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Sunday, January 07, 2007

2007 - First Action Alert of the Year!


The Goodyear Labor Dispute is over, but the solidarity lives on. A benefit has been in the planning for a couple months, and the Steelworkers decided to go on with the plans. So please come to eat some delicious Wobbly Kitchen spaghetti and celebrate with the victorious Goodyear strikers, who brought us a rare victory for the new year.

Saturday, January 13 @5pm
USW Local 1299
11424 W/ Jefferson Ave
River Rouge 48218
$10.00 donation requested.

The Kitchen is planning regular solidarity events this year. If you are interested in attending and you have ideas, please write me bigrafx - at - comcast.net and I'll pass them along.

The next event is tentatively scheduled for February 17 (location TBA) and will benefit the UAW strikers of Elkhart Indiana, makers of fine musical instruments, who have been out for several months. The new edition of Solidarity Magazine (http://www.uaw.org/solidarity/) will feature a story on Elkhart. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to show your love for working men and women?!

If by chance you will have other plans that night, you can still contribute to these brave people by sending a donation to

Food 4 Strikers
58558 Ardmore Dr.
Elkhart, IN 46517

From USLAW website: “Workers of UAW Local 364 in Elkhart Indiana have been on strike for eight months at the Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach musical instrument factory. Conn-Selmer is a subsidary of Steinway Inc. There are 230 workers on strike they ask us to call these numbers at let them no we support them and the story is getting out.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Picket Lotus International Company

Dear Friends,

20 Latino workers were dismissed/walked out of Lotus International Company. They were not paid overtime, faced discrimination and health and safety issues, and were forced into a pay decrease with a higher production rate. When they complained yesterday, they were fired and immediately replaced. They want to demand the overtime pay they are owed for several years of work, want their jobs back and want to maintain their higher level of pay.

Please join them at their picket line at 7am this Friday morning (April 21). We are meeting at La Sed at 6am (on the corner of Clark and Vernor in SW Detroit) to caravan to the company. You may join us at La Sed or meet us at the factory. The address is 6880 Commerce Blvd, Canton, MI 48187 (map of near location).

They want as much support as possible, but they also want to keep it enough on the down low so that the company will be surprised at their picket.

Please foward to your lists.

Latinos Unidos of Detroit

Friday, February 17, 2006

Two NYT articles by Ben Stein

> New York Times
> January 29, 2006
> Everybody's Business
> When You Fly in First Class, It's Easy to Forget the Dots
> Correction Appended
> ONE of the best conspiracy movies ever made is the perfect British classic, "The Third Man." In the most haunting scene, the villain, played adroitly by Orson Welles, takes Joseph Cotten, the good guy, up in a Ferris wheel. The villain, named Harry Lime, has been selling adulterated penicillin in postwar Vienna, making a fortune and causing children to become paralyzed and die.
> Mr. Cotten's character, a pulp fiction writer named Holly Martins, asks him how he could do such an evil thing for money. The two men are at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the people below them look like tiny dots. Mr. Welles's villain looks down and says, "Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"
> This scene comes to mind when I think of Glenn F. Tilton and other executives of the UAL Corporation and the hapless employees of its primary business, United Airlines. Its history is a perfect text for the ethical morass in which American business often finds itself.
> United is one of the proudest names in airline history. It has long been a synonym for fine service and extensive, convenient routes. In the early 1990's, when some investment bankers were casting around for a way to make tens of millions of dollars, they came up with a doozy: the employees of UAL would give up some of their salaries and benefits in exchange for stock in UAL, eventually becoming UAL's largest owner through an employee stock ownership plan.
> The deal went through > -> with staggering compensation to Wall Street > -> and in 1994 the American employees of UAL, as a group, became its largest owners. Within a few years, overseas personnel were allowed the privilege of tossing their life savings into UAL, too.
> Trouble was not far behind. The employees found management demanding pay cuts, big (and, for passengers, inconvenient) changes and cuts in scheduling and services, and even silly changes in their once-great flight attendant uniforms. Then came the blows of 9/11 and a recession, and then rising fuel costs. There were demands for more cuts in pay and benefits and more layoffs. That was not enough. About three years ago, UAL was "forced" to enter bankruptcy to stay alive.
> This step meant that UAL could drastically cut workers' pay > -> and it did. Pensions were simply jettisoned and made the burden of the federal government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation , which meant cuts of close to two-thirds in some pilots' pension payments. And, of course, the bankruptcy simply eliminated all of that equity in UAL that the employees had bought with their hard-earned savings.
> Thus, in a series of evil events, management of UAL basically ruined the lives of the employee-owners, if that is not putting too fine a point on it, by taking away their savings, incomes and pensions. (I am indebted to my pal, Phil DeMuth, for much of this research.)>
> All right, you might say. What else could management have done amid high fuel costs and a deregulated, supercompetitive market? That's "creative destruction," and it's good for the economy, some of my fellow Republicans and admirers of the free market might say. But what about the rules of law and common decency? Because, you see, there is a bit more to the story.
> Now UAL has been reorganized. It is preparing to emerge from bankruptcy. It will soon have a stock offering. This offering is expected to raise very roughly $6 billion. It is presumably worth that because UAL now has such low labor costs that it may actually make a profit of some size. (I'll believe it when I see it.)
> Here comes the good part: management has asked the bankruptcy court to let it have > -> free > -> roughly 15 percent of the stock in the new company, or about $900 million. Mr. Tilton, the chief executive, who plays the Orson Welles character in this drama, would get about $90 million personally for his hard work shepherding UAL through bankruptcy (for which he was already paid multiple millions of dollars).
> The bankruptcy court, instead of ordering Mr. Tilton's arrest, instead cut the management share to about 8 percent, so he will get more than $40 million, more or less. That is more than Lee R. Raymond, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil , one of the most successful companies of all time, was paid in 2004 (not counting Mr. Raymond's 28 million shares of restricted stock).
> So here it is in a nutshell: employees are goaded into investing a big chunk of their wages and benefits in UAL stock. They lose that. Then they lose big parts of their pay and pensions. They become peons of UAL. Management gets $480 million, more or less. "Creative destruction?" Or looting?
> Wait, Mr. Tilton and Mr. Bankruptcy Judge. The employees were the owners of UAL. They were the trustors, and Mr. Tilton and his pals were trustees for them. How were the trustors wiped out while the trustees, the fiduciaries, became fantastically rich? Is this the way capitalism is supposed to work? Trustors save up, and their agents just take their savings away from them?
> If the company is worth so much that management has hundreds of millions coming to them, shouldn't the employee-owners get a taste? Does capitalism mean anything if the owners of the capital can be wiped out while their agents grow wealthy? Is this a way to encourage savings and the ownership society? Or is this a matter of to him who hath shall be given?
> I know that this is basically the same story I described recently concerning the Delphi Corporation , where something similar is going on. But that's exactly the point. Management is using competition, higher fuel costs and every other cost complaint to cut the pay and pensions of its own employees while enriching itself.
> And I can well imagine what goes through Mr. Tilton's mind as he does it: "Hey, I'm a great executive. Great executives in private-equity firms make more than I do. Why shouldn't I get the moolah? Basically, I've worked it so UAL is now a private-equity deal anyway. That's what it's all about now, isn't it? Who's got the most at the end of the day at Bighorn or the Reserve or whatever golf course I choose to retire at? And, anyway, wouldn't you take $48 million for a few of those dots we used to call our employees and owners to stop moving?"
> Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. E-mail: ebiz@nytimes.com.
> Correction: Feb. 5, 2006, Sunday:
> Because of an editing error, the Everybody's Business column last Sunday, about executive pay at the UAL Corporation, misstated part of the compensation for the leader of another company in 2004. Lee R. Raymond, then the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, received restricted stock wo> rth $28 million; he did not receive 28 million shares of restricted stock.
> * Copyright 2006HYPERLINK "http://www.nytco.com/"The New York Times Company
> February 12, 2006
> Everybody's Business
> New Front: Protecting America's Investors
> IN the tiny room where I am writing this missive, there are four little display cases and a framed diploma, among many other mementos. The diploma is for my father-in-law, Dale Denman Jr. of Arkansas, and it is from the United States Military Academy, dated June 6, 1944 > -> a day when quite a lot was happening of military significance in France.
> Next to that is a display case with two little stars. One is a Silver Star that my father-in-law won in Europe several months after he graduated. It is for running along a road under heavy German machine-gun fire to call in artillery to save the company for which he was a forward artillery observer. Next to it is a Bronze Star that my father-in-law, then a colonel, won in Vietnam in 1966 for holding his unit together when it was ambushed by a Vietcong force and would have been cut to pieces without him.
> I have been thinking a lot lately about these heirlooms that Colonel Denman left to my wife and me. That's because of some mail I have been getting about my recent articles in this space about the way high executives have been treating their employees and stockholders. What I said two weeks ago about UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, prompted hundreds of e-mail messages. (I have still not even remotely caught up with all of them because I read them myself > -> no secretary here.)
> Several people sent clippings describing how UAL provided Glenn F. Tilton, who was living in San Francisco when it hired him as chairman and chief executive, with a suite in a luxury hotel when he spent time at its headquarters in Chicago. UAL was paying for the suite > -> which cost $18,000 a month, according to The San Francisco Chronicle > -> while it was reorganizing its finances under bankruptcy court protection and telling tens of thousands of workers that their jobs had been eliminated, their pay cut, their pensions terminated or all of the above because the company was broke.
> Some of the letter writers recalled how UAL spent an average of $10 million a month on lawyers, accountants and investment bankers for 37 months while UAL was in bankruptcy, and yet was unable to pay its employees their pensions.
> Now UAL has emerged from bankruptcy with a mighty flourish, and an allowance of hundreds of millions of dollars for its top executives. Some letters pointed out that one of UAL's board members is none other than our old friend Robert S. Miller, chief executive of Delphi , the auto parts maker.
> Delphi also recently entered bankruptcy > -> but proposed to the bankruptcy court a payment of well over $100 million to its top executives to keep them happy while it was in bankruptcy. Mr. Miller, who goes by Steve, a version of his middle name (not the one who sings "Fly Like an Eagle," but an artist of sorts nonetheless), has told Delphi's workers that they will have to take pay cuts of roughly two-thirds in order to save the business.
> But my favorite communication, the one that made me stay up nights, was from a United States Army sergeant who has done two combat tours in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan, and is now home in Georgia training others to serve in those wars. I have been pals with this man for a couple of years now, and we talk on the phone. He has been following my articles online, and he simply asked, "Was this what I was fighting for in Iraq?"
> The question haunts me, not only because of UAL and Delphi, but also because there is something deeply broken about the corporate system in America. Long ago, my pop was pals with Harlow H. Curtice, the president of > General Motors in its glory days in the 1950's. Mr. Curtice presided over a spectacularly powerful and profitable G.M.
> For that, in his peak year as I recall from my youth, he was paid about $400,000 plus a special superbonus of $400,000, which made him one of the highest-paid executives in America. At that time, a line worker with overtime might have made $10,000 a year. In those days, that differential was considered very large > -> very roughly 40 times the assembly line worker's pay, without bonus; very roughly 80 times with bonus. A differential of more like 10 to 20 times was more the norm.
> Now C.E.O.'s routinely take home hundreds of times what the average worker is paid, whether or not the company is doing well. The graph for the pay of C.E.O.'s is a vertical line in the last five years. The graph for workers' pay is a flat line > -> in every sense.
> Now, my fellow free-market fans may well say: "Hey, stop your whining. This is the free market at work." Only it isn't the free market at work. It's a kleptocracy at work. (I am indebted to another of my correspondents for the word.) What's happening here is that the governance system for many > -> by no means all > -> corporations has simply stopped working.
> For centuries, the idea has held that the stockholders own the company. They are the trustors. The trustors select directors who in turn hire a chief executive and other top officers and then keep an eye on them for the stockholders. They > -> the chief executive, other top officers and the directors > -> are all agents for the stockholders, many of whom are often the employees, as is the case at UAL.
> But what has happened is that > -> as in a corrupt, failed third-world state > -> the trustees in too many cases are captives of the C.E.O. and his colleagues; they owe both their places on the board and their emoluments to the chief executive, and they exercise no meaningful restraint at all on managers. The directors are instead a sort of praetorian guard, protecting management from its real bosses, the stockholders, as management sucks the blood out of the company.
> I am by no means saying this is the standard or the usual way business is done in this country. Most managements are still honest and hard-working, I believe. But far too many are simply in the catbird seat to take what is not decently theirs from people who cannot afford to be taken.
> Government, meanwhile, does nothing, or next to nothing. Courts, especially bankruptcy courts, do nothing. And the employees and stockholders and the whole society are looted. Maybe it's not looting in the legal sense, but something basic is removed from the society. In the capitalist society, the most basic foundation is trust. But in today's world, trust is abused, mocked, drained of meaning.
> Again, I am not talking everywhere, by any means. I work with many, many businessmen and businesswomen, and a huge majority are honest and amazingly hard-working. I am sure that this is true nationally. But enough are not so honest and hard-working that it takes a toll on the rest of us.
> Don't get me wrong. I am not a newborn. I know that looting is not new. Man is highly flawed when money is on the table and not guarded well. I saw it and wrote about it in great detail when Michael R. Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert were ascendant, and in many other cases. It was terrible and dreadful, at least in my view, back then in the 1980's. It has always been terrible.
> But there is something new and unlovely that my pal in the Army brought up. Now, we are engaged in a war. More than 100,000 Americans are fighting far from home. Many don't come back. Many come home crippled. They are fighting for a vision of a just and decent society back home in glorious, shining, blessed America. And back home, meanwhile> , the looters are running wild, taking the meaning out of that vision of America, taking some > -> by no means all > -> of the beauty out of America as a land of justice and fairness.
> ONE of my correspondents wrote that she, a flight attendant at United Airlines, had played by the rules, believed what her bosses told her, trusted that the laws would protect her, believed that fairness would triumph in the end because it's America. "I guess that makes me a fool in today's world," she said, because now she is broke, with no job, barely any pension and no faith. While the soldiers are fighting to protect us from the terrorists with bombs, too few are at home protecting us from the terrorists with briefcases. There aren't a lot of such terrorists, but they do a lot of damage.
> Surely this is not what Colonel Denman won his medals for. Surely this is not the America that our best are fighting and dying for in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is something desperately wrong here, and if President Bush is searching for an issue, I might suggest this: common decency for the workers and the savers and investors of this country, and an end to the hideous breaches of trust that build great mansions in the Hamptons and wreck a free soci- ety.
> Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. E-mail: ebiz@nytimes.com.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

‘Airline Workers United’ Forms to Fight Concessions Industry-Wide

by Chris Kutalik and Jennifer Biddle

Things seem to keep going from bad to worse for workers at Northwest Airlines (NWA). While striking mechanics and cleaners face a bitter winter after more than four months on the picket line, pilots, flight attendants, gate/ramp agents, baggage handlers, customer service reps, and other union workers face a fresh round of givebacks against the backdrop of a bankruptcy court.

A New York City bankruptcy court ordered NWA’s non-striking unions to accept interim concessions on November 16. Machinist union (IAM) members took 19 percent pay cuts (sending wages back to 1980s levels), hefty health care cuts (doubling deductibles up to $400 for some), layoffs, and wide-scale outsourcing.

“It’s like working at a morgue,” says Mike Ramsdell, an IAM member in Cincinnati. “The official proposal was to outsource 98 stations to subcontractors. Our station isn’t even on the list—which makes me think that our station will be cut entirely. All the small places are pretty much toast.”

NWA pilots are looking at even steeper pay cuts (23.9 percent), as are flight attendants with 20.7 percent.

But in a break from routine in this ailing industry, two small but growing campaigns—led by airline workers—are using NWA’s strike and bankruptcy debacle as a springboard for what may be the opening moves of an industry-wide fightback.


Galvanized by the mechanics’ strike at NWA, members of other NWA workgroups (flight attendants and ground workers), union members at other airlines (United and American), and other labor activists have created a new industry-focused organization: Airline Workers United (AWU).

“The way that the mechanics were hung out to dry has really hit many of us hard,” said Rebecca Johnson, a customer service rep and IAM Local 1833 member at Northwest Airlines. “I hope that not too many employees look at what has happened during the mechanic strike and lose heart.

“I hope that when they look back they see the problem was in the lack of solidarity and support from fellow unions on the property, not that employees don’t have a voice or are incapable of promoting a strong fight.”

Twenty-seven activists created AWU’s organizing committee in November to build support for an effort to unite workers from different unions, workgroups, and employers.

“Part of the reason for the effectiveness of the airlines’ divide-and-conquer strategy is the serious lack of communication and planned strategies amongst many unions—even at the same company,” said Richard Turk, Communication Officer for Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) Local 9. “The coming together of activists from throughout the industry can be a large step in the right direction.”

Explaining why she joined the organizing committee, Karen Schultz, national contract action team coordinator for NWA’s flight attendants union (PFAA), said that she was interested in a “global strategy that goes beyond the boundaries of individual unions and trades.”


Beyond building unity, the group hopes to build “rank-and-file networks to make unions democratic and keep leaders accountable.” Frustrated by the sluggish and short-sighted responses of many union leaders to their industry’s crisis, AWU members—many of them local officers or former officers themselves—see this step as necessary to recovering union losses since the industry’s post-9/11 collapse.

Spread out across the country, the group has been meeting weekly by phone, has set up its own listserve, and is designing an AWU website. Plans are also being made for regional meetings and a national half-day conference as part of the May 2006 Labor Notes conference.

“At the meetings, we can talk about how to perpetually organize and the value of continually setting resources aside to do this,” says Schultz. “And we absolutely must leave with a plan for specific actions.”

“We are a little NWA-centered right now,” added Ramsdell, who helped to found AWU. “We need to expand our scope and reach out to non-union people too.

“We are going to need to find a way to reach the people that have given up. At Delta [a mostly non-union carrier] it is defeat after defeat and workers don’t want to fight.”


AMFA strikers at NWA faced an offer that AMFA leadership called “the worst contract in the history of airline labor.” Under pressure from members, however, the union’s National Executive Council put the offer to a membership vote. Members rejected the offer, which would effectively lay off the entire striking workforce at the airline, by 57 percent on December 30.

News of the offer—and the rejection--surprised strikers and supporters alike, as the union had escalated support efforts for the strike only weeks before. In November, AMFA launched the Campaign to Save Airline Jobs and Safety, with rallies in the Minneapolis and Detroit areas, two major centers of the strike.

The campaign’s opening rally in Bloomington, Minnesota on November 19 drew 700 and followed NWA’s deadline threat to force concessions through the bankruptcy court on November 16. A crowd of 400 came out for the second rally in Southgate, Michigan on December 4.

Speakers at both rallies repeatedly emphasized themes broader than the NWA strike: companies’ use of bankruptcy as a “strategy of choice” to bust unions (drawing connections between auto and steel companies and airlines); the outsourcing of aircraft maintenance overseas; the need for international solidarity between unions; and the general decline in airline safety standards.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger—while studiously avoiding mention of his own union’s woes at Delphi—spoke of his union’s support for the strike, saying, “it is courageous for workers to go on strike in the climate that exists today.”


The campaign is the brainchild of veteran labor consultant Ray Rogers. His group, Corporate Campaign, was hired by AMFA in October. Rogers says that the campaign’s strategy entails viewing the strike not as AMFA’s final move against NWA, but as “one piece of an overall campaign of leverage.”

The other pieces of the campaign center around pressuring and exposing NWA’s board of directors and the bankruptcy court. Former Michigan Governor John Engler—a NWA board member and president of the National Association of Manufacturers—and NWA CEO Doug Steenland have become particular targets.

AMFA Local 5 has planned a number of Detroit actions at places linked to both Engler and Steenland. A threatened picket of the Superbowl (Steenland sits on the regional hosting committee) has drawn considerable local media attention.

[Jen Biddle has worked for 10 years as an aircraft mechanic and has written extensively on airline unions. Chris Kutalik (chris@labornotes.org) works as co-editor of Labor Notes. For more information on both campaigns see www.labornotes.org and www.corporatecampaign.org/airlinecamp.htm. AWU can be contacted at airlineworkers@gmail.com. ]

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Northwest Mechanics Reject Offer

Northwest Mechanics Reject Offer
Settlement Is Turned Down
By 57% of Those Voting;
4-Month Strike Continues
December 31, 2005; Page A3

A majority of the Northwest Airlines mechanics who voted on a settlement agreement that would have ended a four-month strike rejected the offer, according to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

The deal, rejected by 57% of those voting, would have made the strikers eligible for four weeks of severance pay and allowed them to apply for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Northwest made the offer in mid-December

However, Northwest has outsourced most of the strikers' jobs and now only employs 880 mechanics, including 480 AMFA members who crossed picket lines or came off furlough as replacement workers. And it imposed a new contract on that group, terms of which the strikers also rejected in the ballot results released Friday.

When the strike began Aug. 20, 4,400 people walked off the job after union negotiators rejected a proposal that would have provided as much as six months of severance pay and protected 2,750 jobs. Northwest made two subsequent offers to the union, both less attractive than the first, and AMFA negotiators declined to put them out for a membership vote.

AMFA's national executive council decided earlier this month to put the latest, least generous offer to a vote, but recommended that members reject it and the imposed contract terms for the current mechanics. Rejection means the strike will continue. The union said 2,223 people cast ballots, with 1,258 voting against the deal and 965 voting for it. Retirees, furloughed workers and those who crossed the picket lines and returned to work weren't eligible to vote.

"This is a victory for AMFA members and for unionism," said O.V. Delle-Femine, national director of the union. "Our striking members refused to bow down to Northwest's ... management and will continue the strike against this renegade, union-busting airline." AMFA also represents mechanics at UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, Alaska Air Group Inc.'s Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and some smaller carriers.

Northwest, which filed for bankruptcy-court protection in September, has said the terms it imposed on the replacement workers, which included outsourcing the majority of its technician and aircraft-cleaner positions, are providing it with the $203 million in annual savings it was seeking from that work group. The imposed terms lowered the top pay for a veteran mechanic to $26.53 an hour, down from the mid-$30s, and made union membership and dues payment optional rather than mandatory. Technically, AMFA remains the bargaining agent for the 880 remaining mechanics.

Northwest, based in Eagan, Minn., said it was disappointed that the union declined to ratify the latest contract proposal.

The carrier remains in negotiations with its three largest unions over concessions it says it needs to successfully restructure in bankruptcy and emerge a stronger, financially viable airline. The three unions currently are providing Northwest with temporary savings and hope to reach permanent contracts before a bankruptcy judge is scheduled to hear the company's motion on Jan. 17 to annul the group's contracts so it can impose terms on the pilots, flight attendants and ramp workers and customer-service agents.

Some of Northwest's requests have angered other workers also. The Air Line Pilots Association, for instance, intends to conduct informational picketing on Wednesday at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport to display frustration with the carrier's plans to outsource all jobs on planes of 100 seats or fewer to a new subsidiary. ALPA maintains that 1,000 Northwest pilot jobs would be lost, and pledges that if the judge allows Northwest to impose new terms of employment the pilots will strike.

Northwest says its goal is to reach consensual agreements with the unions. Its aim is to lower its overall labor costs by $1.4 billion per year.