu.”

For the third time in three years, defense contractor Honeywell International Inc. is deploying union-busting tactics in a government-affiliated workplace–and a federal agency is failing to stop the corporation’s behavior. This raises questions about whether Honeywell, a top contributor to the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm election cycle, is wielding political influence to successfully weaken unions.

In 2009, Honeywell threatened to bring in federal troops to replace Honeywell contractors threatening to strike at a military facility in Jacksonville, Fla. In 2010, the company brought in scab replacement workers to operate a uranium facility in Metropolis, Ill. (The federal government later ruled that Honeywell cheated on qualification tests so that it could replace striking United Steelworkers union members.)

Now, union workers on strike at a plant in Kansas City, Mo., allege that the Department of Energy (DOE) is abdicating its responsibility under federal law by allowing Honeywell to engage in illegal bargaining while the company attempts to force a concessionary contract on an International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union local. On October 10, 840 Honeywell workers–members of IAM Local Lodge 778 and contractors at a federal facility that produces components for nuclear weapons –went on strike, alleging that Honeywell had bargained in bad faith.

Local 778 Grand Lodge Representative Steve Nickel claims that Honeywell illegally bargained in bad faith by attempting to force the union to either accept concessionary contracts or go out on strike. Nickel claims that Honeywell informed them via express mail letter of their refusal to accept the union’s proposal before the bargaining period had expired at the end of October 7, and then prepared for a strike. He says the company engaged in take-it-or-leave-it bargaining when it refused to negotiate further. (Honeywell declined to comment for this story, but an ad the company ran in the Kansas City Star on November 8 read, “Honeywell has provided a last, best and final offer” and “continues to bargain in good faith.”

“In my fifteen years filing board charges, I have never seen such a clear-cut case of a company engaged in bad faith bargaining,” Nickel says.

Local 778 filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board immediately after union members rejected Honeywell’s final contract offer in early October. But late last week, the NLRB ruled against the union, rendering striking union members ineligible for unemployment insurance and giving Honeywell the right to permanently replace workers. Late on November 15, the NLRB ruled against the union in an initial set of board charges; thus denying the workers the right to collect unemployment while out on strike as well as giving the company the legal authority to permanently replace the workers.

As a result of the ruling, many workers on strike became discouraged and some crossed the picket line. On Sunday, November 20, union members ratified a six-year contract, which both management and the union agree is largely the same contract Honeywell initially proposed. It includes a two-tier wage system (new hires are the lower tier), the elimination of defined-pension plans for new hires and the elimination of retiree healthcare after 2017. Retiree healthcare had been a sticking point for workers at the Missouri facility, given that they work with the toxic material beryllium, which is associated with high rates of lung cancer.

Since 2009, Honeywell has been confronting unions at its facilities across the country as it tries to reduce its labor costs. The Fortune 100 company based in New Jersey has demanded that workers accept a two-tier wage system that pays new hires roughly half of what current employees are paid. Honeywell calls for the adoption of a retirement system that would pay out new employees roughly $25,000-$30,000 total over the course of their career, Nickel says. The company has also refused–in Kansas City and elsewhere–to budge from its position that union workers drop current healthcare coverage in favor of the healthcare coverage nonunion workers receive, which is a high-deductible insurance plan mixed with a healthcare savings account.

“Some of these people can’t work until their ’60s, when they are eligible for Medicare. They wind up going on medical disability, so they need something for them and their families,” Nickel says.

Not the same old bargaining story

But there is another dimension to the Kansas City conflict that makes the struggle there more than just the now-familiar story of a corporation trying to push concessionary contract down a union’s throat. Federal contract provisions stipulate that because Honeywell operates the Kansas City facility as a contractor for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the corporation can be reimbursed for the full cost of all wages and benefit increases that workers receive.

DOE service contract provisions similar to the federal Service Contract Act allow for the DOE to reimburse workers’ compensation. Department regulations give contract officers unilateral power to increase payment to contractors if any costs, including wages, go up (these officers can also refuse to cover such increases, if they exceed typical industry compensation packages). Increases have been routinely approved, according to the IAM, during the 12 years Honeywell has operated the Kansas City facility as the prime contractor.

So if it doesn’t ultimately bear the costs of its workers there, why is Honeywell so dead-set against the status quo when it comes to union workers’ wages, pensions and healthcare plan? The short (and counterintuitive) answer is that the company stands to profit from the strike–both financially and politically.

Before the strike began in October, Honeywell mangers had union workers over-produce nuclear weapon components in order to build up inventories, according to the IAM. Since the strike began, the company has used several hundred nonunion employees at the plant to continue some production and shipment of goods. According to Honeywell’s website, 203 shipments were sent out the week of October 31, 21 days after the strike began.

A crucial point that helps Honeywell’s bottom line is that the company’s contract with the federal government is fixed on products delivered, not labor cost. This means that if Honeywell keeps production normal at the Kansas City plant, it can claim the $7.5 million per month it would normally pay 840 striking workers as profits. The federal contract is fixed till 2013, so Honeywell could make a huge windfall profit by antagonizing workers, and inspiring them to remain on strike.

The company is in a sweet spot: Under federal labor law, it can hire replacement workers. Indeed, the company has already announced plans to hire as many as 600 scab replacement workers, at half the average union worker’s salary, as it digs in for the strike.

Behind the scenes DOE pressure?

But this struggle is about more than just corporate profits, according to union officials. By pushing for major concessions from workers, Honeywell may be currying favor with the DOE, which is looking to save money as politicians on Capitol Hill look to close the federal deficit.

In 2006, DOE attempted to implement the Directive 351.1, which “effectively forbids the negotiation of defined benefit pension,” according to the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. Because of strong opposition in Congress and a bitter fight between organized labor and the DOE, it was never implemented.

“The directive says that contractors will not be reimbursed for the costs of defined benefit plans for new hires, or for post-retirement health care,” and it will penalize contractors with defined pensions for current employees that cost above a certain amount, the Metal Trades department says (PDF link).

Although not in effect, it has still negatively affected many employees working for DOE contractors, according to AFL-CIO. In 2010 alone, contractors in five different facilities discontinued defined-benefit pension plans out of fear that Directive 351.1 might be implemented.

But Metal Trades Department President Ronald Ault says this is about more than a corporation hedging its bets against a potential regulatory change–the DOE is quietly pushing Honeywell behind the scenes to strip pensions and retiree health coverage so the agency can trim its costs.

“Honeywell would get reimbursed for whatever wage increases [workers] want,” Ault says. But company officials “do whatever the DOE wants them to do. DOE could absolutely step in and get involved, they could direct the contract.” Instead, he says, federal officials “quietly whisper behind the scene to implement DOE 351 to cut DOE’s costs. Nobody can screw you like your friends. We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than [President Obama’s DOE Secretary Steven] Chu.”

By calling for workers’ benefits to be cut, Honeywell and its CEO David Cote–the only business leader serving on President Barack Obama’s 19-person deficit commission–improves their political image. (Given that it paid no corporate income taxes between 2008 and 2010 despite making $4.9 billion in profits, Honeywell needs to bolster its image to increase its chances of winning more federal contracts.) In the November 8 Kansas City Star ad, the company stated it “is committed to being a good steward of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars and federal assets.”

The Honeywell-DNC connection

Finally, by demanding huge concessions, Honeywell is attempting to weaken its unions, as it has done throughout the country at both federal contractor and private-sector facilities. A two-tier wage system weakens solidarity by pitting younger workers against older workers. By forcing the union to strike, Honeywell hopes to crush the union’s willingness to resist concessions again.

Union workers say the DOE could be getting involved to help out workers and bring the strike to end. “DOE sits back and acts like they are non-participants when, in fact, they control nearly every aspect of our working conditions,” says Jay Puckett, an IAM member who works at the Kansas City facility.

DOE spokeswoman Gayle Fisher said the National Nuclear Security Administration “has been an interested but neutral observer during the contract dispute. We would like to see the negotiations continue so that an agreement can be reached and everybody can get back to work and help fulfill our important mission here in Kansas City.”

The Department of Energy’s decision not to get involved raises questions about whether or not Honeywell’s outsized political influence is connected to the Department of Energy’s decision to remain neutral in the labor struggle.

Beginning in 2009, at about the same time that Honeywell began aggressively confronting unions at facilities in Florida and Illinois directly connected to federal contracts, Honeywell has sharply increased its political donations; in 2010, the company’s political action committee was the top PAC contributor to the Democratic Party.

In a sign of the company’s increasing connection to the Democratic Party, earlier this month Honeywell hired Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Stacey Bernards as its new vice president of government relations. CEO David Cote has also done political favors for the White House and the Democratic Party: He helped introduce the president’s stimulus package at a press conference in early 2009 and was crucial to keeping the powerful Chamber of Commerce from opposing the legislation, helping to give the Obama administration a crucial first victory.

Labor rights used to be a core value of the Democratic Party. But its growing ties to Honeywell–which has lately distinguished itself as clearly anti-union–shows that these days, the party is more interested in management.

This story was updated on Monday November 21 to note the outcome of Sunday’s IAM contract ratification vote.