Labor Roundup | May 2019

Workers’ Memorial Day is Saturday, April 28, and if you’re reading this issue before then, central Illinois labor unions are having a 3 p.m. service at the Workers Memorial Monument outside City Hall to honor workers who’ve died or been injured as a result of workplace accidents. For details, call 674-5181 or 696-4090.

Trump appointees on the National Mediation Board are targeting unions in the railroad and airline industries to make decertification of unions easier.

The supposedly independent agency, established in 1934 to resolve labor-management disputes in the airline and railroad industries, proposes to change the Railway Labor Act, a federal law enacted in 1926 to give workers the right to collective bargaining and empower government to help resolve labor disputes in the railroad industry (expanded to include the airline industry in 1926).

Most workers in the railroad and airline industries belong to unions, which makes it a tempting target for anti-union forces.

“There is no legal authority for this NMB proposal to create a more ‘direct’ decertification process,” said flight attendant Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “Airline employees understand the critical importance of having a contract. There is absolutely no interest expressed by workers to decertify and give up their union contract.

“The proposal is coming from ideologues who fantasize about weakening labor in the most unionized industry in America,” she said.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council announced that it opposes any “new NAFTA” pushed by the Trump administration and corporate backers in the 116th Congress.

Bill Samuel, the federation’s Director of Legislative Affairs, said, “We can’t support NAFTA in its current form. Protections for workers are better than they were before (under the old NAFTA), but the problem is that the new NAFTA does not set up mechanisms to enforce the protections. Another big problem is that the big pharmaceutical giants are free to do whatever they want. In its current form, it is a giveaway to them.”

State judges in Missouri gave workers two more wins against anti-union schemes pushed by the radical Right, the state’s ruling Republicans and their corporate backers.

St. Louis County Judge Joseph Walsh III stopped the so-called “paycheck protection” legislation that forces workers to individually decide annually whether they want union dues automatically deducted from paychecks. (Unions call such schemes “paycheck deception.”)

Meanwhile, Cole County Judge Jon Beetem stopped a state law making every state and local worker an “at-will” employee, vulnerable to discharge even without cause, regardless of a union contract, and would have let employers give so-called “merit raises” to favorite employees.

Both halts are temporary, pending full judicial hearings on both laws.

Striking Chicago Symphony musicians pick up political support and play free concerts. Forced to strike last month when management refused to agree to a new contract that puts musicians on par in pensions and pay with peers among the world’s great orchestras, CSO musicians are picketing and playing free concerts.

“We find ourselves falling behind, and on a path that will take us even further behind,” Negotiating Committee Chair and bass player Steve Lester said. “We are looking to find an economic package that will keep us in pace with our colleagues in other orchestras. That’s all.”

Prominent Chicago Democrats including U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Danny Davis and Robin Kelly, side with the players, saying the orchestra is “one of the most important cultural institutions in the world” and are pressuring management to settle.

One of the strikers’ first concerts showed union solidarity, as the full orchestra performed at the main hall of the Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1.

Trump trying to trash the ACA via the courts, although health-care defenders in labor and the Democratic Party are banding together, even as they debate progressives’ Medicare for All initiative.

Trump announced his Justice Department would not defend the ACA in federal appeals court in New Orleans, after a right-wing federal district judge in deep-red Texas previously declared the entire law unconstitutional. The Texas judge did not issue an injunction abolishing it, however.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and National Nurses United, the lead union in the Medicare For All drive, spoke up, as did Democratic presidential hopefuls, most of whom endorse Medicare For All.

“The GOP will never stop trying to destroy the affordable health care of America’s families,” Pelosi said, remembering a comment by the Rev. Martin Luther King, who said, “Of all the injustices, the most inhumane is the inequality of health care.’

“And the Department of Justice becomes the Department of Injustice when it wants to tear down health care benefits,” she added. “Because as Dr. King said, ‘people could die.’ [But] in this House, with a Democratic majority, we’re here to strengthen those protections and lower health care costs further. Because this House, this Democratic House, is for the people.”

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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