Labor Roundup | April 2018

Striking graduate assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rallied March 8 to celebrate a tentative settlement after a marathon overnight bargaining session.

“We got our two biggest priorities related to addressing financial stability and guaranteed tuition waivers” for teaching assistants and graduate assistants, said Gus Wood, co-president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO).

University of Illinois graduate student workers went on strike March 5 after negotiations failed to end a protracted contract dispute that has lasted almost a year. The main issues were wages, health care and especially the university’s attempt to weaken tuition waivers guaranteed in the last contract to all graduate and teaching assistants. Few graduate students could afford to attend school without the waivers.

“Graduate students would be forced to pay up to $30,000 in order to keep a job that pays less than $17,000 per year,” the union said in a prepared statement.

“Taking away our tuition waivers may have forced us to this point, but our fight goes well beyond that,” Wood said. “This is a fight for the soul of public higher education.”

Longtime Registered Nurse and activist Bonnie Castillo succeeded RoseAnn DeMoro as director of National Nurses United and its top affiliate, the California Nurses Association.

I’m “proud and excited to take the helm as executive director for @NationalNurses and continue the great work of our union!” Castillo tweeted. “Together we will advance our agenda to win health-care and workplace justice for all!”

Working with the union’s four co-presidents, DeMoro changed NNU into an activist and progressive union, increasing its numbers 10-fold to at least 150,000 Registered Nurses and organizing nurses in Illinois, D.C., Maryland, Texas and elsewhere. Besides championing single-payer health insurance and endorsing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, NNU led union opposition to two controversial oil pipelines, Keystone and the Dakota Access project.

Firefighters celebrate centennial by talking progress, protections and politics.

A week after fire bells rang nationwide on the union’s 100th birthday, International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger addressed the union’s Legislative-Political Conference in Washington saying, “When our forefathers started on this path, they had the goal of providing for their families and making their jobs safer.”

A century ago, firefighters had no pensions and went into burning buildings without equipment protecting them against noxious fumes and fatal hazards. And often there weren’t enough firefighters deployed to battle a blaze. Now, many firefighters have traditional defined benefit pensions and the union has convinced 48 of the 50 states to enact laws ordering the presumption among workers’ comp doctors to make “certain heart, lung and cancer diseases” occupationally caused ills subject to compensation, the union president said. “And now we’re working on PTSD.

“But there’s still so much more to do,” Schaitberger warned. One key cause is to repeal the threat of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus case, which could make every state and local government worker – including every firefighters – a potential “free rider” who could take advantage of union contracts and protections without paying one red cent for them.

Political activism and credibility, Schaitberger said, played a part in past wins and still can. Adding, “It won’t be easy, because the forces against us are significant. But I’m confident that even in these trying and crazy times, we will prevail .…To politicians, we embrace our friends. Our enemies, beware.”

The National Labor Relations Board rule holding joint employers – chains’ headquarters and franchises – responsible for obeying or breaking labor law is alive again.

The NLRB’s Inspector General tossed out a decision reversing the Obama-era rule. The decision came after Trump-named GOP board member William Emanuel, formerly a management-side labor lawyer, voted illegally in the case.

The joint employer ruling could affect millions of workers in chains such as Motel 6, McDonald’s and the like because workers trying to either unionize or bargain can be bounced, without the joint employer rule.

Letter Carriers president Fredric Rolando hails the Postal Service’s hefty first-quarter profit on operations.

Fredric Rolando said the profit would have been even higher if not for a 2006 law and an unfortunate rollback in the price of first-class stamps two years ago.

USPS had a quarterly profit of $353 million strictly on first-quarter operations Oct. 1-Dec. 31.

However, once the 11-year-old law and the lower first-class stamp price were factored in, USPS (which gets no government money) lost $540 million.

The operating profit “shows the Postal Service’s underlying business strength while also indicating the need to address external matters beyond USPS control,” Rolando explained.

The 2006 law, which a Republican-run Congress passed and GOP President George W. Bush signed, orders the USPS to pay $5.5 billion yearly to the U.S. Treasury to pre-pay health benefits for future retirees. But such payments drive USPS into the red.

“Congress should address the pre-funding burden it imposed, which requires USPS — alone among all public and private entities — to prefund future retiree healthcare benefits decades into the future. This produces an onerous annual burden of billions of dollars.”

News Guild backs bill making attacks on reporters on the job a federal crime.

Faced with rising numbers of attacks by politicians and those egged on against journalists for doing their job, the News Guild strongly endorsed legislation making attacks in those circumstances a federal crime.

And the congressman who introduced the measure lays much of the blame at the feet of Republican President Donald Trump.

“President Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” said U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. “It’s not just about labeling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews. It’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets and encouraging people to engage in violence.”

“This is a dangerous time to be a journalist,” said News Guild President Bernie Lunzer, whose union, a division of Communications Workers, is the top union for newsroom and related news personnel. “At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists.”

However, Swalwell’s bill (HR4935) could die since all 12 of its co-sponsors are Democrats, who are outnumbered in the U.S. House. The bill went to the GOP-run House Judiciary Committee, on which Swalwell serves, but it’s chaired by right-wing Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), no fan of civil rights and author of an anti-Latino immigration bill.

1 comment for “Labor Roundup | April 2018

  1. Brian Bleigh
    April 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    It seems that the postal service is going to be able to pay benefits because they were required by law to fund them. In Illinois the politicians spend the money , put an IOU in the fund, and assume they will get high rates of return . In other words postal retirees will get paid, all others just have to trust Mike Madigan.

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