Labor Briefing: December 2016

dec-2016-zuckermanBy BILL ONASCH

The Other Election—There was never any doubt that the working class would lose the election of a new POTUS. That one was a contest between lesser or maximum evils. Heads they win, tails we lose.

But while that face-off dominated the press and airwaves ad nauseam, little attention was given to the election of the top leadership of one of North America’s most important unions—the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. To be sure, that wasn’t a battle for control of the government. But a defeat of the incumbent Hoffa-led bureaucracy by the opposition Teamsters United Slate would not only have advanced militant, adversarial unionism, new organizing campaigns, and union democracy in the IBT; it would have also inspired similar struggles in other unions.

It was a cliff-hanger at the top of the ticket. Challenger Fred Zuckerman, a militant out of the car-haulers sector, won the Midwest and South regions in the U.S., while Hoffa barely held on to the East and West. But Hoffa piled up a lopsided win in the Canadian locals, and that made the difference: Hoffa-51.5 percent, Zuckerman-48.5.

The Journal of Commerce reports that “employers that have dealt with Hoffa” are “relieved” by Hoffa’s election win because of his record for negotiating “deals involving wage and benefit concessions.”

The forces that built Teamsters United will not go dormant until the next election. Their strength ensures there will be battles ahead against the bosses and bureaucrats on many fronts.

Will There Be a Walk in the Park?—Earlier this year, General Electric sold its sprawling Louisville GE Appliance Park complex to Qingdao Haier of China for $5 billion. The new employer demanded a new agreement to replace the IUE-GE contract covering 4000 blue-collar Park employees. Their laundry list of take-back demands was long and brutal, including an end of the eight-hour day; a reduced sub-tier wage of $12 for new hires; elimination of seniority bumping rights; and a complicated restructuring of company contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan. All workers would get $5500 in cash spread out over four years—but no hourly wage increase. And they demanded a new health-care plan based on Health Savings Accounts. Seventy-two percent of 3700 members of IUE-CWA Local 761 voted to reject. As we go to press no new talks have been scheduled.

In the Cards—Service Employees International Union Local 26 has won a “card check” recognition to bargain for 600 Air Serv workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Air Serv is a Delta Airline subcontractor employing baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheelchair agents, unaccompanied minor escorts, lavatory workers, and water-service fillers.

Photo: Teamster presidential candidate Fred Zuckerman greets a supporter.

If you have a labor story appropriate for this column please contact billonasch@kclabor.org