It was a day like today—60s and sunny, decades ago—when I swung from the top of a telephone pole and thought I had the best job in the world. A few months earlier, in the Detroit winter, not so much. I remember phoning a customer from the pole behind her house and hearing her tell me she could see a man working on the pole back there. When I visited another customer’s home, climbing boots and tool belt and all, she called me “operator.”
When I told friends I was on my way to the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer conference, held last weekend, they all said, “I bet that’ll be a bunch of long faces.” I predicted not—these were people who’d always known the health care reform debate in Congress would come up short. Yet the 124 delegates to the March 5-7 conference in Washington were upbeat.
Ask a union member what’s the bedrock of a union contract, and most will answer “seniority.” Long established as the way to keep the manager’s brother-in-law from getting the good jobs, companies have learned to live with taking turns and following recall lists.
Yesterday Rich Trumka announced a deal with the White House: high-cost union health care plans won’t be subject to an excise tax till 2018—five years later than almost everyone else. Trumka made clear that the intent of the changes the unions brokered is to make so many groups exempt from the tax that in practice it will almost never be applied. But why build a pretzel around the right thing?
In 2007 Teamsters in scores of small Chicago shops, and a few big ones, capped years of organizing against corrupt leaders and stolen elections by electing a reform slate to head 11,000-member Local 743. Attendees at the 2008 Labor Notes Conference heard President Richard Berg tell the inspiring story of how persistence had enabled the slate to slash officers’ salaries, get rid of do-nothings, and beef up representation and education.
Auto workers outshone the tea-party types as dueling demonstrations took place in the snow outside the Detroit Auto Show today. Small numbers of auto workers gathered to say government should use its role in the auto bailout to direct the factories toward job-creating green products such as high-speed trains and wind turbines—and should enact Medicare for All.
Chris Kutalik reported here recently that there’s something called the “lean community,” which exists to (1) spread the gospel of lean production and (2) make sure the name of lean is not blasphemed. “It’s not about speedup! Workers love lean production!”
Sometimes high-paid jobs provoke a lot of envy and resentment. But sometimes you feel a lot more comfortable when workers in certain positions are making more than a living wage. While attending the Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention Friday, I met a pilot who took home $26,000 last year as a first officer (that’s the one who sits on the right). And he’s union.
“It’s time to close the concessions stand," said the New Directions Slate, and members of Teamsters Local 814 in New York City agreed—they’ve just voted 406-154 for a reform slate headed by Jason Ide and Richie Johnson.
Despite heavy pressure from United Auto Workers officials, Ford workers are voting against concessions this week. The two largest ‘no’ votes came from assembly plants in Kansas City and Walton Hills, Ohio: 92 and 88 percent.
Bloomberg News reported today that thus far four plants with 6,100 UAW members have voted yes and seven plants with 11,400 members have voted no. In most locals reporting a ‘yes’ majority the margin is slim, as at Local 900 west of Detroit, with 51 percent in favor.