Labor Briefing

By BILL ONASCH

> Socialist Action members in Minneapolis write: “On Saturday, Oct. 10, over 400 enthusiastic participants joined a rally and march on U.S. bank in Northeast Minneapolis. U.S. Bank has actively lobbied against fair wages and treatment for workers and simultaneously financed dirty industries.

The concurrent exploitation of workers and the earth is bringing together previously separate struggles into broad coalition efforts. Minneapolis Works, the organization that put together this march consists of seven different unions, plus a variety of community organizations and the environmental umbrella coalition MN 350.org.

“Minneapolis Works is trying to pass a city ordinance that will guarantee sick time and safe time; protect against wage theft, require fair minimum hours and reliable scheduling, and provide a $15/hour minimum wage.

“Speakers pointed out that US Bank claims to be green, all the while funding the dirtiest energy projects like Tar Sands, Enbridge and fracked gas pipelines. The bank also pretends there’s no money to pay workers more, but it paid $240 million for naming rights to the new Vikings Football Stadium.

“The very diverse crowd included young and old, immigrants from many countries—Ethiopia, Somalia, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia, Liberia—in addition to longer term residents of all races. Our personal sentiment, which was shared by everyone we spoke with, was that it was truly inspiring to see all the different people and groups coming together to fight our common enemy. No more divide and conquer!”

> An AP dispatch from Seattle reports, “After protests and questions about whether the University of Washington would be required to follow Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law, the university has decided to boost pay for all affected workers. After raising all campus wages to at least $11 an hour in April, UW announced Monday it would increase its minimum wage to $13 in January and $15 at the beginning of 2017.

“This decision applies to all workers on campus, including students and follows the law’s rules for large employers. The new wage agreement will affect about 5,500 people, including 3,500 student workers. The university estimates the cost for raising all workers to at least $13 an hour in 2016 will be $3.2 million. Students disrupted an April regents meeting, demanding higher wages. The university announced a few days later that it was increasing the minimum pay for student workers to $11 an hour.”

> From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Teachers unions are strong, but in St. Paul, muscle is being flexed in new ways. Rather than simply work on behalf of candidates, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers teamed with parents this year to coordinate and bankroll a Caucus for Change movement that challenged incumbents and lifted four political newcomers to prized DFL Party endorsements. Now, contract talks are underway between the teachers and the school district, and as candidates enter the final weeks of the election, the union could soon find itself with maximum leverage: a new majority on the seven-member board already endorsing its contract pursuits.”

> Last December, a lame-duck Congress, scrambling to avoid another government shutdown, passed a huge omnibus appropriations bill, which included the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014. Many such funds, which collectively cover about 10 million workers, are in trouble. Rather than requiring employers to put more money in to keep their promises, the new law facilitates reneging on their obligations if they convince the Treasury Department it’s necessary to stay solvent.

While there are still some procedural formalities, the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund is confident that the Treasury—who saved so many banks “too big to fail”—will approve massive slashing of pension checks. The first of these are expected to hit 115,500 of 400,000 retired Teamsters truck drivers and inside workers starting next July—with cuts of as much as 50 percent, a number that could only grow with time.

On Oct. 10 dozens of retired and working Teamsters protested outside the Local 41 hall in Kansas City. Teamsters for a Democratic Union strongly objects to this attack and supports alternative legislation. The TDU slate in next year’s election of national Teamsters officers will make pensions a major issue as they work to oust the Hoffa regime, which over the past 17 years did little to protect retirees.

> Occasionally, employers file unfair labor practice charges against unions, but the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE) are under a unique attack by an Israeli-based Zionist outfit. The Israel Law Center, which claims to be a civil rights group and a defender of victims of terror, is harassing UE because their recent convention went on record supporting the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions campaign against Israeli repression of Palestinians.

BDS has broad labor support in Europe and Canada but UE is the first national union in the USA to sign on. With a straight face, the retained American and Israeli shysters claim UE’s solidarity violated Taft-Hartley Act prohibitions against secondary boycotts. They also urged General Electric to “avoid labor accords” with UE—who have a national GE contract.

If you have some labor related news you’d like to share in this column contact billonasch@kclabor.org

Photo: 15 Now picketers outside Democratic National Committee gathering in Minneapolis, Aug. 28. From 15 Now Minnesota.