Labor Briefing for May 2017

May 2017 Washington transit

By BILL ONASCH

Movers Become Shakers In D.C.—The motto of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 is We Move This City. Their 9000 members keep the second biggest (in mileage) subway system in the USA running—as best they can with the Metro’s austerity budget—in addition to dozens of usually standing-room-only bus lines and paratransit services. Their contract with the Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority expired last June.

Local President Jackie Jeter told WAMU radio that WMATA wants $100 million in take-aways. Included is a wage freeze and denying pension benefits to new workers, who would be put into an equivalent of 401(k) accounts—with no guaranteed retirement income.

These attacks are nearly identical to those by the Chicago Transit Authority on ATU train and bus locals. In both cities workers have been refusing overtime and working to rule, and there have been selective “sick-outs.” Even more importantly, they have been building solidarity among their riders and with other unions and environmental groups. These allies show up to all the public meetings of the transit boss boards and join in frequent ATU demonstrations.

The unions hope that pressure will force the employers to agree to an acceptable contract without a strike that would cause hardship for their passengers who have been supportive.

Repatriating Jobs—Last year, after a strike involving 40,000 workers, the Communications Workers of America was able to restore thousands of outsourced and offshored jobs to the bargaining unit and established a new beachhead in the growing wireless market.

Currently, CWA is involved in tough negotiations with dozens of units of AT&T—remnants of the original breakup of the old Ma Bell monopoly. About 10 years ago, CWA got a big boost when the carrier acquired unionized Cingular to be the base of today’s ATT Mobility—the second largest cell phone network.

But since 2011, ATT has offshored 8000 call center jobs to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the Philippines. The union is demanding that those jobs be restored. After a one-day strike purportedly over grievances, the union won a contract settlement covering landline and internet workers in Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas that provides annual wage increases, a $1000 signing bonus, and two-weeks paid parental leave. And a big breakthrough was achieved when that company unit agreed to hire 3000 union workers for positions currently offshored.

However, other units employing 21,000 union workers in 36 states have yet to budge. At this paper’s deadline, the union has served notice that they may walk out at any time.

They Took On the Challenge—After a three week strike, newly organized UAW workers won a first contract at Challenge Manufacturing’s Kansas City plant. Lured by generous tax incentives, Challenge opened the plant in 2015 to supply parts to the General Motors Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas. The new contract meets industry standards for outsourced parts production—but is considerably less than what Big Three UAW members enjoy.

Grounds For Celebration at Philly IA—Last month 1400 baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, SkyCaps, and other passenger service workers employed by contractors at Philadelphia International Airport voted overwhelmingly to be represented by Service Employees International Union 32BJ. It took four years of demonstrations, informational picketing, and job actions to get this Labor Board election. The various employers hired by the mostly unionized airlines also agreed to be bound by Philadelphia’s “living wage” requirement for contractors on public facilities. That’s currently $12 an hour—hardly a princely sum. But it means more than a $4 an hour raise for most of these workers—a start to build on.

Preempted Poor—The Fight for 15 and a Union campaign, which includes airport service workers, home care aides, contingent college faculty as well as fast food workers, has also been involved in successful struggles to win higher state and city minimum wage laws. But the bosses and their kept politicians are now using state legislatures to suppress this movement through what has been dubbed “preemption.” This refers to legislation, or amendments to state constitutions, prohibiting local governments from setting minimum wage rates higher than those of the state—in many cases no more than the federal minimum—currently a poverty level $7.25.

Because this affects workers of color most of all, many civil rights groups—above all the NAACP—are joining with unions to fight preemption through demonstrations and civil disobedience. This was a feature of May Day strikes and protests in North Carolina, Minnesota, and Kansas City. It should also be a reminder that the working class needs a party of our own to win these most basic struggles.

Deserving Honors—On May Day, ABC news reported: “Eight graduate student teachers at Yale University have been on hunger strike since last Tuesday in an effort to push a collective bargaining agreement with the university forward. The protesters, including four men and four women who are part of the new Local 33-Unite Here union, say that their fast is indefinite or until the school’s administration agrees to discuss an agreement with the eight departments that joined the union. They say they have only consumed water.”

Thanks to Mike Elk and Michael Schreiber for contributions to this month’s Briefing. If you have a story suitable for this feature please contact billonasch@kclabor.org.

Photo: Transit workers rally in Washington, D.C. From atulocal689.org.