Labor Roundup for December 2014

Speakers advocate campaign about value of unions. Labor must launch a massive education campaign about unions’ value to counter Right-wing propaganda and to forestall cynicism that could lead people to turn to demagogues, said speakers at a recent Economic Policy Institute event.

Robert Morris, who wrote the new chronicle of the UAW, “Made In Detroit,” tied that history to today, when unions represent 6.7 percent of private-sector workers, down from more than one-third in the 1950s.

“It’s important to say, ‘What happens if we don’t have a union?’,” he said. “At one point, there’s going to be an explosion of people who can’t make it – unless there’s a union option. I worry what would happen if a demagogue came along.”

Unions help create mass-transit spending-jobs coalition. The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department and six large unions – including the Electrical Workers, Machinists and Steelworkers – have helped create a coalition to lobby local governments to ensure that future mass-transit spending creates well-paying U.S. jobs.

The Jobs To Move America coalition and University of Massachusetts researchers calculate at least 24 states will spend $5.4 billion in coming years on 34 mass transit projects. Much of the money comes from the federal government. The pending projects would create thousands of good jobs if agencies involved ensure that U.S. businesses win the bids, the coalition says. They point out that 15 states host 28 factories that build buses, mass-transit rail cars, track and other components.

“Good jobs are no longer an afterthought when we spend billions of public dollars on transit equipment,” said Madeline Janis, the coalition’s director. “By leveraging our public transit dollars, we can support up to 53,000 good American jobs, rather than buying on the cheap, which creates a competitive ‘race to the bottom’ and hurts taxpayers, transit riders and unemployed Americans alike.”

The coalition said recent Chicago, Los Angeles and Amtrak contracts totaled $4.4 billion in purchases of new rail cars, all from U.S. firms. Almost half of the total was for cars for Chicago’s El, said Jorge Ramirez, Chicago Federation of Labor president. City Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who’s had rocky relations with transit workers, teachers and other unions, approved.

OSHA, Communications Workers seek reduction in falls from cell-phone towers. With lobbying from the Communications Workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced plans to cut the number of workers killed in fatal falls from cell-phone transmission towers.

CWA Safety and Health Director Dave LeGrande said that major cell-phone firms may be non-union and avoid union organizing drives by subcontracting tower erection and maintenance to other firms, but tower workers must still be protected.

Cell-phone companies should be held jointly responsible with subcontractors for worker safety, he said.

“The cell phones in our pockets can’t come at the cost of a worker’s life,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez commented.

NLRB moves to protect workers’ Facebook posts. In a ruling involving a Connecticut sports bar whose owners shorted their workers on state withholding taxes – leaving them cursing and stuck with unanticipated bills — the National Labor Relations Board moved to protect workers’ Facebook discussions, telling employers they could not enforce broad policies regulating what workers say on their own Facebook accounts.

The NLRB panel ruled that, under labor law, workers’ comments or “likes” on Facebook are “protected concerted activity” by discussing worksite problems.

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper in Peoria

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