Labor Briefing: October 2017

Oct. 2017 Erie strikers

GE workers walked out and struck for two hours on each shift in 2013 to protest transfer of hundreds of jobs to Texas. Photo by Mark Haller / Labor Notes

By BILL ONASCH

Trying to Stop Runaway Train—As recently as a few years ago, the biggest local in the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers had nearly 6000 members at General Electric’s locomotive works in Erie, Pa. There is strong demand for locomotives and GE’s are most favored. But instead of rewarding their workforce with a sense of security, GE has chosen to relentlessly transfer work to other, non-union locations.

Just last year, GE destroyed 1400 UE 506 jobs in Erie. Even though these were skilled workers, most haven’t found work in the small Erie area. This is already having a big impact on the local economy. But in July, GE served notice that they would be eliminating 572 more jobs in Local 506 and 80 percent of sister Local 618, representing quality assurance workers.

While GE and UE had some “off the record” exchanges about the new runaway ploy, the union did not insist on formal negotiations. Instead they invoked the grievance procedure and announced their intention to strike in November. Stay tuned.

Will He Also Get His Name on an Airport?—There was still grumbling about adding Ronald Reagan—who fired striking air traffic controllers and destroyed their PATCO union—to a Labor Department Honor Roll when Trump announced the appointment of Peter Robb as general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board. Currently an anti-labor lawyer with Downs Rachlin Martin, Robb was Reagan’s lead attorney in the PATCO atrocity.

Iron Clad Agreement—According to Maine Public Radio, a strike was averted at the General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works shipyard when 700 members of the Bath Marine Draftsmen’s Association, affiliated with the UAW, ratified a new 4½-year agreement. It came after some compromise on a contentious change of flexible work schedules. The new deal provides two hourly raises totaling 5.8 percent and lump sum payments of $6000 dollars.

Carpenters Become a Pain—Tucson.com reports that 160 union carpenters dressed in neon safety green recently confronted a meeting of Arizona’s Industrial Commission, a body that oversees a wide range of labor issues, including the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The unionists were protesting sweetheart deals ADOSH has been making that are reducing penalties for OSHA violators. They also blasted the commission for not responding to complaints about the widespread practice in the construction industry in which workers are paid in cash off the books—resulting in wage theft, tax fraud, and dodging scrutiny of their hiring and safety practices.

Electric Resistance at Fremont—The once unionized auto plant in Fremont, Calif., abandoned by General Motors and Toyota during the GM bankruptcy, today is cranking out the all-electric Tesla as fast as they can get batteries. The pace has resulted in a considerably higher accident rate than the industry average. The UAW is conducting an organizing drive there but the management team hired by owner Elon Musk—seen by many as a less greedy 21st-century Thomas Edison—is playing hard ball. Based on numerous complaints of workers being intimidated by security guards while attempting to distribute union leaflets on non-work time in non-work areas, the NLRB has issued complaints against the company and has schedule a hearing in Oakland on Nov. 14.

Traversing RtW—Labor Notes article begins, “Nurses in rural northern Michigan made history August 9-10 when we won labor’s biggest organizing victory since ‘right to work’ took effect in the state in 2013. By a vote of 489–439, more than 1,000 RNs at Traverse City’s Munson Medical Center, the area’s largest employer, will be represented by the Michigan Nurses Association.”

Efficiency Experts—While the Nurses can be proud of their achievement, 35,000 Michigan public-sector workers got slapped down by the governor-appointed Civil Service Commission. Oblivious to hundreds of protesting workers, the panel voted 3-1 to deny the unions the right to bargain over seniority relating to layoffs, job transfers, and overtime. The not very civil commissioners said such measures impede efficiency.

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