Labor Briefing

Gore and the China Trade

The AFL-CIO tops say they are determined to defeat the Clinton-Gore administration’s campaign in Congress to grant China permanent normal trade status. Still, they are spending at least $40 million and spurring union activists to elect presidential candidate Al Gore, and a Democratic congressional majority.

The obvious contradiction in electing open foes of the AFL-CIO’s China trade policy is presenting some tactical problems for AFL-CIO President John P. Sweeney.

According to The New York Times (Feb. 20), “some labor leaders are voicing fears that Mr. Gore’s support for the [China trade] deal could cause many rank-and-file union members to sour on the vice president.”

“If I were this administration,” said Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees Union, “I wouldn’t hold this vote now. It will not generate enthusiasm among union members, and certainly, among parts of the labor movement, it’s going to be debilitating.”

So the union heads now are trying to convince Clinton and Gore to postpone the China trade vote until after the November elections. A postponement scheme would give the union tops a chance to trick their members into voting for candidates who oppose the AFL-CIO’s own China trade policy. In other words, the union “leaders” are scheming to pull a fast one on their members.

Reuters reported that after a private meeting with the AFL-CIO and most of the international union chieftains on Feb. 17, “AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told USA Today in an interview … that Gore promised to push for stronger labor and environmental protections in the China trade deal if Congress put off the vote until next year and he wins the presidency.”

Did that mean that Gore would then oppose the China trade agreement that President Clinton signed, asked several irate business groups. They rushed to demand that Gore clarify his position on the China trade pact.

The New York Times reported that in response, Gore “sent a letter to a powerful business group reaffirming his support for the China accord.”

Bruce Josten of the United States Chamber of Commerce told The Times that business had a big stake in the China deal: “If the deal is rejected, he said, American companies will continue to face trade barriers in China, and European and Japanese competitors will have an advantage in exporting to the world’s most populous nation.”

The West Coast longshore workers union (ILWU) recently endorsed Gore’s bid for the presidency, leaving the auto workers and the Teamsters still holding out.

 


More UPS Jobs

 

In 1997, the Teamsters union battled UPS for more jobs. The Teamsters won, but UPS attempted to welch on the five-year agreement that settled the strike. When UPS didn’t come through with the jobs the first year, the union took its case to an arbitrator.

Finally, the arbitrator has made a decision, ruling that UPS must create 2000 full-time jobs. Teamster officials estimate that UPS must also pay workers at least $80 million in back wages and benefits. A further arbitration covering the second year is still pending.

Hoffa will claim bragging rights to the victory, even though the union’s bureaucracy never led a national strike against UPS, and imposed contracts voted down by majorities. The strike was called by former union president Ron Carey, who shortly thereafter was ousted from the union by the federal government.

 


Airline Snoops

 

Teamster flight attendants were ordered by a federal judge to permit Northwest Airlines into their homes to rummage through their computers.

Bloomberg News (Feb. 9) reported that “U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Boyllan this month said the airline could hire computer forensics experts to copy the computer hard drives of as many as 25 union officials and flight attendants.”

“What the judge is doing is quite drastic,” said Neil Berstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a labor arbitrator. “The court’s actions go beyond what has been ordered in any other labor dispute.”

The company snoops were trying to build a case that the workers had advocated a sick-out that supposedly forced it to cancel 300 flights during the year-end holidays. The flight attendants have been working four years without a renegotiated contract. Last year they rejected a substandard deal that Teamster President James P. Hoffa strongly recommended.

Bound by the oppressive Railway Labor Act, the union can’t strike until the government virtually gives its OK. After the union agreed to abide by a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), the case against the union was suspended.

But the union left two rank and filers out in the cold, refusing to provide legal representation, saying that they did not hold union posts.

Two experienced lawyers who have represented union militants and reformers were enlisted to help win their case. On the eve of the workers’ court hearing, the airline backed down and the charges were dismissed.

Ashley McNeely, a flight attendant and a TDU leader, hailed the victory, but said that “unfortunately, the majority of the union leadership opted to take a weak settlement, rather than fight to get the TRO dismissed.

“Individual defendants represented by the local [union] attorneys were never consulted to see if they wanted to go forward with the case or to accept the settlement. The TRO is still in effect against our union and these other defendants. Once again we see it pays to stand up for your rights rather than cut a bad deal with the company.”

 


Jack Maloney

 

Though driven out of the Teamsters by a government-backed bureaucracy, many of the leaders of the watershed 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes continued to fight in workers’ battles to their dying days.

The January ILWU Dispatcher paid tribute to Shaun (Jack) Maloney, who fought to “build the Teamsters union into a national powerhouse.”

The paper noted that Maloney, 88, “joined in the labor protests” against the WTO in Seattle, just 10 days before his death, “using a wheelchair after a series of recent strokes.”

Maloney’s “labor activity included a decade of activism in the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) and over four decades in the ILWU. He was elected to five successive terms as president of Seattle’s ILWU Longshore Local 19, serving until his retirement in 1976.”

After retirement, the Dispatcher reported, Maloney remained a “tireless campaigner for militant labor solidarity.” In 1986, he went to Austin, Minn., “to join in solidarity actions with members of Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union who were then on strike against Hormel. … In 1973, a Seattle newspaper columnist described him as the ‘stormy petrel’ of the Seattle waterfront, writing: ‘Some employers complained that Maloney’s idea of labor relations was to hard-time the bosses … beefs naturally gravitated into his vicinity and swirled around him.'”

The Dispatcher also reported that Maloney opposed then ILWU president Harry Bridges’ “Mechanization and Modernization Agreement” with the bosses because he believed it would result in the loss of “thousands of jobs and union power. Because of his actions, a second vote was required in Seattle and San Francisco to narrowly ratify the agreement.”