AFSCME, SEIU unite against cuts

Two of the nation’s largest unions of health care workers are joining forces to target 11 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives in an all-out effort to defeat budget cuts passed last month by Congress (see related story, page 1).

The budget cuts would limit access to nursing home care and other vital health services for seniors in order to free up $70 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy, said Gerald McEntee, president of the State, County and Municipal Employees Union, and Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees, in a joint press conference Jan. 17. Getting the House to eliminate these cuts in the vote on final passage is the goal of the unions’ campaign. The vote is scheduled for Feb. 1.

The two unions will run a seven-day television ad campaign in the districts of Republicans Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, and Chris Shays of Connecticut, Jo Anne Emerson (Mo.), Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.), Jim Nussle (Iowa), Mark Green (Wis.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.) and Mike Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania. See the ads online at actnow.org/press/.

No-raid pact

In another unity initiative, AFSCME has signed agreements with Unite Here and the Food and Commercial Workers not to raid where established collective bargaining relationships exist. The AFSCME agreement with Unite Here also establishes a joint committee to address issues of union density and jurisdiction.
Union membership up

Union membership increased by 213,000 last year, according to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Jan. 20.

“In a political climate that’s hostile to workers’ rights, these numbers illustrate the extraordinary will of workers to gain a voice on the job despite enormous obstacles,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. With the increasing size of the work force, union density remained steady at 12.5 percent, halting a decline in recent years. The DOL numbers also revealed what Sweeney called “the union advantage,” an increase in union members’ wages double the increase in non-union wages in 2005.

The number of workers who want to be union members — 57 percent — is five times that who actually enjoy union membership, said Sweeney’s statement. He renewed his call for Congress to restore workers’ freedom to form union by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

AFA salvages pensions

Members of the Association of Flight Atttendants are slated to vote in February on a tentative pension deal reached with United Airlines. Months of protests by the union’s members scaled back the damage wreaked on their pensions via the company’s bankruptcy maneuvering. Despite cuts, flight attendants have succeeded in fundamentally preserving their retirement security, union spokesperson Sarah Nelson Delacruz told the World. “We got United to double its original proposal,” under which two-thirds of flight attendants would have lost over half of their pensions, Delacruz said. Now, with the combination of the benefit from the federal Pension Guarantee Board and a defined contribution plan funded by United, there will be about 77 percent income replacement for virtually all retirees.

“We maximized our leverage. We did better due to the fight we waged,” Delacruz said.
“But the replacement of a defined benefit program with a defined contribution is a larger issue,” Delacruz explained. “This government is encouraging the collapse of retirement security and the defined benefit system so they can get the broker fees for their friends on Wall Street. It’s the same thing they’re trying to do with Social Security.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. bankruptcy judge overruled the objections of airline unions and approved United’s plans to offer $115 million in incentives to certain management personnel.

“It may well be that we have a culture in this country that overcompensates management,” said Judge Eugene Wedoff, in an unusual moment of candor. “But United is just one enterprise that operates in that general environment.”

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org).

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