After unprecedented interference from politicians and out-of-state extremists like Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted 712–626 against representation by theUAW that would have led to the establishment of a works council, the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the workers stood up to “enormous odds to try to form their own union and to create an historic new model of workplace governance.” He adds:
Unconscionably, what should have been a local workplace decision by workers and management was turned into an experiment in new forms of right-wing zealotry over issues having nothing to do with how stakeholders decided for themselves the best way to build automobiles and create a strong Chattanooga community.
While Volkswagen had agreed to remain neutral, Republican lawmakers and right-wing groups mounted a large-scale anti-union attack. UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s southern organizing, says:
Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.
Says UAW President Bob King:
While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union.
But, make no mistake, the closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat.
The following is a guest post from Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers. It originally appeared on The Huffington Post
The GOP is all about freedom—for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.
When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.
Usually, the GOP explains this as picking sides. In one corner, the corporation sits whining that it doesn’t want unions pressuring executives to more equitably share the fruits of workers’ labor. In the other corner, workers assert they have the right to organize and demand better pay and treatment. In this match up, Republicans always bet on the deep-pocketed corporation. When there’s no fight, when both executives and workers want a union, Republicans still oppose workers’ rights. That’s because organized labor has always stood for everything the GOP hates: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the 40-hour workweek. Republicans denounce workers exercising their right to concerted action, at the workplace and in Washington.
Volkswagen is the perfect example. Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is [not opposing] an attempt by the UAW to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant.
VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, similar to those it has in Germany. In Europe, these groups of white- and blue-collar workers collaborate on issues such as plant rules, work hours and vacations. In VW’s experience, cooperating with employees through these councils increases productivity and profitability.
Because the councils discuss labor issues such as work hours, VW and the UAW have determined that to legally establish them in Chattanooga, the plant must be unionized.
VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”
They ignored him—disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions.
They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.
Just last month, the Jobs with Justice Education Fund released a study titled, “Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity.” The research shows that government saved millions and improved service when it established collaborative working relationships with unionized public workers.
For example, the report says, such collaboration helped the Federal Aviation Administration save millions when it installed new technology at air traffic control centers. A division of the Navy that designs and builds ships used labor-management councils to improve productivity and quality.
Similarly, Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast and blog, wrote in The New York Times last week about a cooperative relationship between Harley-Davidson and the two unions that represent workers at its York, Pa., assembly plant. They are the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW).
Before Wall Street crashed the economy, inefficiency was part of the all-American motorcycle company’s charm, Davidson wrote. But during the great recession, high costs and slow turnaround threatened to bankrupt the icon. Harley rejected the paths of too many predecessor manufacturers—robots, union-busting and off-shoring. Instead, it chose to actively cooperate with its highly paid, exceedingly skilled and deeply devoted workers and redesign its plant to increase productivity. Workers accepted layoffs and pay freezes to save the company.
On the day Davidson visited the plant, one worker solved several production problems, saving Harley millions of dollars. Millions. The turnaround earned Harley an Industry Week Best Plants award last year. Davidson noted that while fewer than 10 percent of American manufacturing workers are unionized, more than 30 percent of the finalists for the Industry Week award are.
The Jobs with Justice report says the cooperative examples it uncovered demonstrated “the power of partnerships that, if adopted by comparable agencies and unions, will help transform antagonistic, outmoded and inefficient labor relations models.”
But Republicans Norquist, Haslam and Corker are doing their darndest to make sure that can’t happen at VW in Chattanooga.
There, Matt Patterson, who heads a Norquist puppet group opposing the UAW, explained to The New York Times the real reason the Republicans are fighting the UAW: “Unions are very political, the UAW is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”
There it is. The truth about the GOP’s opposition to unions. Republicans hate that unions are organizations of workers who traditionally have fought to ensure that their government serves workers with programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs that Americans love and that they’re willing to pay taxes to support.
This week, 1,600 VW assembly workers will vote on whether to be represented by the UAW. They have the right to self-determination without GOP carpetbagger interference.
While 11.3% of U.S. workers officially belong to unions, the labor movement is much larger. The movement isn’t limited to official union members and the last year showed that, as workers marched side by side, union members or not, to fight back against injustices championed by corporate interests that are out of touch with America’s working families. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the federation’s constitutional convention in Los Angeles, “Politicians and employers want to divide us; they try it every single day. They want to tell us who can be in our movement and who can’t, and we can’t let them.”
An article at The American Prospect describes the trend of new ways workers are standing up for their rights:
Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—’alt-labor’ activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet, before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions?
Who isn’t being counted in those official numbers? A lot of people:
Striking fast-food workers who are calling for a $15-an-hour wage.
Walmart workers who went on strike for Black Friday.
Day laborers who have joined one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide.
Restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers and domestic workers organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions.
Millions of members of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
These numbers also don’t count people like the college athletes who are seeking to unionize and the many workers who are trying to form unions but are thwarted by employers or weakened labor law.
Some of the extremists opposed to these groups want them limited in their ability to organize, while not wanting to count them in the official numbers, so labor looks weaker. As the Prospect notes:
However, in a 21st century economy in which collective bargaining has been so severely weakened by structural changes and the roll back in workers’ rights, these new labor activists represent an important frontier for people concerned about worker power and economic inequality writ large. You know that workers are on to something when employers start to get nervous. It turns out the low union membership statistics may not be as good a measure of labor’s future as employers would hope.
And the reality behind those official statistics, and the rise of alt-labor, should be heartening to supporters of working families.
Last spring, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter approached National College Players Association (NCPA) President Ramogi Huma about help in getting college athletes more of a say in their own fate so they can improve playing conditions. Huma and Colter worked with the United Steelworkers (USW) and this week they filed the paperwork and cards with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seeking to establish the first union for college athletes in history called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). The number of players who signed union cards wasn’t disclosed, but Colter expressed that it was more than enough for the process to move forward.
Colter explained the reasons he thought union representation was important for players:
The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern. We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players—at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come. Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.
As was bound to happen, the NCAA replied with some boilerplate nonsense and confidence that it didn’t have to do anything else to compensate or protect players who make member schools billions of dollars a year:
The NCAA responded with a statement from Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy who said, “student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act,” and that there is no existing employment relationships between the “NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.”
“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” Remy said in the statement. “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”
The labor movement was quick to endorse the players desire for a union. USW is the union of record on the paperwork the players submitted. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) also expressed support for theircollege counterparts.
Too many athletes who generate huge sums of money for their universities still struggle to pay for basic necessities, and too many live in fear of losing their scholarships due to injury or accident….These students deserve some assurance that when they devote weeks, months and years of their lives to an academic institution, that they will not be left out to dry, without the same basic protections that we all expect from the institutions we serve.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka alluded to the challenges college athletes face being part of the larger labor struggle:
The lesson that strength comes from standing together is one Colter has learned fulfilling his 60-hour-plus weeks as a football player, and it is true for all workers, whether they teach school, build Volkswagens in Chattanooga, [Tenn.,] or serve as home health care workers.
With that context in mind, here are eight reasons college athletes need a voice on the field:
1. Sports can kill you: There are many stories over the years of college and high school football players dying because of on-field or practice-related problems, particularly concussions, like the one that killed Frostburg State University player Derek Sheely last year. Many players don’t think the NCAA does enough to protect the safety of players, and the NCAA is on record saying that it has no legal obligation to protect players from head injuries. The NCPA has developed a safety plan it wants the NCAA to adopt.
2. The costs of a sports-related injury are not covered by the college: The NCAA doesn’t require schools to cover the costs that athletes incur when they are injured in relation to their sport. These injuries have left players with debts that can exceed $10,000, with many of those injuries reducing a player’s ability to earn money to pay for those costs.
3. An injury can end a player’s education: If a player gets injured, even through no fault of their own, they can be dropped by the college. Many colleges do the right thing and let them continue going to school, but it isn’t required.
4. Only half of football and men’s basketball players graduate: One of the key arguments against increased compensation for players is that they’re “getting a free education.” But an incomplete education doesn’t do a whole lot to expand the career options of the vast majority of players who don’t play professional sports. If schools don’t prioritize graduation for these players, are they really providing them with a free education? Or are they exploiting them for their talent and then casting them aside?
5. Athletic scholarships don’t cover all of a player’s costs: A recent study has shown that, on average, a college athlete’s scholarship leaves them about $3,200 short of the costs of attending college each year. Players are not allowed to receive pay for work to cover that cost.
6. Players who fail to live up to expectations can be cast aside: When a player takes a chance on signing to play with a school and they don’t live up to that school’s expectations, that player can lose their scholarship and lose their opportunity at finishing their education. The NCPA is calling for these players to be given given non-athletic scholarships so they can finish their degrees, since they sacrificed other opportunities by signing with the school that no longer wants them.
7. Colleges make billions off of players, who get a tiny piece of that pie: The power conferences in football and men’s basketball make an estimated $5.15 billion annually off of the players. Beyond scholarships, players get no compensation, despite the fact that schools not only make money off of the players for the games and TV contracts, but also off of merchandising, particularly in the form of apparel and video games (although there has been some limitation of this type of revenue in recent years).
8. Players don’t control their own destiny: If a player thinks they could be better served or have more opportunity at another school, they don’t have a ton of options. Most transfers require players to sit out a year and to lose a year of eligibility, unless they transfer to a lower division school that offers less visibility and can limit their future prospects in their sport.
The members of Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165(both UNITE HERE locals) voted Tuesday to ratify a five-year contract with Caesars Entertainment covering the 13,000 members of both locals. The deal, which replaces the previous contract that expired in June, was approved by 97% of the voters.
The workers are employed a seven Caesars’ properties in the food and beverage, housekeeping, cocktails and the bell departments. Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of Local 226, said:
Through negotiations, Caesars and the unions have worked together to reach an agreement that gives workers the opportunity to provide for their families. It is clear Caesars Entertainment is committed to the future of Las Vegas. The overwhelming support for the new contract shows members want a secure future with good jobs and strong benefits.
Elmer Portillo, a food server at Planet Hollywood, said, “This is a good contract for members because benefits and jobs are secured. I’m especially thankful to know my health care is protected for the next five years, that’s very important.”
The unions say the economic package, agreed to by both parties, mirrors exactly what has been agreed to by the unions and other employers. Workers will keep their high-quality health insurance. Changes were negotiated for food and beverage operations to allow for flexibility in closed and distressed venues with the goals of reopening shops and bringing workers back to their jobs. New housekeeping language will increase job safety by creating measures designed to deal with hazardous work conditions. Finally, a new program in the cocktails department will create jobs and maximize customer service.
The seven properties are Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s, Harrah’s, Rio and Flamingo. In November, the 21,000 workers at MGM Resorts International ratified a similar five-year contract. The employees work at Aria, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Slots A Fun, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Monte Carlo and the New York-New York Hotel.
Pennsylvania Republicans are pushing falsely titled “paycheck protection” legislation that would take away rights from workers and keep them from having good wages and benefits. The legislation would hamper workers’ ability to organize unions and represent themselves in negotiations with employers, leaving them open to any number of assaults on salary, benefits and working conditions. The legislation would prevent the deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks and is supported by groups related to the infamous Koch brothers, wealthy extremists who are behind many attacks against working families across the nation.
But Pennsylvania’s workers are ready to fight back. More than 2,000appeared at a frozen rally Tuesday in opposition to the legislation. Many of those in attendance weren’t members of the unions potentially affected by this legislation. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO reports:
One of the rallies erupted outside the front doors of the Capitol, where more than a thousand workers were literally frozen out of the event in the nearly sub-zero temperatures because Capitol police claimed the crowd had exceeded capacity limitations in the Rotunda. PA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder was handed a bull horn by Capitol Police and the nearly frost-bitten crowd had their own impromptu rally on the Capitol steps as Snyder explained the implications of the Koch brother’s-inspired anti-labor legislation.
Supporters of the bill say taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for such payroll deductions. As usual with anything associated with the Koch brothers, this reasoning is dishonest, because taxpayers don’t actually pay the minimal costs associated with making such deductions, those costs are included in contracts negotiated between workers and their employers. In fact, paycheck deductions are very standard from people who choose to make United Way contributions, retirement contributions, etc.
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder told the crowd the real reason behind the legislation:
The supporters of this attack claim this is all about restoring ethics to government. If this were all about restoring ethics then perhaps they would stop trying to prevent the uninsured from gaining access to affordable health care. If this were about ethics they would support raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who are still looking for a job. No this isn’t about ethics, this is all about distractions, more smoke and mirrors and playing political games instead of solving our problems: creating jobs, expanding the middle class and putting Pennsylvania back to work. We won’t be fooled.
While the legislation currently being considered only targets public employee unions, there is little doubt that success on this legislation would lead to further attacks on the rights of working families. The Pennsylvania federation said:
Don’t be silent on this issue. We expect this bill to move very quickly, with significant resources flooding into Pennsylvania to back this latest attack on the middle class.
Residents of the Keystone State who support working families and oppose this legislation should take actionand email Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and their state legislators.
Apart from the elections for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, and local races, Michigan voters have opportunities on the non-partisan section of the ballot that might trump all others: making two key changes to their state constitution. Voting No on Proposal 1 would the new law that allows the Governor to appoint “emergency managers” that have the power to override local governments by removing locally-elected officials. Voting Yes on Proposal 2 would enshrine the right of workers to bargain collectively in the state constitution, protecting Michigan workers from the anti-worker attacks we’ve seen in this state and across the country.
No on Proposal 1. When the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed “Public Act 4” in 2011, one commentator called it “the most radical thing in American politics in this fairly radical year.” Under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” Governor Rick Snyder gained the ability to appoint “emergency managers” (EMs) to take control of local governments.
Under the new law, these EMs can unilaterally seize and sell city assets, outsource public jobs to private and/or out of state companies, lay off thousands of employees, change or terminate contracts, suspend contracts and collective bargaining agreements, and even dissolve or merge whole cities, towns, and school districts.
The abuses of these EMs have been numerous. In Benton Harbor, a majority African-American community in Southwestern Michigan, an EM dissolved the entire town council. Public workers in Pontiac saw their union contract invalidated. EM Roy Roberts closed 15 schools in Detroit and fired thousands of teachers, and those who remained had a bad contract imposed on them.
The EM law isn’t just undemocratic and unfair; it’s also been a failure. Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and other communities are not better off because of any action by EMs. These communities weren’t in trouble because of mismanagement, they were in trouble because they are manufacturing centers at a time when manufacturing is in a decline; their infrastructure is in need of repair; and their citizens aren’t doing well enough to create a stable tax base.
These problems require attention, but the solution must match the problem. These cities need to be built back up – there is no cause for dissolving local democratic rule. That is, and we use the term carefully, un-American. Vote No on Proposal 1.
Yes on Proposal 2. With the attacks on workers’ rights of 2011 – Senate Bill 5 in Ohio and Governor Walker in Wisconsin, for example – Michigan workers decided to take action. Proposal 2 does not change current rights for union or non-union workers, it simply guarantees the current right for all Michigan workers to Collectively Bargain by adding it to the state Constitution. This proactive measure will stop so-called “right to work” laws and other measures that threaten the right to organize.
In 1989, the average Michigan worker earned over $52,000 a year. In 2010, that number had dropped 11 percent, even though according to the Economic Policy Institute, average productivity has increased 30 percent. That shift can be tied directly into the loss of collective bargaining and the attacks on union rights in that time period.
Although Prop 2 would not make any major changes to existing law, it has been subject to an incredible smear campaign of over $20 million. So let’s get some things straight: Prop 2 would not force anyone to join a union, which is illegal under federal law. Prop 2 will not raise your health care premiums. Prop 2 will not, as one ad claims, allow teachers to get away with inappropriate behavior in the classroom. That’s ridiculous, and no amount of money from the Koch Brothers, Michelle Rhee, or right-wing think tanks will make it true.
But there are real, dangerous consequences to so-called “right to work” laws, which Prop 2 prevents. Eight of the 12 states with the highest unemployment rates are “right to work” states. In a “right to work” state, wages and benefits are lower, and workplace accidents and injuries are more common.
When workers have their rights protected, everyone wins. States with higher levels of collective bargaining have lower poverty levels, high average incomes, higher educational outcomes, and better health insurance coverage for all workers, not just union workers.