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coward in the streets. If it had not been for the men and women who, in the past, have
had the moral courage to go to jail, we would still be in the jungles." - Eugene Debs
Stock Options? Try Union DuesNew York Times by Abby Ellin September 17, 2002
Remember the new economy? Back when young workers were hopeful and dewy-eyed and planning their retirements to Juan-les-Pins, France? True, they also were falling asleep at their desks from overwork, earning barely enough to buy their ramen noodles and sometimes going without health insurance. But it didn't matter: their cups ran over with stock options.
Then the dot-com bubble burst and they learned just how much or how little they were worth. Had they only had union representation.
"A union contract gives you an enforceable right," said Hanan B. Kolko, a lawyer at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, which represents dozens of unions. "It gives people protection from unfair treatment."
Union membership has declined over the last two decades, but that might be changing as more young professionals accept unions. A survey this year by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. found that 58 percent of young workers, those 18 to 34, would vote to be unionized if given the chance.
"When you're young and out of school and you enter the workplace, you're willing to trade long-term employment security for potential opportunities," said Amy B. Dean, 38, the founding director of Working Partnerships USA, a nonprofit organization for contingent and temporary employees in Silicon Valley. "That was particularly true through the 1990's. But a few years into your work experience, you realize you're coming up short and you begin to feel disappointed with your employment and your employer."
A union provides job security, which isn't a bad idea in this economy. A 1999 Hart study found that young union members are more likely than young nonunion employees to have full-time, permanent jobs (74 percent versus 49 percent), earn more than $20,000 a year (70 percent versus 38 percent), be covered by a pension plan with an employer contribution (63 percent versus 39 percent) and have an employer-provided health plan (76 percent versus 40 percent).
Perhaps no one could benefit from unionization more than so-called free agents, the 8.6 million independent contractors and 1.2 million temporary workers who have become a pivotal part of the working world. More than half of all temporary workers are under 35; temps in the 18-to-34 age group earn 16.5 percent less, on average, than permanent workers. Only 15 percent of temps have retirement plans, and only 5 percent receive employer-provided health insurance.
Mr. Kolko says today's free agents, which also include freelancers, "are where workers were 100 years ago."
"They were disorganized and not treated well," he said. "Their concerns weren't being presented in an organized way and they didn't receive statutory protections."
How do you mobilize today's workers? By law, you cannot be fired for supporting a union or trying to bring one into your workplace. But it's a different story for freelancers or independent contractors, as Raj Jayadev, 27, discovered. Two years ago, he took an $8-an-hour temp job through Manpower, the temporary employment agency, as an assembler at a plant run by a contractor of Hewlett-Packard in Sunnyvale, Calif. When he tried to organize long-term temporary workers, he was handed a pink slip. He appealed his firing to the state labor commissioner. He was not reinstated, but the commissioner ruled that his right to express health and safety concerns at work had been violated. Mr. Jayadev was awarded a week's back pay by Manpower, amounting to about $240.
Mr. Jayadev says the current union model needs to be overhauled to entice young people. "You have to meet them where their identities are," he said. "You can't stand outside of the gates with a flier; there are no gates. You need to go where people are grouping."
Unions have been trying to attract more young people. In 1996, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. created Union Summer, a month-long internship that teaches students about unions and union organizing. Students work in union offices in various cities, attending rallies and meeting with union leaders. This year, the program had more than 500 applicants for 150 slots. Two years ago, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union representing New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, created the Youth Brigade, a paid summer internship that also gives young people work experience in the labor movement.
Their efforts may be paying off, at least on college campuses. Students have organized on behalf of graduate student teaching assistants, sanitation workers and food service workers. And there have been some triumphs in the working world, notably when nearly 10,000 so-called permatemps at Microsoft filed a federal lawsuit against the company 10 years ago to get benefits. In 2000, they won a $97 million settlement.
Advocacy groups are also popping up. One of them, Working Today, represents independent workers, including freelancers, consultants, temps and contingent employees. "Freelancers need to have their own organization to build a constituency to advocate for them politically and with employers," said Sara Horowitz, the group's executive director in Manhattan. "Unions come from the beginning of time, in different shapes and forms crafts, unions, and guilds. Every era of a new kind of work leads to a new kind of representation."
She's right. Keep that in mind the next time your boss offers stock options instead of health insurance, refuses to give you a raise or won't promote you to full-time status.
Former WorldCom Workers Helped by AFL-CIOWashington Post by Christopher Stern September 10, 2002
September 10, 2002; Page E01
Former WorldCom Inc. employees asked a federal bankruptcy court yesterday to approve an additional $36 million in severance payments to 4,000 employees who have been laid off by the financially troubled telecommunications company in recent months.
The court has already approved $22 million in payments to laid-off workers, but each person could get only $4,650 because of a cap set in place by bankruptcy law -- far below what some employees said they are owed.
The AFL-CIO filed a motion yesterday to raise the cap. The request follows a similar move by WorldCom last week.
"We have always believed it was the right thing to do," WorldCom spokesman Brad Burns said in reference to the company's petition to make good on its severance obligations.
WorldCom, which is the parent company of MCI Group and Internet provider UUNet, has laid off approximately 2,000 employees in the Washington area during the last four months.
WorldCom filed for protection from its creditors in July, the largest bankruptcy filing ever. Since then, every major expenditure by the nation's second-largest telecommunications company must be approved by the bankruptcy court.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez is scheduled to hold a hearing Oct. 1 on the severance payment and other issues. Just last month, Gonzalez agreed to boost the limit on severance payments to employees laid off by Enron Corp. to $13,500.
WorldCom has not only asked the court to exceed the $4,650 cap on individual payments but also to cancel "enhanced-severance agreements" with 19 executives. Those agreements would have paid the executives a total of $900,000.
"The employees need the money now, are owed the money now and should get paid the money now," said Kathy Roeder, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman.
The filing by the AFL-CIO also asks the court to order WorldCom to turn over documents that detail how much employees are due for such things as severance, vacation pay and health benefits. "It's difficult to say how much employees are owed because WorldCom has all the numbers," Roeder said.
The AFL-CIO said receiving a severance package should not preclude employees from later joining a lawsuit against the company over the investments it offered in its 401(k) retirement plan -- a mix some claim was too heavily weighted with WorldCom stock.
Burns declined to comment in detail on the language contained in the severance agreements. "It's a standard release that is very common among many large companies," Burns said.
Unions Aid Laid-Off YuppiesHouston Chronicle by L.M. SIXEL September 4, 2002
(9/2/02) - Shortly after Enron Corp.'s financial meltdown turned many millionaires into paupers, a group of new folks started showing up to protest.
These reformers didn't look like the traders or techies with their Palm Pilots and Porsches. They were union leaders more likely to be wearing big belt buckles and driving American-made pickup trucks.
Corporate accountability and severance pay for laid-off yuppies are new issues for labor.
While unions have been moving in this direction for a few years, their efforts gained widespread attention with the collapse of Enron, which made boardroom corruption one of the biggest issues around. The AFL-CIO's most direct connection was its push for better severance packages for laid-off Enron workers.
For decades, labor union leaders have focused on negotiating contracts and settling grievances for their members. But over the past few months, aided by a string of corporate meltdowns, the labor movement seems reinvigorated.
Labor leaders are filing shareholder proposals on auditor independence and executive severance arrangements, lobbying Congress aggressively on pension reform and fighting companies that try to flee offshore to escape U.S. taxes. And they're meeting with something that the labor movement hasn't seen in a while: success.
The fall of Enron put Houston at the center of this push.
Shortly after the December bankruptcy filing -- which led to mass layoffs and huge losses in employee retirement savings accounts -- the Harris County AFL-CIO's community service referral program started getting calls from ex-Enron employees looking for help. Unions jumped at this chance.
"I thought it was odd," recalled Debbie Perrotta, a former administrative assistant to an Enron executive, and also one of the early Enron activists.
The union didn't even represent any workers at Enron's headquarters in Houston, so "Why would they get involved?" Perrotta wondered.
Ultimately, the legal and organizing aid provided by the unions helped Enron employees win about three times more severance than they were initially offered.
Now the AFL-CIO is hoping to do the same for laid-off workers from WorldCom, which has also filed for bankruptcy protection.
Labor representatives are using many of the skills they've learned running "corporate campaigns," which attacked companies on matters such as noncompliance with environmental and labor laws.
These media-savvy tactics are a way to sell the idea of union membership to a new group -- white-collar, well-paid workers who are, traditionally, nonunion.
Unions are trying to repackage themselves so they're seen as a positive force -- the role of do-gooder, said John L. Collins, an employment lawyer who specializes in labor/management disputes at Seyfarth Shaw in Houston.
Sales, by way of an organizing campaign, will come later.
Finding new pools of members has long been a life-and-death issue for unions, who now represent about 13 percent of the work force.
The traditional membership base of unions has eroded -- manufacturers alone cut 900,000 jobs during the past year -- so unions have to organize new sectors, said Richard Shaw, secretary treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO.
While the percentage is slowly inching up -- unions had a net gain of 400,000 members this year compared with the previous year -- the organizations would have to add an extra 1 million people each year to make up for the many factories that have shut down.
The push to attract the well-paid worker is similar to labor's concerted effort, which began about five years ago, to represent the rights of immigrant workers. That campaign was a sharp departure from the past when unions used to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report immigrants because of a widespread feeling they were taking "union" jobs.
Work on issues such as establishing permanent day-labor sites has led to some organizing victories. Union leaders hope to make similar gains among white-collar employees.
"Unions can go in and look like they're wearing the white hat through a wage and hour lawsuit," said John Skonberg, an employment lawyer who represents management with Littler Mendelson in San Francisco. "They hope the employees will be grateful and vote for them, and for the employer to capitulate."
In the case of one Enron worker, the message got through.
Perrotta said that before the meltdown, if anyone would have asked if she'd like to join a union, "I would have said, `What for? Enron was giving us everything.' "
But after the money from Enron ended, union officials stepped in.
"If it wasn't for the AFL-CIO stepping in and helping us, we would have never been able to get a motion in bankruptcy court for severance," said Perrotta.
In addition to providing a lawyer, the AFL-CIO e-mailed 13 million members and asked them to write and call the creditors committee and Enron officials for the additional severance, she said.
Union members also fanned out across the country to pressure the other big creditors to support the former employees.
Perrotta said the union also put her in front of congressional leaders and sponsored bus trips around the country so she and other ex-Enron employees could tell their stories.
Perrotta has enjoyed her new career lobbying for Enron severance benefits so much that she recently took an organizing job with the Texas Federation of Teachers.
The AFL-CIO, whose union-sponsored pension funds were responsible for one-third of all shareholder proposals filed last year, also helped fight Stanley Works' proposal to move its incorporation to Bermuda to escape taxes.
Union leaders held rallies in front of the company's headquarters in Connecticut as well as near Fidelity Investments in Boston, which is Stanley Works' largest shareholder. The company, which also faced opposition from the attorney general of Connecticut, ended up withdrawing its proposal to move to Bermuda.
A less intense push by labor to block Houston-based Nabors Industries' move to Bermuda failed to slow its relocation to the tax haven.
Union leaders are upbeat and feeling more like important players these days. And some, like Shaw, figure it's only a matter of time before workers from other companies make inquiries.
"What I'm waiting for is that call from someone at Dynegy: `Mr. Shaw, I want a union. How do I get one?'
"Eventually that call is going to come."
The Hypocrisy of Labor DayNew York Times by George Packer September 3, 2002
(9/2/02) - This Labor Day comes at the end of a 12-month period in which the face of American heroism was a worker's face. First there were the dust-covered firefighters, cops and emergency workers, and then the welders and excavators grimly digging all winter, the mail sorters risking their lives, the underpaid soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and, finally, a month ago, the nine grimy coal miners trapped deep underground in Pennsylvania. They tied themselves together with cable 240 feet below the surface of the earth -- an indelible image of solidarity that gave the country a badly needed metaphor and a happy ending as well. The year's only good news was the sudden appearance of half-forgotten virtues like stoicism and sacrifice. Working stiffs turned into bands of brothers and Joe Six-Pack became the martyr, while the rest of us received a measure of redemption. We repaid them in an outpouring of news coverage, political speeches, merchandising and movie and book deals.
But this glorification of blue-collar heroes carries an unmistakable whiff of bad conscience. In recent years American life has put a rather low value on honest, unglamorous work and brotherly self-sacrifice. ''Solidarity forever'' was not a message that made much impression on the post-Reagan mind. In the age of the rising Dow, a wage earner seemed like a has-been, hopelessly out of touch with the opportunities all around. Laid-off manufacturing workers were told to quit whining and get retrained. Staying in the same job for more than a year was a sign not of loyalty but of stagnation, if not failure. The heroes of the decade were entrepreneurs and C.E.O.'s.
In the past year, though, we have learned that glamorized corporate chiefs will sell out anyone and that sad sacks with union cards and dead-end jobs are the ones you can count on in a pinch. Imagine being tied at the waist to Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer, with the water level rising and the air supply running out. The limits of aggressive drive have become painfully clear. Those workers who were fast becoming relics turn out to have preserved the only qualities that matter when the crunch comes. Since these were the very people the rest of the country consigned to cultural and economic oblivion, there's an air of atonement in the worship: forgive us our sins of individualism.
But it isn't entirely guilt. Beneath the media fanfare about ''heroes,'' in the divided heart of the upwardly mobile, this romance with the worker reflects a genuine longing too. Who doesn't feel the pull of those values of solidarity as they disappear from the corporate world and much of American life? The restless energy unleashed by high-tech capitalism carried a psychic price, but it took a crisis to make most Americans aware of what has been lost. The narrowness of outlook that ambitious professionals despised now seems appealing: the flip side of parochialism is a sense of community, where time-serving can be a form of steadfastness. In a speech to the rescued coal miners, President Bush said, ''It was their determination to stick together and to comfort each other that really defines kind of a new spirit that's prevalent in our country.''
The problem with this ''new spirit'' is that it is based in large part on a sham. The gratitude and guilt and longing are real, but no one wants to be stuck in a hard, mindless, badly paid job with little room for advancement. The typical face of postindustrial working-class life is not a firefighter's or a coal miner's -- it is that of the exhausted Wal-Mart ''associate'' who has just punched out but is ordered to round up shopping carts in the parking lot. She can't clock her overtime hours because the branch manager needs to show high profits. Solidarity has been preached to her in the form of Wal-Mart family values, but it goes only one way.
Even the lionized firefighters have been reduced to the grubby embarrassment of contract disputes. ''I'm tired of politicians coming to our funerals and telling the widows how sorry they are,'' Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said at a rally two weeks ago. ''Pay us a living wage.'' Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to pursue relentlessly anti-labor policies. America wants its workers to do everything except ask for a raise in return.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, to learn that Labor Day was born in hypocrisy and blood. President Grover Cleveland signed legislation creating the holiday in August 1894, less than a week after 12,000 federal troops crushed a rail strike in Pullman, Ill. With one eye on midterm elections, he salved labor's raw feelings by giving the country a day off in honor of its workers. The degeneration of Labor Day has continued fairly steadily over more than a century of barbecues, and by now it's probably our least sincere holiday. In the year of working-class heroes, we should do something real for labor, or else we should spare everyone tomorrow's cliches and rededicate the first Monday in September to a cause that stirs genuine passion. Happy Investor's Day.
George Packer is the author, most recently, of ''Blood of the Liberals.''
The NC Labor MovementThe Charlotte Observer by Ted Reed September 3, 2002
(9/2/02) - Today's fourth annual Charlotte Labor Day parade is a tribute to an unusual phenomenon: On the border between the nation's two least-unionized states stands a city with a small but healthy labor movement.
The parade, apparently the only one today in the Southeast, is just one sign of the movement's growing involvement.
This year, the city's unions have helped restore jobs for laid-off factory workers, backed an organizing drive among construction workers and hosted labor-media roundtables -- also unique in the Southeast -- that enable labor leaders to schmooze with reporters.
"Why shouldn't Charlotte have a labor movement?" asked Bill Wise, president of the city's largest local, an International Association of Machinists unit that represents 3,400 workers, primarily at US Airways.
"It's clear, given the show of corporate greed over the last couple of years and the devastation in the Carolinas because (trade legislation) put people in unemployment lines while jobs went to Mexico, that more and more people realize being in a labor union is not just protection on the job," Wise said. "Unions try to educate members to legislation that affects their jobs."
One key event for the labor movement has been the arrival of Chris Freitag, an organizer for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which moved to Charlotte from Atlanta in June 2001. He launched his first organizing campaign at a Charlotte contracting firm in May.
Many Charlotte construction workers live in dilapidated hotels, aren't provided water on the job and sometimes aren't paid by their employers, said Freitag. The growing ranks of Hispanic workers often have little recourse to complaints, he said.
Because of its labor infrastructure, "Charlotte is better than any city I've been to in the South," Freitag said. But he still sees plenty of work to do.
"Why is Charlotte 50 years behind in labor relations?" he asked. "Is it because we're here in the South and we have no unions and that's how it is? The carpenters' union doesn't buy it. We're going to stay here and organize."
It's clear the Carolinas don't roll out the welcome mat for labor. Unions represent 13.5 percent of U.S. workers, but just 3.6 percent of N.C. workers and 4 percent of S.C. workers, the two lowest rates in the country, according to the Bureau of National Affairs, which compiles labor statistics.
State-backed right-to-work laws, entitling workers at unionized sites to union benefits even if they don't join, limit organizing in the South. For decades, such laws have enabled the Carolinas to lure relocating industries, attracted by the nonunionenvironment.
In fact, Charlotte's labor movement has lost hundreds of jobs lately due to massive cuts at US Airways, which is operating under bankruptcy court protection. Some of the airline's unions have agreed to concessions under the threat of having worse contracts forced on them in court.
Still, experts say the emergence of a more-activist labor movement in Charlotte should not be a total surprise.
"In Charlotte, you have a diverse industrial base, a major transportation hub and a base of skilled workers in industries that have traditionally been unionized," said Tom Terrill, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina.
"Even though union membership is low percentagewise, there are enough people that politicians have to listen to them," he said.
The 13-county Charlotte area has about 30,000 union members in a work force of about 821,500 people, according to union and state statistics.
Donna Gabaccia, a UNC Charlotte American history professor, said the city has become more open to unions since textiles dominated its economy.
"The textile industry had national unions when it moved south, but (organizing) efforts floundered because of cultural differences," she said. "It's different now in part because the work force is different. Many people in Charlotte have only recently arrived in the South."
Two recent immigrants, longtime labor activists Ed and Eileen Hanson-Kelly, have been largely responsible for the creation of Charlotte's labor infrastructure.
The couple moved from Philadelphia to Salisbury in 1996. A year later, they started the Labor Day parade, and in 2001 they set up the labor-media roundtable.
"We felt that the South was not union friendly, and we felt union members needed to get out there and show that we are good people," said Ed Hanson-Kelly.
The movement was invigorated by the 2000 election of Wise to head IAM Local 1725. Like Larry Murray, president of a local at Continental General Tire, he became a visible leader with concerns beyond contracts and grievances. Wise has lobbied Mayor Pat McCrory to keep US Airways jobs in Charlotte and is backing other unions' efforts.
His involvement added heft to the roundtable, even as Ed Hanson-Kelly's cantankerous style alienated some. Hanson-Kelly once accused The Observer of conspiring against labor because a map in the paper incorrectly showed the Labor Day parade route.
Some labor leaders wouldn't attend labor events due to conflicts with Hanson-Kelly. One was the former president of Teamsters Local 71.
"Neither party liked the other," said Ted Russell, now president of Local 71, which represents 2,200 workers, primarily truck drivers. "But as far as I'm concerned these people are good for the labor movement."
Charlotte's union movement scored a coup in the spring, when it apparently helped about 100 workers -- laid off from Tyco Electronics International's Rock Hill plant in December and January -- get their jobs back.
Although the workers were not unionized, labor leaders were disturbed that weeks after the layoffs, Tyco hired dozens of temporary workers at about half the pay of the laid-off workers. Union members drew media attention to the workers' plight and to terms of the economic incentive package that drew Tyco's predecessor to Rock Hill.
Tyco subsequently rehired nearly all the workers, attributing the move to improving market conditions. "Tyco can dress it up however they want to, but the real reason these people got the job back was pressure from workers," said Eileen Hanson-Kelly.
The Charlotte labor movement's key rallying point remains the yearlong strike, ending in 1999, by workers at Continental General Tire's Charlotte plant.
The workers are members of United Steelworkers of America Local 850. They scored minimal economic gains, but were energized by their solidarity, as only 15 of 1,450 crossed the picket line.
Hardly a day goes by that Murray isn't reminded of the strike. "My job as president takes me to a lot of places, and I've never been anywhere that someone didn't ask me about the strike, even today, four years later," he said.
"The thing I always say is how proud I am that our local withstood the assault for a full year in a city in the South, a totally anti-union area," he said. "For 1,400 people to stand together that long is astounding."
Workers Are Angry and FearfulNew York Times by Steven Greenhouse September 3, 2002
(9/2/02) - With longshoremen, janitors and Boeing employees threatening major strikes and employees reeling from corporate scandals and rising unemployment, the mood among American workers has turned anxious and even angry this Labor Day.
Unions are threatening walkouts by 10,500 longshoremen, 10,000 Boston janitors and 25,000 Boeing employees for reasons that are worrying American workers in general: fast-rising health care costs, slower wage growth and fears about job security.
Baseball players have settled their labor dispute, but dockworkers are still warning that they may close all West Coast ports because they fear that new technologies will cause layoffs. Boeing workers in Kansas, Oregon and Washington State will soon vote on whether to strike because Boeing is moving jobs overseas and wants them to contribute more toward their health care. In Boston, janitors at hundreds of buildings are threatening to strike, and in Chicago, 7,000 hotel workers have authorized a walkout saying, in both cases, that they want improved health coverage and wages high enough to support their families.
Economists say the mood has soured among American workers, union and nonunion, because wages are stagnating and unemployment has climbed to almost 6 percent, the highest level in eight years. The number of private-sector jobs is down nearly 2 percent from early 2001, while layoffs in the recent recession were unusually large for women and college graduates compared with past recessions.
"There is high unemployment, and it will remain that way for a while," said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. "Although it may have looked like a shallow recession, for some work force groups it's not so shallow."
In its new study, "The State of Working America," the institute found that wages were growing at their slowest level since 1995 and that the income gap between the richest Americans and everybody else was widening again, after narrowing in the late 1990's.
Large-scale layoffs occurred after Sept. 11 in many industries, most notably airlines, hotels and financial services. But the fiercest anger about layoffs stems from the dismissals at Enron and other scandal-plagued companies. Enron laid off 4,200 workers, and WorldCom 17,000.
"For years I've heard people talk about distrust of their employers, but something new is happening," said John J. Sweeney, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. "People are really fed up and furious with corporate America."
A survey of 900 workers, union and nonunion, by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, found that 58 percent were dissatisfied with the state of the economy, up from 34 percent in early 2001. The poll, released on Thursday, also found that 39 percent had negative feelings toward corporations, and 30 percent had positive feelings, a sharp reversal from January 2001, when 42 percent reported positive feelings toward corporations and 25 percent said they had negative feelings. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In the survey, commissioned by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., 60 percent of workers said their employers fell short in balancing concerns about employees with concerns about profits.
For organized labor, all this anxiety and anger has produced some good news: Americans have warmed up to the idea of joining unions. The Hart poll found that 50 percent of nonunion workers said they would vote to join a union if they could, the highest level in two decades, up from 42 percent last year and up from 30 percent in the early 1980's. The number who said they would vote against unionizing fell to 43 percent, from 65 percent two decades ago.
Whether labor unions can translate these sentiments into increased membership is unclear. Despite Mr. Sweeney's efforts to prod the nation's unions to do far more organizing, overall union membership has remained flat over the last decade.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O., which represents 13 million union members, plans to take the offensive this fall against President Bush and members of Congress whom the federation views as having done little to support labor. Mr. Sweeney was in Minnesota this weekend to campaign for Senator Paul Wellstone, a Democrat regarded by the federation as a champion of labor, who faces a tough re-election battle.
"The Bush administration has been the worst for working families in decades," Mr. Sweeney said. "The Bush administration as well as Congress have refused to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, and they have given a trillion-dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans."
He criticized Mr. Bush and most Republicans for approving new trade legislation that provides few safeguards for workers and for repealing rules intended to protect workers, like secretaries and meat packers, from repetitive-motion injuries.
Mr. Sweeney's political efforts may be undercut by several unions, most notably the carpenters' and the Teamsters, who have strengthened ties with Mr. Bush and Republicans, backing them on numerous issues, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Those unions wanted to develop influence with Republicans and feared that the Democrats had been taking labor for granted.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said, "There's a real split in the labor community, with an increasing number of rank-and-file workers proud to support the president, and leaders of some labor groups also showing signs of support for the president."
Value of Unions Recognized, Often Too LateNew York Times by Steven Greenhouse September 3, 2002
(9/1/02) - Not long ago, before the accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other companies, workers often saw themselves as management's best buddies. Gone was the old, us-against-them mentality in which workers viewed C.E.O.'s as robber barons intent on squeezing them for every last dollar.
In its place was a new world in which workers, with their stock options and 401(k) plans loaded with company stock, saw themselves as allied with management, not opposed to it. Pointing to the dot-com phenomenon, management theorists talked of a New Economy paradigm in which workers would link arms with executives because they were just as eager as their bosses to maximize company profits and stock prices.
The notion of worker exploitation was largely forgotten, at least among white-collar and high-technology employees, because it seemed so Old Economy. Corporate executives fostered an egalitarian atmosphere by using the same cafeterias and parking lots as their subordinates. They embraced an inclusive vocabulary in which workers were partners, associates, even fellow entrepreneurs, and to make workers identify with them, managers rewarded their new partners with stock options, bonuses and discount stock purchase plans.
"In the 90's, half of American households became investors, so the line between being an employee and an investor began to blur," former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich said. "People were happy because it looked as if a rapidly rising tide was lifting all boats." Workers hardly seemed to worry about the need for workplace protections. With the economy and Wall Street booming, it seemed silly to fret about layoffs. Workers were busy boasting about, not worrying about, the size of their retirement nest eggs.
To this new species of investor-worker, unions seemed irrelevant. Unions made little headway as they sought to lure workers by promising the basic protections coveted in decades past, like health coverage and defined-benefit pensions. Union membership remained flat even as the 1990's boom created more than 15 million jobs. For many workers, the collective approach seemed anachronistic because they were confident that management would protect them or they could protect themselves.
This logic seemed unassailable during the boom. But the paradigm began to crack with the high-tech bust and resulting layoffs, and crumbled with the recession and the Enron-led wave of scandals. At Enron, 4,200 workers were laid off; at WorldCom, 17,000.
Cara Alcantar, who accumulated 1,600 stock options in her four years at WorldCom, said she was naοve to identify with WorldCom's chief executive. "I felt on the same side as Bernie Ebbers, on the cutting edge of technology," she said. "I worked extremely hard, and I couldn't imagine layoffs would ever happen to me.'
But on July 3, she was laid off. Now her stock options are worthless, WorldCom says it cannot pay her severance benefits, and the half of her retirement savings that were in WorldCom stock are virtually worthless. "Not only were they not looking out for our interests," Ms. Alcantar said, "they were so greedy they made sure the money went into their pockets."
Before, she said, joining a union had never crossed her mind, but now she says she wishes WorldCom were unionized. With a union, she says, she might have had a defined-benefit pension that, unlike her vaporized 401(k) plan, would have guaranteed her benefits even after the stock market plunged. Labor leaders say that if Enron or WorldCom were unionized, unions would have won better pensions and severance benefits for the workers and, through their prying, might have forced the companies to be more honest about their books.
"We're seeing a real waking up across the nation because millions of workers are seeing that their economic futures are far less secure than they had been led to believe," said Harley Shaiken, a specialist in labor issues at the University of California at Berkeley.
A survey released last week by Peter D. Hart Associates found that 66 percent of workers said they trusted their employers just some or not much at all. Such numbers, labor experts say, suggest that the nation may have reached a watershed in which workers conclude that they need collective protections to safeguard them from predatory executives and economic downturns.
It is unclear whether a deus ex machina will materialize to rescue the beleaguered workers. The most likely candidates are Washington, which seems uninterested, and organized labor, which is weak.
Since the Enron scandal, President Bush and Congress have done little to protect workers even as they have rushed to protect investors. That is a far cry from 1963, when the Studebaker automobile company went under and more than 4,000 workers lost their pensions. In response, Congress, with a Republican senator, Jacob K. Javits, taking the lead, passed legislation that created strict pension protections.
The post-Enron Congress has shunned even modest protections like rules to require companies to make promised severance payments or to let workers elect representatives to the board of their 401(k) plans.
The Hart survey showed that workers are warming to unions, with 50 percent of nonunion workers saying they wanted to join a union, the highest level in two decades.
It was labor's clout in Congress and collective bargaining that created the nation's system of worker protections, including the 40-hour week, pensions, health coverage and job safety rules. But unions are weak, representing less than 10 percent of the private-sector work force, down from 35 percent in the 1950's. Unions have been notably unsuccessful in wooing workers from New Economy industries, like software.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, John J. Sweeney, said he saw a pendulum swing in favor of collective protections. "One Enron worker told me, `We trusted our employer, and liked our job, but when they threw us on the street, we lost all trust,' " Mr. Sweeney said. "A lot of workers are saying to themselves, `The same thing can happen to me.' "
Labor Versus G. W. BushScripps Howard News Service by Bill Straub September 3, 2002
(9/2/02) - Gerald McEntee, the fiery president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was typically blunt earlier this summer when he urged his fellow union members to "commit ourselves to putting George Bush out of work in 2004."
"American workers are under attack by an anti-worker president who didn't even win the election for the office he holds," McEntee said during the AFSCME convention in Las Vegas.
Ticking off a list of what he views as the administration's assault on organized labor, ranging from last year's $1.3 trillion tax cut to the controversial decision to kill ergonomic regulations, McEntee said the "real threat in this country comes from an administration that shuns working families and sides with big business -- like Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Arthur Andersen and so many more."
Although McEntee generally is recognized as one of the labor movement's most confrontational voices, his caustic analysis jibes with the consensus among union leaders that Bush, in the words of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, is sealing his position as "the worst president for working people in 50 years."
Bush and organized labor have butted heads since the outset of the administration with a ferocity rarely seen in Washington. The harsh feelings haven't ebbed, and union leaders are gearing up to displace Republicans in the upcoming election and to defeat the president in two years hence.
The relationship has become so acrimonious that the International Association of Fire Fighters, which held its convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, approved a non-binding resolution asking its leadership to formally protest the president's decision to withhold $100 million to improve communications systems for emergency workers. One proposal that was considered, but rejected, was a boycott of the 9/11 memorial service in New York that Bush plans to attend.
"Working Americans want a president who prioritizes their needs and finds a balance between big business and working people," Sweeney said. "President George W. Bush has not measured up."
For his part, the nation's first president with an MBA is doing his best to ignore Sweeney, McEntee and the groups they lead. When Bush convened an economic forum in Waco, Texas, in early August to review the nation's fiscal woes, organized labor wasn't afforded a seat at the table.
Bush and organized labor began slugging it out even before Bush assumed office. Most of the nation's unions, including the Teamsters who have engaged in some rapprochement with the administration, endorsed Bush's foe in the 2000 presidential campaign, former Vice President Al Gore, affording him not only cash but vital volunteer services.
And union leaders hopped on Bush's initial choice to lead the Department of Labor, Linda Chavez, because they thought she had an anti-labor slant.
She subsequently withdrew when questions were raised about her failure to set aside Social Security payments for a domestic worker.
Elaine Chao, the wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., became the secretary of labor.
In the first 100 days of the administration, Sweeney said, Bush took 28 separate actions that "catered to big business at the expense of working men and women." The most significant was the president's decision to scrap proposed ergonomic rules dealing with repetitive-motion injuries.
Those rules were 10 years in the making.
The administration has since issued revised rules that provide only voluntary guidelines and permit employers to set their own safety rules.
"Workers depending on voluntary guidelines developed by the big corporations for workplace safety protections is like depending on an Enron 401(k) plan for your retirement security -- nobody gets hurt in the boardroom, but workers lose everything," said Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
The animosity and heated rhetoric has continued, with a short truce in the aftermath of 9/11 . Organized labor fought the president's successful effort to obtain congressional approval of fast-track trade negotiation authority.
A new battle is brewing. Bush has threatened to veto legislation establishing a new Department of Homeland Security if it doesn't provide him with the authority to move employees unimpeded by union agreements. Speaking in Stockton, Calif., last week, the president said "flexibility" is necessary for the new agency to carry out its mission and that opponents are "more interested in special interests that have got lobbies in Washington."
"I need for my secretary to be able to move people to different agencies, if need be, to protect America," Bush said. "We need to put people in the right place at the right time."
Sweeney argues the administration's initiative would serve to "undermine the basic rights and protection of the thousands of government workers who will continue to serve their country in that new agency."
"The United States has guaranteed its career employees civil-service protections and successfully fought and won wars," Sweeney said. "History has proven that guaranteeing workers their rights does not imperil national security."
With no end in sight, Chao asserts that Bush "believes deeply in reaching out and opening doors" despite labor's claims to the contrary.
"Our president believes in, and stands up for, giving all Americans access to a good education, the dignity of work, including those currently on welfare," Chao said recently. "He believes in cutting taxes so families have more to save and invest."
Reforming labor lawBoston Globe by T. Kochan, P. Osterman September 3, 2002
(8/25/02) - Corporate reform proposals are ignoring a critical block of victims - American workers and their families. They are paying a huge price for trusting business executives to protect their interests, but current proposals fail to protect them from abuses that have led to dramatic losses in jobs, retirement income, professional and personal identity, and voice in the workplace.
It is widely recognized that worker knowledge, skills, and commitment are at least as important sources of competitive advantage to 21st century corporations as financial capital was to the 20th century firm. Workers also put a significant part of their human capital at risk by joining and staying with a firm. If forced to find new jobs, employees frequently lose between 15 and 20 percent in wages plus the value of the benefits that don't move with them. So, like investors of financial capital, employees absorb significant risk.
In the 1930s corporate reform, via the Security and Exchange Commission, was directly followed by passage of the National Labor Relations Act. Today's Congress should also finish the job and follow reforms designed to protect investors with actions that address the legitimate needs of workers and their families.
The first step is to finally fix labor law. Today, one in 20 workers who vote for a union can expect to be fired, even though this is illegal. Fixing labor law requires making the financial penalties for violating the rights guaranteed by labor law equal to those that apply to other forms of discrimination, placing tight time limits on union election campaigns to eliminate delaying tactics, and providing a right to arbitration if employers stonewall efforts to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement. A presidential commission endorsed such proposals nearly a decade ago, and the current corporate crisis makes their enactment even more overdue.
Reforming labor law is not enough. All workers, union or not, need the right to elect representatives to review their company's human resource policies, including executive compensation policies, training and development strategies, pensions, leave benefits, and layoff provisions. Just as investors need fuller access to information, workers need such transparency to ensure that corporate policies are fair across the board. American labor law now prohibits this type of representation, even though surveys find more than 70 percent of the work force want it.
Another necessary reform is to grant loyal employees who invest and put at risk their human capital a right to sit on corporate boards. The steel, trucking, and airline industries invited employee representatives onto their boards in exchange for major worker concessions to save their companies. But why should employees have a voice in governance only in failing companies? Elected employee representatives will give workers a say in decision-making that directly affects them while also providing investors with an independent check and balance on executive actions.
Like investors, employees have learned they cannot put all their eggs in one basket - in today's labor market, workers must be ready and able to move to new jobs. This requires weaning employment benefits away from their individual corporate focus; as a long-term objective, pensions, health insurance, training, and all other benefits must become fully portable.
The view that the corporation exists only to enrich its stockholders has been accepted for too long. Corporate failure to similarly value other objectives - including the well-being of employees and their community - has helped produce today's scandals. Any reform package that fails to give employees the power to monitor executive behavior and protect their human capital investments fails to complete the job.
Thomas A. Kochan and Paul Osterman are codirectors of the Institute for Work & Employment Research at MIT's Sloan School of Management and coauthors of ''Working in America: A Blueprint for the New Labor Market.''
Strike Settlement, MaybeRichmond Times-Dispatch by Greg Edwards August 20, 2002
(8/16/02) - Striking Dominion Virginia Power workers return to work at 5:30 p.m. today on their regular shifts.
The utility and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced yesterday they had signed a tentative pact to end the 2-week-old strike and send 3,700 union-represented workers back to their jobs, pending a contract vote.
Jim Norvelle, a Virginia Power spokesman, said the company is "very excited" about getting its union workers back. "We certainly hope they'll ratify" the contract.
Workers will vote by mail on the new pact during the next three to four weeks. Union leaders, unhappy with the way this year's contract talks have gone, are not recommending whether the rank-and-file should accept or reject the pact.
"All of us together in this local union will make the decision as to whether to re-institute the strike or to accept the company's final offer," IBEW Local 50 President Jack Wells said during a news conference yesterday.
Wells said union leaders didn't offer a recommendation because they felt the company could have done more for its workers.
"I'm aggravated by the company's attitude more than anything else . . . that a company as extremely profitable was not able to settle this in a faster manner and with some consideration given to employees," he said.
That said, Wells characterized the pact as protecting workers' core benefits and containing some significant improvements. The five-year term of the pact will offer workers some security, he said.
In the memorandum of agreement signed yesterday, both sides acknowledged that the deal represents a "good-faith effort and satisfactory resolution of the strike."
Major barriers to a settlement were proposed company changes in retiree pensions and health care. A compromise on the retiree issues was reached during talks with a federal mediator during the past few days at a Richmond hotel.
Provisions of the agreement include: a 14 percent raise over the course of five years; a quadrupled early-retirement supplement; retention of the existing defined-pension formula and union control of a fund that pays retiree medical premiums.