Article 43

 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rise Of The Union Lockout

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Even minimum wage jobs are hard to find. So should I go do some strike work or go to a homeless shelter next month? I mean if these guys dont want to WORK I do.
- Rising Of The Telcom Underclass Part 8

You work everyday. You work hard. Your performance review is stellar. The company is massively profitable. This makes you happy, as it is your contribution put to fruition. High fives all around. The executives take a pay raise for OUTSTANDING LEADERSHIP. The investors get a huge dividend. You get a pay cut.
- Slashdot

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

More Lockouts as Companies Battle Unions

By Steve Greenhouse
NY Times
January 22, 2012

America’s unionized workers, buffeted by layoffs and stagnating wages, face another phenomenon that is increasingly throwing them on the defensive: lockouts.

From the COOPER TIRE factory in Findlay, Ohio, to a country club in Southern California and sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, employers are turning to lockouts to press their unionized workers to grant concessions after contract negotiations deadlock. Even the New York City Opera locked out its orchestra and singers for more than a week before settling the dispute last Wednesday.

Many Americans know about the highly publicized lockouts in professional sports - like last years 130-day lockout by the National Football League and the 161-day lockout by the National Basketball Association - but lockouts, once a rarity, have been used in less visible industries as well.

“This is a sign of increased employer militancy,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. Lockouts were once so rare they were almost unheard of. “Now, not only are employers increasingly on the offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but they’re backing that up with action - in the form of lockouts.”

The number of strikes has declined to just one-sixth the annual level of two decades ago. That is largely because labor unions ranks have declined and because many workers worry that if they strike they will lose pay and might also lose their jobs to permanent replacement workers.

Lockouts, on the other hand, have grown to represent a record percentage of the nation’s work stoppages, according to Bloomberg BNA, a Bloomberg subsidiary that provides information to lawyers and labor relations experts. Last year, at least 17 employers imposed lockouts, telling their workers not to show up until they were willing to accept managements contract offer.

Perhaps nowhere is the battle more pitched than at American Crystal Sugar, the nation’s largest sugar beet processor.

Last summer, contract negotiations bogged down, with the company insisting that its workers agree to higher payments for health coverage, more outsourcing and many other concessions. Shortly after the 1,300 unionized workers - spread among five plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa - voted overwhelmingly to reject those demands, the company locked them out and hired replacement workers.

That was on Aug. 1, more than five months ago, and since then the workers and their families have been scrounging to make ends meet. Some face foreclosure and utility disconnection notices.

American Crystal has hired more than 900 replacement workers to keep its plants running. Federal law allows employers to hire such workers during a lockout, although they cannot permanently replace regular employees. Employers can pay the replacements lower wages, although as is the case with American Crystal, the companies sometimes need to offer higher wages and help pay for housing to attract replacements.

With many private-sector labor unions growing smaller and weaker, and with public-sector unions under attack in numerous states, some employers think the time is ideal to use lockouts, a forceful approach they were once reluctant to use.

Many employers, though, say they have little choice.

Robert Batterman, a labor lawyer who represents employers, said whether it was the N.F.L. or Sothebys, which locked out 43 art handlers in Manhattan last July, “the pendulum has swung too far toward the employees, and the employers are looking in these tight economic times to get givebacks.”

“Employers,” he continued, “are using lockouts because unions are reluctant to do what the employers consider reasonable in terms of compromising. Employers are looking to reset their collective bargaining relations.”

After being out of work since Aug. 1, Paul Woinarowicz, a warehouse foreman employed at American Crystal Sugar for 34 years, sees another rationale for lockouts.

“Its just another way of trying to break the union,” said Mr. Woinarowicz, a member of the bakery and confectionery workers union. “People here in the Red River Valley are really mad at American Crystal. It was just like a knife stuck in your heart.”

With American Crystal earning record profits before the lockout, the workers strongly opposed its push for concessions. Mr. Woinarowicz noted that the companys most recent quarterly report showed a sharp decline in production and profits - a development the workers said showed the lockout was taking a toll. American Crystal said the drop was due to a smaller sugar beet crop and higher operating costs.

American Crystal accuses union negotiators of being inflexible and denies that it is seeking to break the union. For many employers, lockouts have proved highly successful. Last July 17, Armstrong World Industries locked out 260 workers at its ceiling tile plant in Marietta, Pa., after they rejected the companys offer as stingy on pensions and health coverage.

After being locked out for five months, the workers accepted a contract only slightly different from the one they had originally voted down. Union officials said the workers knew Armstrong had the upper hand.

There have been several recent lockouts at hospitals, often after nurses engaged in a one-day walkout. To hire replacement nurses from a staffing company, hospitals often have to commit to hiring them for at least a week, so a one-day nurses’ strike is often followed by a four-day lockout. But at some health care facilities, like West River nursing home in Milford, Conn., where management locked out 100 workers on Dec. 13, companies see lockouts as a way to wrest concessions and set an example for workers at their other facilities.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, said the football, hockey and basketball leagues ordered lockouts in recent years for a clear reason: to gain leverage in negotiations.

“The lockout is designed to put you at a distinct disadvantage,” he said, saying it places huge pressures on players who typically have short professional careers. The National Hockey Leagues lockout of 2004-5 canceled an entire season.

Mr. Smith said, “A lot of players have careers of two or three years, and you might get a player who asks, At what point is this fight worth one-third of my career?”

For Jeannie Madsen, a lab technician at American Crystal, the lockout has meant strains for her and her fiance, also a worker there. With her former husband also locked out and suspending child support payments, she said she could not afford new school clothes and shoes for her children and had to stop paying her daughters orthodontist bills. She said Wells Fargo would soon foreclose on her home.

“What’s most upsetting is that it’s affecting the lives of many innocent children,” she said.

The sides are holding occasional negotiations but remain deadlocked.

Ms. Madsen said the company was continually putting up barriers to a settlement, essentially pressing the workers to surrender. Company officials did not return phone messages, but Brian Ingulsrud, the compan’s vice president for administration, wrote in an editorial for a Fargo newspaper that “American Crystal Sugar remains committed to good-faith negotiations.”

SOURCE

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Here’s a couple of articles from last week’s In These Times.

Waste Company Locks Out Teamsters in Bid to Eliminate Pensions

By Josh Eidelson
May 14, 2012

Following private sector trend, Republic Services/Allied Waste insists on 401(k) plans

At 9 p.m. Tuesday night, the countrys second-largest waste disposal company locked 79 workers out of their jobs. The day before, Republic Services/Allied Waste gave the Evansville, Ind., workers an ultimatum: accept management’s last, best and “final” offer, or be locked out of work. The union, Teamsters Local 215, blames the lockout on managements insistence on permanently eliminating workers’ pensions.

“It’s a kind of extraordinary move in labor relations to lock workers out unilaterally,” says Louis Malizia, assistant director of the Teamsters Capital Strategies Department. “So there could be a return to workthe company need only open the gates and then let workers continue to work while they try to resolve issues at the bargaining table.”

Republic Services did not respond to a request for comment, but in an interview with an NBC affiliate, local general manager Mark McKune blamed the conflict on the union’s rhetoric: “When threats of war were made across the table at the company, the company felt it was necessary to take this step.” Republic has a contract with the city of Evansville to collect trash and recycling. McKune told the Evansville Courier & Press that “with replacement workers filling in for locked-out Teamsters, customers were experiencing only minimal service disruptions.”

Local 215 represents Republics Evansville drivers, mechanics and landfill staff.  Republic and the Teamsters entered negotiations on a new contract in March. In April, a 25-day extension on their current contract expired, and Republic began training other employees to do the work of the Evansville Teamsters. Tuesday night, Republic exercised its legal right to lock out the workers - denying them any work until they reach a deal acceptable to management.

While strikes decline in the United States, statistics suggest that lockouts are on the rise. As I reported last week, Teamsters in New York City have been locked out by Sothebys auction house for nine months.

Clark University Industrial Relations Professor Gary Chaison says that when an employer “is willing to so spoil their relationship that hes willing to lockout workers, they can gain an edge in bargaining.” “Even the threat of a lockout,” says Chaison, “is usually enough to get them to agree to far more in bargaining than they would otherwise:  ԓUnions will say, this is not the time and place for a fight, and they’ll settle for something less.”

Teamsters Local 215 says it offered to extend the current contract into the future, but Republic insisted on eliminating pensions and replacing them with a 401(k). In a Tuesday statement, Local 215 President Chuck Whobrey said, It is outrageous that in the middle of negotiations Republic would start making threats to the jobs of 80 loyal workers. “Our members provide a public health service to the city of Evansville, and they deserve to be able to retire with dignity. We are committed to the bargaining process, and these threats are uncalled for.”

The Teamsters and Republic have filed National Labor Relations Board charges against each other over alleged violations of federal labor law.

Whobrey told the Courier & Press that by locking out workers, Republic had reneged on an agreement to continue negotiations. Republics McKune told the paper that while Republic had never offered to move off of its final offer, “We told them they could call us or e-mail us at any time regarding our proposal. We havent heard anything.” Whobrey told the paper last week that workers would vote sooner or laterӔ on whether to accept managements offer.

The Evansville lockout follows a strike by Republic workers in four cities in March. As I reported for Alternet, that strike began in Mobile, Ala., where Teamsters charged that Republic attempted to back out of an already agreed-to contract settlement. The strike spread to New York, Ohio and Washington state, where Republic workers walked off the job in solidarity (some had the right to strike because their contracts had expired; others took advantage of contract language protecting their right not to cross picket lines).

After a week of rolling strikes, the two sides returned to the table and emerged with a deal the Teamsters hailed as a victory. During their strike, Mobile workers said that if called upon in the future, they would be eager to mount solidarity actions on behalf of Teamsters in other cities.

While lockouts are legal, Chaison says there’s a big difference between whether they can do something legally and whether they can do it as a practical matter, making public supportvery important. When Republic holds its annual shareholder meeting Thursday, the Teamsters plan to draw attention to an estimated $23 million in benefits Republic has earmarked for the estate of its CEO when he dies.

Malizia says he’ll present a shareholder resolution, on behalf of the Teamsters General Fund, “to give shareholders a voice” on such benefits: “We feel that like other severance-style agreements, shareholders should be given the right to vote on whether we feel that these executives were worthy of such” sums and whether “their performance at the company at the time and the circumstances merit such a compensation payout.” In the past, the Teamsters Fund has also questioned Republic’s political spending.

Malizia says the shareholder resolution was not motivated by the lockout; he notes that the Teamsters introduced a similar resolution last year and it received 45 percent support. But Malizia says that it “draws a sharp contrast when we’re talking about multi-million dollar death benefits when the company is seemingly locking out workers over their right to continue to have a defined-benefit pension.”

In general, defined-benefit pensions are funded entirely by management, as part of an employee’s compensation; a pension fund promises a certain annual payout to retirees with sufficient years of service, based on the length of their tenure. 401(k)s are individual investment funds, funded by employee contributions and sometimes matching contributions (capped at a certain amount) by employers. A Feburary study of public employee retirement funds by David Madland and Nick Bunker of the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund found that dollar-for-dollar defined-benefit pension plans are much more efficient.

In interviews with the Courier & Press last week, McKune said that withdrawing from the pension and contributing to the 401(k) would cost Republic more over the next three years than remaining in the pension. He said that despite that cost, Republic was seeking to make our employees have a good retirementœ by switching to the 401(k), citing concerns over the solvency of the pension.

Local 215 President Whobrey retorted that the company was pushing the 401(k) in order to save money long-term. Whobrey told the paper that even the maximum 401(k) match would be less than the $107 per week Republic now puts into each employees pension, and many employees would not make 401(k) contributions, freeing Republic from contributing anything to their retirement at all.

As In These Times has reported, private pensions are in decline across the country. In bankruptcy negotiations at American Airlines, earlier this year unions declared a defensive victory when managementԒunder pressure from the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporationagreed to freeze workersח pensions rather than liquidating them entirely. Under the pension freeze, employees wont accrue any additional pension benefits - and Transport Workers Union President Jim Little told In These Times he doesnt expect the pensions will ever be unfrozen.

Last Wednesday, locked-out workers told the Courier & Press that they’d been picketing a Republic facility since 4:30 a.m. that morning. Asked how long they would stay, one replied: “As long as it takes.”

SOURCE

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Amid Sabotage Investigation, Honeywell Lays Off Plant’s Entire Union Workforce

By Mike Elk
May 17, 2012

Last Thursday, May 10, at around 2 p.m., managers walked into Honeywell’s uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., and told workersboth union and nonunion - they had to leave the plant immediately. Multiple workers present say a manager explained the sudden dismissal by noting that the company had to investigate “sabotage” of plant equipment.

Since May 10, Honeywell has allowed 100 of 170 nonunion salaried workers to return to work, and has allowed 90 of its 100 nonunion contactors to continue working in the plant. But none of the plant’s 168 hourly union employees have been allowed to return to work - the company has informed them that they’ve been laid-off indefinitely. All laid-off union workers were immediately left without pay and health insurance. In contrast, when Honeywell locked out USW union workers in June 2010, it waited nearly three months to cut off their health insurance.

The Metropolis plant is no stranger to contentious labor relations. In 2010 and 2011, it was the scene of a tense 13-month long lockout of United Steelworker (USW) members. That dispute was resolved last fall when the union ratified a new contract. Since then, however, the work environment has been tense; several key USW Local 7-669 leaders have been fired by Honeywell. Local 7-669 leaders say Honeywell is trying to bust the union.

For many workers, the order by management to leave the plant felt like lock-out dחj vu. I have been through a lockout and it felt like this. If this isnɓt a lockout, I dont know what it is,Ғ Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech says.

But unlike a lockout - a tactic companies sometimes resort to when contract negotiations have stalled - laid-off union members cannot picket the worksite location. If the union did so, a company can claim that the union is engaged in an “illegal strike” and the union would then be subject to heavy fines. Lech says the union is looking into all legal options and being very careful.

“I would not suggest that company would create a circumstance to frame the union, but if they were presented with a circumstance, I know they would love to find a way to use it somehow against the union,” Lech says.

“The sudden layoffs may be a violation of their contract language,” he says. The contract states that Honeywell must give workers at least five days notice of any layoffs. Metropolis workers were given no notice. “If the circumstance allows it, we will certainly picket and go down the road of action,” says Lech.

Asked Wednesday whether or not the lay-offs were legal, Metropolis plant manager Larry Smith hung up. Honeywell, which is based in New Jersey, did not respond to further request for comment. Company spokesman Peter Dalpe told the Chicago Tribune that he can’t comment on the specific damage, but added that the equipment was not operational. Dapel also told the Tribune that the company intends to resume production after it assesses the damages and inspects the plant.

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the plant, told the Chicago Tribune, We are standing by watching their investigation and we will do our own follow up.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 05/20/12 •
Section Dying America
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