Give unions some credit

Jim Wavada, a union member who lives in Spokane, Washington, got fed up recently with right-wingers who have been trashing unions in their letters to The Spokesman Review. His letter to that newspaper follows:

I’ve had it with letting the willfully ignorant advance the billionaire’s club agenda. Gene Scolavino’s (Letters, March 19) is just the latest.

Point 1: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, unlike Dick Armey at Tea Party Express or Karl Rove at Americans for Prosperity, was actually elected to his position by union members in a democratic process.

Point 2: The “pro-union mob” in Wisconsin looked a lot like schoolteachers with children in tow, social workers, farmers, policemen and firemen.

Point 3: My union president has a day job at a social service agency. Her union time is donated. Where does Dick Armey pick up his paycheck?

Point 4: My union’s political contributions are completely voluntary by rule created by members by majority vote. Of course most of these voluntary donations go to Democratic candidates. Where else would they go? Has the tea party Republican shown anything but contempt for unionized workers?

Point 5: As unappreciative as Mr. Scolavino may be, here’s what union members died to give him and his friends: child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour day, overtime pay, annual vacation, workplace safety rules, fair promotion policies, pension plans, sick leave, health insurance.

Facts are hard things.

More union ferries coming to New York

There will soon be more union crews running ferries that will steam around the rivers of New York City.

According to the Seafarers Log, New York Waterway, a Seafarers-unionized firm, will soon launch an expanded city-sponsored commuter ferry service up and down the East River.

The 16 ferries, to be crewed by more than 100 Seafarers, will run for at least three years under a $9 million city contract that has been awarded. The service will run every 20 minutes. “At minimum, this should mean a solid opportunity for steady work,” said Seafarers Vice President Joseph Soresi.

Flight attendants allege discrimination

A lawsuit, filed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA in federal court in Minneapolis, outlines how the “New Delta” airlines management is engaging in discrimination against flight attendants at the former Northwest Airlines, whom AFA-CWA previously represented.

The discrimination includes lower pay, a profit-sharing bonus that was half of that given to former Delta attendants, and refusal to align crew schedules.

The lawsuit also cites Delta management statements telling former Northwest attendants nothing would change unless AFA-CWA dropped its charges of management interference in last year’s union representation election loss at the merged carrier. Those statements amount to a clear case of retribution against the Northwest attendants for having supported the AFA-CWA, the union says, and violate the Railway Labor Act.

The suit is the latest part of a long drive for union representation at the “New Delta,” formed in 2008 when non-union Delta swallowed up the unionized Northwest.

The union, which lost two prior recognition elections at Delta, tried again at the combined carrier. It lost by just 300 votes out of more than 19,000 cast, amid massive management interference. The Machinists also lost three elections at the “New Delta.”

After its latest loss, the AFA-CWA filed charges last November with the National Mediation Board, which oversees airlines and railroads, seeking to set the vote aside and order a re-run.

In retaliation, Delta management gave a profit-sharing bonus this year of 6.5 percent to former Delta attendants and only 3.2 percent to former Northwest attendants. The former Northwest attendants are also earning smaller salaries than the former Delta attendants.

The divide and conquer approach, unfortunately, shows some signs of having worked. The union’s suit acknowledges that upset former Northwest attendants have called and e-mailed the union, saying that because of the lower bonuses they will not vote for the union even if another election is held.

The pay differences break the law, the union says, which bars the airline from “interfering, influencing or coercing” workers into voting against unions.

Some good news for labor in the Midwest

A mass rally of St. Louis workers and union lobbying there helped convince the GOP-run Missouri state senate to sidetrack a planned “right to work” bill on March 14.

Further north, in Illinois, Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she is working with state lawmakers to make contractor violation of prevailing wage laws into a felony. The proposal would also ban violators from working on public projects for four years.

…and West

The office of Idaho’s Republican attorney general has told GOP state lawmakers, in advisory letters, that two anti-labor laws they approved earlier this year may violate federal law and that one of the laws, the Open Access to Work Act, in addition to possibly violating federal law, fails to ban project labor agreements, which the GOP hoped it would.

The other law, the Fairness in Contracting Act, would fine union contractors or subcontractors up to $100,000 if they “pay or receive market recovery or job targeting subsidies” from unions.

The Idaho AFL-CIO notes that such programs are used to help union contractors compete with lower cost, non-union bidders while paying union-scale wages.

The Fairness in Contracting Act might violate the federal Landrum-Griffin Labor Management Relations Act, according to the Idaho attorney general. “It is difficult to discern how the Fairness in Contracting Act would advance an “interest so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility” to warrant an assumption that Congress intended to leave room for state regulation.

“Not only does Davis-Bacon itself address the rebate issue, but the scope of a legitimate state interest in how the federal government manages federal-funded construction projects also would likely be deemed limited, given the Davis-Bacon’s anti-rebate provision that offers the same protection” as the new state law, the attorney general said. “Under these circumstances, successfully defending against a federal preemption challenge would be problematic,” said the Idaho attorney general.”

The two anti-union measures in Idaho are seen by the labor movement as part of a national campaign by corporate interests, the radical right and the Republican Party to strip all workers, not just those in unions, of union rights and good-paying jobs.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.