Passenger service and reservation workers at the new United Airlines voted to join the Machinists (IAM). The 17,000 new members represent the passenger service and reservation workers at United who previously were IAM members before the merger with Continental and the Continental workers who had no union prior to the merger.
IAM Transportation Vice President Sito Pantoja says the election:
provides all IAM members at United with the advantages of size and strength that airlines themselves are seeking through consolidation.
IAM also represents 14,800 ramp service and stock and store employees at the new United. With the addition of the passenger service and reservations workers, the IAM now represents more than 31,500 employees at the merged airline.
United had objected to including some 1,000 fleet service workers in the election, but the National Mediation Board ruled those workers should have the right to vote on joining the union. Says IAM District 141 President Rich Delaney:
Voters had to overcome an aggressive anti-union campaign that included an attempt to have the votes of nearly 1,000 IAM supporters invalidated. Despite United’s divisive tactics, we will focus our efforts on building a better airline and unite employees into a single force to face the challenges ahead.
There’s a bigger question at play here than who wins the prettier headline on a Beltway paper tomorrow, and it’s a question we’re sure to keep fighting about all year. It’s “what is the economy for, anyway?”
It’s a good question, because how you measure the answer says a lot about what you think we need to do to fix it. Do we measure the economy purely by whether a line on a chart is pointing up or down? Do we measure it by whether the very wealthiest people are able to make themselves endlessly wealthier? Or is the health of “the economy” measured by something a little more tangible, a little broader?
You don’t have to pretend President Obama has been perfect on every issue facing working people to notice that there’s a difference in how he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney talk about the auto rescue program—a program that, largely, has worked to keep the industry alive and make it profitable again. While Romney used his time in Michigan to bash the auto rescue as a “bailout” for unions and push an economic agenda that would shift money away from Medicaid into upper-class tax cuts, Obama defended the auto rescue as part of an economy where we all have a stake in each other’s success.
You know why the “bailout for unions” storyline completely collapses under examination? Because union members—the people who, after all, built these companies—gave up a lot to save them. They made concessions on wages, benefits and retiree pensions. They offered to lose things that they had fought and bargained for because they wanted to protect the industry not just for them but for workers after them. It will not be easy to win back the things that were promised them, things they let go at personal cost. As the president said, that’s actual sacrifice. That’s not the action of a greedy special interest looking to loot the taxpayer, that’s the action of a group of people who understand what “the economy” really means.
If you think “the economy” is purely about the bank accounts of the 1%, maybe a program like the auto rescue doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if—like our members do—you think of the “the economy” as meaning how we’re all doing, then saving those jobs, for the past three years and for the future, is vital.
When the people we talk to talk about the economy, they mean something simple. Can I get a job? Can I stay out of debt, feed my family, and not go bankrupt if I get sick? Will I and my neighbors be able to stay in our homes? Will my kids be able to get a decent education and build a life for themselves? After a lifetime of hard work, will I be able to retire? Candidates of both parties need to look at what they’re saying about “the economy” and figure out how it answers those questions.
Overall union membership increased by 49,000 from 2010 to 2011, including 15,000 new 16- to 24-year-old members, according to new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data out this morning. An increase of 110,000 in the private sector was partially offset by a decline of 61,000 in the public sector, making the rate of union membership essentially unchanged at 11.8 percent, with some 14.8 million U.S. workers union members.
Public-sector density increased from 36.2 percent to 37 percent though November 2011. Private-sector union membership remains at 6.9 percent. The largest increases in union membership were in construction, health care services, retail trade, primary metals and fabricated metal products, hospitals, transportation and warehousing.
Despite an unprecedented volley of partisan political attacks on workers’ rights and the continuing insecurity of our economic crisis, union membership increased slightly last year. Working men and women want to come together and to improve their lives.
I could barely contain myself when reading the second of Susan Bruce’s outstanding recent posts here on income disparity. In “You’re Overpaid” Susan quotes from, and links to, a piece by conservative economic policy adviser Kevin Hassett, in which he calls for reducing workers’ incomes, arguing that high unemployment is caused by high wages, and that driving down wages will, somehow, bring down unemployment.
Hassett, by the way, chose to publish that piece when? On Labor Day.
Let me join Susan in sounding the alarm here. Hassett is no fringe wingnut, no isolated voice of unreason on the extreme far right. He’s the chief economic policy advocate at the leading neo-con think tank, practically speaking the top policy voice of corporate America and their lobbyists, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While he’s loaded with big-time economics credentials, Hassett is perhaps best known for the 1999 book Dow 36,000, in which he and co-author James K. Glassman predicted, well, exactly that.
But if you’re willing to use your albeit-somewhat-tarnished economics credentials to attack workers’ wages and try to pit unemployed workers against those still working, some big business interests will surely still pay you lots of money.
So, Mr. Hassett still has his job. And, if Republicans regain control in Congress, they’ll be looking to implement Mr. Hassett’s economic policies — to further reduce workers’ incomes, eliminate minimum wage protections and tear-up union bargaining agreements.
But how revealing is it that Hassett and his fake “free-market” ideologues — who constantly rail against “government interference” — demand exactly that when they want to drive down workers’ incomes? When government must spend to help the economy, they bemoan short-term deficits, yet demand that government maintain their precious corporate tax loopholes so that they can protect their profits overseas. And when workers freely organize to improve their lives and livelihoods, Hassett and the bizcons cry out for government to intervene to break workers’ unions.
Hassett’s and the bizcons’ adherence to “free-market” economics is a fake. (Always has been.)
Still, his policy recommendations are serious — and dangerous. Hassett himself says their effects would be “painful” and “beastly” — something he apparently does not find problematic. Yet, those policies would only deepen the already massive chasm of income disparity in America, further depressing the economy now, and making it even more vulnerable to crises in the future.
Last month, Lynne Bolton wrote about Working America’s efforts to support striking nurses in Minnesota.
Last week, those nurses got resolution: They ratified a new contract.
After more than three months of tense negotiations that included a 24-hour strike, some 12,000 nurses in Minnesota’s Twin Cities yesterday voted to ratify a new three-year contract with 14 area hospitals. The new pact contains no concessions or give-backs and maintains the pension plan.
Although they did not win new safe staffing language they sought, the nurses maintained safe staffing language already in their contract, in which a nurse has a right to close a unit when it becomes unsafe to admit any more patients. The nurses are members of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU).
As Lynne wrote, this is about solidarity—nurses are fighting for their patients and being supported in that fight by their communities, by other unions, and by organizations like Working America.
I came from a strong working class family. I joined a company that was family owned and treated its employees better than anyone else in town. So, you can imagine my surprise when, years later, I became a Transportation Security Administration Officer…an airport screener to the lay person. If private concerns treated their people well, imagine how much better the Federal Government would be.
I was wrong. The Federal Government is little more than a really, really big corporation that doesn’t want to go under, and crunches numbers instead of listening to people. In its vast size, TSA is top heavy without realizing that the left hand doesn’t know what the rights hand is doing. It’s simply too big to be efficient.
So there are flaws, the biggest one being the lack of collective bargaining rights. Oh sure, we have a Union, but no contract. The official statement of the Government, I was told at orientation, is “we don’t acknowledge a union.” Now that the Union has helped Congress created bill H.R. 1881 demanding collective bargaining rights, everything has been stonewalled. Appointments, committees, votes…all on hold for now. And screeners are hanging in the lurch.
We accrue sick leave but are reprimanded when we use it. We are told we must follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), but because they are considered “security sensitive information”, there is no printed copy available for us to read. Instead, we’re allowed one hour a week to log onto government computers and request a disc to look at. When we violate the SOP we again are reprimanded. The SOP is so convoluted even our Supervisors are unclear about it.
Despite a sanctioned Safety Committee, we are the walking wounded. We get hurt lugging oversized baggage, we get bumped and trampled in a crowded airport checkpoint, and get worn down from having to follow protocol of carrying everything to an inspection table 30 feet away, searching the bag then rerunning it through the x-ray. Once, twice maybe. But dozens upon dozens of times a day and the body starts to rebel. Those injured are put on workers compensation and are placed in useless, humiliating places around the airport. Rather than rethink how the checkpoint is laid out, management tries to find newer ways to expedite the passenger lines.
My point is, there’s more to a good job than a good wage and good benefits. Employees must be treated with respect and listened to. When you feel that you’re a very small cog in a very big wheel, you lose your incentive to be your best. If employers don’t value their personnel, they’re missing out on a valuable asset that could so easily be realized.
Lady Gaga recently made an unexpected appearance at the Westin Saint Francis hotel in San Francisco—in the form of a flash mob singing a pro-worker version of lyrics to her “Bad Romance.” Replete with tuba, trombone, snare drum and a couple dozen dancing activists, the group materialized in the hotel’s lobby to denounce the chain’s poor treatment of its employees and urge people to “Boycott, boycott,” this “bad, bad hotel.”
Sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of Pride At Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group for LGBTQ workers, the action demonstrated support for the more than 9,000 workers in the area who have been working without a contract since August 2009 at several Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and InterContinental Hotels (the Westin is owned by Starwood). The activists created the song and dance routine to tell the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people from across the country coming to San Francisco in June for Pride Week to honor the worker-called boycott.
One of the big things nurses unions have organized around and drawn attention to is patient load. They argue that it’s not just better for the nurses if there are fewer patients per nurse, but better for the patients, who benefit from more personal attention and less chance of errors made in a hurry. Now, a study is bearing that out:
The study, published online last month by the journal Health Services Research, compares the outcomes of 1.1 million general surgery patients in 2005-6 in more than 800 hospitals in three states — California, where nurses in medical-surgical units are limited to five patients at a time; and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where nurses’ patient loads averaged more than six.
Researchers concluded that 225 hospital deaths in New Jersey, or 13.9 percent of all deaths in general surgery, and 200 deaths in Pennsylvania, or 10.6 percent, could have been averted with rules similar to California’s.
Staffing levels probably have similar effects in lots of worksites—not just nurses but all medical professions, including at nursing homes; definitely schools; and really anything else where an overburdened worker’s lack of attention for a minute could harm someone, or where individual attention is needed to achieve a good outcome.
This is a big way unions are always fighting for the general public. Too frequently employers are the ones we hear from, and they paint a picture of lazy workers who just want to have it easy. No. Unions save lives by protecting patients from companies looking to squeeze out profits.
Huge news: Airline and railroad workers who wanted to form unions have for more than 75 years faced a hurdle other workers don’t face. They had to get the majority of all workers to vote yes, not just the majority of those who voted. People who didn’t vote were counted as no.
Imagine if that’s how all elections worked. Let’s say if you didn’t vote then it counted as voting for nothing to change, no matter how high a percentage of the people voting had voted for new candidates or policies.
That would suck. And it would be undemocratic.
Now, the National Mediation Board has issued a new rule that says that airlines and railroads work under the same rules as everyone else. The yes votes get counted against the no votes, not against the no votes plus all the people who didn’t vote.
Naturally, the airlines’ trade group plans to file suit trying to get the new rule overturned.
I just came back to Ohio from a 10 day trip to Egypt with the Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO. I travelled with two other American union activists, Scott Reynolds from the National AFL-CIO and Liz McElroy from the Philadelphia AFL-CIO. During that time, we met directly with about 300 Egyptian workers and trade union activists, from Cairo in northern Egypt to Aswan, the traditional “opening” of Egypt at the southern end of the Nile. Those ten days were so packed with anger, hope and traffic jams that I feel like I lived a lifetime there. We were welcomed so warmly by the Egyptian workers that we felt like we were a part of their world almost instantly. By the third day, I caught myself feeling annoyed by all of the tourists in my newly adopted country…
Workers in Egypt are doing something truly remarkable. In the face of very tall odds, they are organizing an independent, democratic workers’ movement that has the potential to lift their families out of poverty and spur a new wave of democratic reform in Egypt. Many of the workers scrape by on just a few dollars a day, or less, and at times it seems that all of the institutions of society are stacked against them. The government colludes with corporate interests to keep their wages and benefits low, often skirting or simply ignoring the law. Even their official trade union movement is run by the same government and corporate interests that control the rest of society. Imagine Working America being run by Blanche Lincoln and the CEO of Wal-Mart and you’ve got the right idea. Then again, the idea of powerful political operatives and corporate interests working together to form groups that claim to speak for working people isn’t entirely foreign to us.
When workers attempt to form democratic and independent unions that actually fight for them, they risk arrest, harassment and sometimes torture. It was an enormous privilege to look into their eyes, hear their stories, and share organizing strategies with them. In spite of the oppressive conditions, they are organizing themselves at the grassroots, leading a huge wave of strikes and activism. There have been over 700 strikes a year for the past 2 years, and this year is on track to break 700 as well. If this remarkable surge in grassroots activism continues, we could well be witnessing the birth of a true, independent labor movement in Egypt. That, in turn, could spur broader democratization in Egyptian society and increasing quality of life for workers, as it has so often in other countries, including our own.
I was constantly impressed with the workers that we met. They are articulate, informed and brave. Although the conditions they face are far harsher than those we deal with here, the basic problems are the same: employers often refuse to obey the law, intimidating and harassing workers for attempting to exercise their basic rights. I’ll be sharing some of their stories, and how they relate directly to our own experiences here in Ohio and the U.S., in a series of upcoming posts.