Delphi sparks protest

“We have put our lives into these factories, and they are just pretty much throwing us out in the street,” Jonell Sayles, a 29-year Delphi employee at the company’s Flint East plant, told the Flint Journal. Sayles and fellow workers’ will be picketing at two of the plant’s gates Feb. 16 to protest the company’s decision to abandon its historic spark plug production there.

Delphi, in bankruptcy court, has asked approval to cut workers’ pay from $27 per hour down to $9.50 in March. Now, according to a memo from UAW Local 651, the company is talking about $12.50 an hour, an offer UAW President Ron Gettelfinger calls insulting. Meanwhile a federal bankruptcy court judge approved the company’s plan to reinstitute a bonus program awarding $21 million to its top executives.

Gettelfinger said that Delphi has gone to court to enforce contracts with its suppliers, at the same time it is moving to have contracts it signed with its own workers thrown out.

Earlier last week, at a UAW legislative conference in Washington, the union proposed a “Marshall Plan” for the U.S. auto industry. The UAW’s Marshall Plan calls for federal aid “to help auto manufacturer and auto parts companies retool and expand U.S. facilities to produce flexible fuel and advanced technology vehicles to stop ‘off shoring’ of U.S. auto jobs.”

Gettelfinger also demanded a national solution to the nation’s health care crisis, calling for “a single-payer, universal, comprehensive, national health care plan for every man, woman and child.”

Update on BP disaster

The explosion which took 15 oil workers’ lives and injured 170 others at a BP Texas City oil refinery last year was the result of “willful and egregious” violations, said acting chief of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Jonathan Snare. OSHA levied a $21 million fine against the firm and turned the case over to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.

BP tried to blame workers for the accident. But the Steelworkers Union, which represents workers at the refinery, sent in their own investigating team. Management problems were the overwhelming cause of the tragedy, the investigation found. BP managers failed to replace antiquated equipment. They taught workers incorrect procedures. And management failed to install automatic shutdown devices to prevent the overflow of highly flammable hydrocarbons. Kim Nibarger, the union’s lead investigator, said last year.

Union care for Iowa kids

“I’ve got a little guy in my arms. Can you hold on a minute while I hand him off?” asked Des Moines home child care provider Matt Tapscott when reached by telephone. Tapscott is one of a majority of Iowa’s nearly 6,000 registered child care providers who have signed cards authorizing AFSCME to be their representative. Gov. Tom Vilsak issued an order Jan. 16 for the state to confer with the providers’ authorized representatives. AFSCME, which presented 3,208 cards, was certified as the representative. SEIU which entered the campaign later, lost its bid for representation, turning in 2,383 cards.

Tapscott and his wife Denise, both with early childhood education degrees, care for nine kids, including two of their own. “We have never had a voice at the table and never had a voice in discussions about improving the child care system,” he told the World. Tapscott is the president of a local child care association. His association along with 30 other child care support groups chose AFSCME to represent them, he said.

Iowa has 180,000 children in its child care system, with 50-60,000 cared for by registered caregivers. The new union members are concerned about improving quality of child care, training issues, health care and retirement. “We want to be able to say to young people, you can enter this field and not live in poverty the rest of your life. “

Workers are S.O.L. with DOL

An increase in the Department of Labor’s budget is going into “increasing competitiveness” with “Career Advancement Accounts,” said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao at a Feb. 6 press conference. On the other hand, the department’s budget will cut funds for job training and Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers who lose jobs to imports. It gives no new money for job safety and health or mine safety.

The Bush administration’s latest “accounts” program replaces four worker-training programs. Now grants to the states will fund $3,000 individual allowances to workers to retrain themselves however they choose for new skills.

How would the DOL budget help the workers displaced by Katrina, more than half of whom have not returned home? a reporter asked Chao. “Many have found permanent jobs elsewhere and other opportunities,” she responded. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported just four days earlier that the jobless rate among those Katrina-displaced workers is 26.3 percent.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood ( PAI contributed.