Bush health care plan ‘sticks it to workers’

American workers know a raw deal when they see one, said Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. Gerard was responding to President Bush’s State of the Union proposal to tax health benefits. The plan sets no standards for covering the uninsured while “sticking it to workers who have employer health care coverage,” Gerard charged. Two-thirds of Americans receive their health benefits through employer coverage.

Americans are ready for big ideas to solve the health care crisis, the USW president continued, but the Bush plan is a “back door attempt to saddle union workers with a tax for the health care benefits they negotiate through collective bargaining.”

GE negotiations looming

There is no good economic reason for GE to shift its medical costs to employees, a leader of the United Electrical Workers union told a meeting of nearly 300 IUE-CWA Local 201 members in Lynn, Mass. Running up to the opening of negotiations, “GE is trying to create an atmosphere of inevitability about the need for savings on its medical costs for both active and retired employees,” Stephen Tormey, secretary of the UE-GE Conference board, warned.

National contract negotiations with GE are expected to begin in early May with a coordinated bargaining committee that involves 14 international unions, including both UE and IUE-CWA. The current GE national union agreements covering 20,000 workers expires on June 17.

The new contract will also impact tens of thousands of retirees, nonunion workers and lower level managers, said a Local 201 statement. Retirees and their spouses already pay nearly $400 a month for their benefits, while active workers family medical and prescription costs average more than $100 a month, said Local 201 Business Agent Ric Casilli.

Tormey cited GE’s record $20.7 billion profits for 2006, pointing out that “in the last month the company had the cash to spend almost $15 billion on acquiring three new companies.”

GE union members walked out nationwide for two days in January 2003 to stop GE from raising premiums.

‘Labor’ re-instated to House directory

Bosses never stop dreaming of schemes to preserve their profits while doing away with those troublesome folks who produce them — workers. Congressional Republicans realized that goal — at least semantically — 12 years ago when they changed the name of the House committee that deals with labor from the House Education and Labor Committee to the “Committee on Education and Economic Opportunities.”

Well, we’re back! Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who took over the chairmanship of that committee, which deals with wages, workers’ rights and job safety issues, announced that it will once again be known as the Committee on Education and Labor, the name it took when it was established in 1867.

Pride pushes minimum wage

Many workers in the LGBT community face low-wage jobs and stagnant pay, said Nancy Wohlforth, co-president of Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituency group.

Ten other LGBT organizations joined PAW in signing a letter urging the Senate to pass the Fair Minimum Wage bill through the Senate. A statement from PAW disputed what it called “the long-held myth of economic affluence among gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.” The groups’ letter stated: “Our community is diverse, with workers coming from many different economic backgrounds. An increase to the minimum wage would provide real relief to millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers who currently work for $5.15 an hour.”

Wohlforth commented that she was proud “to see so many LGBT organizations standing together with the working-class members of our community.”

NLRB to rule on union access to e-mail

Can unions use company e-mail to communicate with workers? The National Labor Relations Board will take on this question in a case this spring.

The case involves The Newspaper Guild’s Local 37194, which represents 150 staffers at the Eugene, Ore., Register-Guard. The paper is challenging the union’s rights, across the board, to use e-mail in communicating with its 150 members there.

The paper’s management says its policy bans using its e-mail “to solicit or proselytize for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations or other non-job-related solicitations.” The paper says the ban covers the union. The Guild says it doesn’t.

Among the issues the board will tackle is whether union members can use the e-mail system to discuss “union or other concerted, protected matters” — such as wages, hours and working conditions — defined by labor law.

If so, what restrictions may an employer place on the e-mails and if not, can the paper permit non-job-related e-mails but not those related to the union? Another question before the Board is whether e-mail access is a mandatory subject for bargaining, just like wages and hours. PAI

Union sports people take aim

Seventy percent of union members hunt or fish, and that important part of their lives is the basis for a new Union Sportsman’s Alliance that some say could fundamentally reshape the environmental movement.

Twenty labor unions with 5 million members are joining forces with a Republican-leaning umbrella group of conservationists — the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership — to put pressure on Congress and the Bush administration to increase federal funding for protecting wildlife habitat while guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers.

The International Association of Fire Fighters is one of the project’s founding unions. The IAFF says the alliance “comes at a time when the Bush administration, with its push for oil and gas drilling in the Rock Mountain West, has limited public access to prime hunting and fishing areas on federal land.

The TRCP includes most of the nation’s mainline hunting and fishing groups. Jim Range, chairman of its board, predicted that the alliance will create an influx of millions of new supporters to the cause of land conservation.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the Fire Fighters union, said the alliance “is about connecting with our members, doing good conservation work and offsetting some of these anti-union messages they are getting from the NRA.”

“This is a way for unions to reconnect with workers in another portion of their lives,” said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. “It is also going to give the conservation movement a lot more muscle.”

The new alliance, launched Jan. 16, will charge dues of $25 a year.

This isn’t labor’s first initiative with environmental groups. The Apollo Alliance is a national partnership that brings unions together with environmental groups to promote job growth in “green” industries.

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