ERIE, Pa.: GE workers demand fair contract

Three busloads of workers drove to northwestern Pennsylvania from Louisville, Ky., to stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of General Electric workers from here and from Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, June 4, demanding a raise in pensions and the defense of new workers from one of the world’s wealthiest corporations.

Under the umbrella of a coordinated bargaining committee, 13 U.S. unions are facing off against GE, which reported $163 billion in revenue in 2006 and net profits of nearly $21 billion. GE CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt took home $16,190,046, according to the AFL-CIO. Contracts covering 23,000 U.S. manufacturing workers expire June 17.

In 2005, GE employed 316,000 workers in scores of countries on every continent. GE owns NBC/Universal, and some financial analysts argue that GE is actually a financial corporation with entertainment and manufacturing arms. The company faced criminal action in 1990 for defrauding the U.S. Department of Defense, and again in 1992 for corrupt practices in selling weapons to Israel.

Union members have been preparing for a strike since October 2006. The June 4 rally was part of the process. GE’s demand to lower benefits for new workers would make “our generation to be the last generation to enjoy a better standard of living than our parents,” said United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 506 President Frank Fusco. “That will happen unless we stop it.”

Lynda Leech, Local 618 president, declared, “GE is sending a storm our way. We cannot let them win. We must stand together.”

Carrying a copy of GE’s contract proposals to a coffin, Local 506 Business Agent Pat Rafferty said GE has grown “by making more than $65,000 off of each of you” in 2006 alone. “Their pension fund is $15 billion over funded, yet now GE wants to attack new hire retirement benefits.”

CHICAGO: Skyrocketing gas prices ignites drivers

Sticker shock at the pump, which has driven up gasoline prices to nearly $4 a gallon, galvanized a citywide coalition to set up a human chain around a downtown BP station and then march to the offices of Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

“It is simply impossible to pay $50 a week on gas for the car, plus $100 a month for electricity and $250 a month for heat, when you make $800 a month and still have to pay for rent and food,” said Molly Rose, an activist with Affordable Power/Health, a coalition member.

The Rev. Ira Acree of St. John Bible Church charged that the state of Illinois is gouging motorists. “The state is double dipping on gasoline taxes,” he told the World. “It charges 20 cents on every gallon for state fuel tax and another 5 cents sales tax.” He called upon Gov. Rod Blagojevich to follow former Gov. George Ryan’s actions and repeal the sales tax until prices come down.

At Sens. Durbin’s and Obama’s offices, the coalition delivered petitions calling for immediate price relief and an investigation into price fixing by the oil monopolies.

LORAIN, Ohio: Steelworkers protest illegal searches

The picket line was up at U.S. Steel’s Lorain Works, June 7, as members of USW 1104 protested the corporation’s aggressive “security” policies.

“This has arisen out of frustration,” said local 1104 Recording Secretary Glenn Loughrie.

Steelworkers are frustrated said Wally Lijana, union grievance committeeman. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Lijana said that shortly after the local union elections, spring of 2006, U.S. Steel cracked down. Since then when an accident is reported, the company sends workers to be drug tested. If the company hospital is closed, mill security escorts workers to the community hospital. “That can be embarrassing and demeaning,” he said.

Of the 360 workers U.S. Steel ordered drug tests for, nine came back positive. None of the positives involved Local 1104 members, said Lijana. About 200 union members were tested.

Since the first of the year, plant security — U.S. Steel’s private police force — performed vehicle searches, going through glove compartments and trucks, forcing steelworkers out of the driver’s seat. They confiscated hatchets used for chopping wood and fish filleting knives.

Union officials are optimistic that the plant gate picket line will help bring the company to the table to resolve their grievances, but they are waiting for a phone call.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.: Voters could cast ballot on Iraq withdrawal

With the California primary scheduled for Feb. 5, 2008, voters will not only make their choice for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, but may have an opportunity to speak out on a “speedy withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Iraq. On June 6, the state senate voted 25-12, along party lines, to place a troop pullout ballot question before the primary voters.

The bill introduced by state Senate President pro tem Don Perata, a Democrat, now goes to the full Assembly, where passage is assured, and then to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

The measure asks voters whether President Bush should “immediately begin the safe and orderly withdrawal” of forces from Iraq and whether the U.S. should provide “necessary diplomatic and nonmilitary assistance” to help build peace and stability.

The ballot question would provide Californians with “a voice in the future of our country, at a time when that voice needs desperately to be heard,” said Perata, urging the governor’s signature.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 Marilyn Bechtel, Paul Kaczocha, David Perechocky and John Thompson contributed to this week’s clips.