Current and former workers at plants in two states that produced uranium during the Cold War have received more than $1.5 billion in compensation and medical benefits from the U.S. Labor Department. Jesse Russell has more.
Nine thousand one hundred thirty four workers at facilities in Tennessee will share more than $1 billion for their work and exposure at a Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and a K-25 uranium enrichment plant. An additional $500 million will be shared by 4,798 workers at a diffusion plant in Kentucky. The payments will be provided to workers that have been diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses that can be caused by exposure to radiation.
By Doug Cunningham
Senior Obama administration officials said Sunday night that GM will file for bankruptcy Monday. For workers GM’s bankruptcy filing will throw decades of building a blue-collar middle class into reverse. The real issue for workers is not whether a much smaller, restructured GM can emerge from bankruptcy to be a “viable” new company. The real question is where will workers stand in this restructured auto world? Obama administration officials say the qualified pension plans for both hourly and salaried workers will carried over to the new GM and remain intact and benefits will paid as normal. UAW President Ron Gettlefinger says 20-25 percent of UAW workers’ benefits were given back in the latest round of concessions – a $1.3 billion per year loss for autoworkers. The right to strike is gone for six years, but Gettelfinger insists the UAW still has power and is ready for whatever GM does.
Father’s Day is just three weeks away and if your dad loves the outdoors, get him a special gift: a membership in the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA). As a USA member, he will enjoy top-notch reading material with a subscription to In-Fisherman, Petersen’s Hunting or Guns & Ammo, as well as the USA newsletter.
He also can create, customize and print maps for every need with an online mapping subscription. And he can take advantage of the USA member deals and discounts or a Beretta gift certificate on the gear he needs.
Your gift of a USA membership also might earn your father a brand-new gun in the USA Gun-a-Month giveaway or other great prizes. For more information on how to join USA, click here or call 1-877-872-2211.
Launched in 2007, the Nashville, Tenn.-based USA is a joint venture of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and 22 unions. The nonpolitical hunting and fishing club is open to union members, retirees and their families. Last month the group welcomed its 10,000th member.
One of the newest USA members is Tom Skladany, a retired NFL Players Association member and former punter for the Detroit Lions. An avid bass fisherman, he is the first retired professional athlete to join the USA.
For many years, Skladany helped plan and organize an annual Florida monster bass fishing trip for 50 people, bringing his buddies from Columbus, Ohio, and across the country together to compete for the biggest bass.
Playing pro-football was high-pressure, and Skladany says fishing provides a way to kick back and simply enjoy the outdoors.
It’s the most relaxing, fun-filled day you can have, even if you don’t catch anything. It’s about being in nature with birds, snakes, frogs, alligators, blue sky and a cold beer.
In other USA news:
- More than 200 union outdoor enthusiasts helped make USA’s inaugural Sportsmen’s Dinner last month in Minneapolis a huge success. The dinner included a special presentation by Ron Schara, outdoor writer and TV host of “Backroads with Ron and Raven.” The event also featured a silent auction and raffles for prizes, including a two-day South Dakota pheasant hunt, a Lincoln Electric stick welder and a special edition 12-gauge Beretta 3901 shotgun featuring the USA logo.
- The TRCP is raffling off a chance at a dream big game hunt in Wyoming for the fall. The prize is a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner’s Tag, good for an elk, mule deer or pronghorn antelope license in any unit in Wyoming. The winner will be randomly selected June 15. In honor of TRCP’s namesake, the 26th president, every 26th person who purchases a chance will receive a bonus gift. Click here to buy your chance to win.
- Share your favorite stories and pictures with other USA members and you could win great gifts. Submit a story about your latest hunting or fishing trip online at USAmembers@trcp.org and you will automatically be entered in a drawing for a U.S.-made Beretta 3901 American Citizen shotgun featuring the USA logo. The story must be at least 300 words and be submitted by Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009. Or you can submit your best photo of a recent hunting or fishing trip and you could earn a #110 Buck knife engraved with the USA logo in the USA Best Shot monthly photo contest. Click here to learn more.
Here’s your chance to tell the world what the workday is really like for workers. The AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department (UL&STD) wants to know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. If you work on an auto assembly line, in a hospital emergency room, classroom, coal mine, mailroom, office, grocery store or one of a million other locations, Union Label wants to hear your story of what it is really like on your job. It doesn’t matter if you’re laid off, unemployed or retired—your story is important as well.
Here’s the idea. Tell Union Label what your workday was like on “Walk in My Shoes Day”—Thursday, June 11, 2009. Union Label wants to hear it all—whether you faced a tough commute, dealt with a grumpy boss, took on a big challenge or had a great success. The best submissions will be posted in the Label Letter and on the UL&STD website.
“We want rank and file members to help us illustrate the rich, diverse tapestry of hard working men and women who make up the American labor movement. They are proud of their work and proud of the contributions they make to their communities,” says UL&STD President Richard Kline.
We want to demonstrate to American consumers and businesses that union labor gives added value in quality and reliability to products and services that are bought and sold. Economic history is made daily by America’s union workers, and we are giving these workers a chance to speak to their concerns. By humanizing “organized labor,” we’re also diffusing the myths that have been advanced by anti-union forces and increasing the understanding of what unions actually do for the workers they represent.
You can send a digital photo or film print of yourself at work along with a short summary—150 words or less—of what happened at work on June 11. Send digital photos and entry information by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Digital photos should be at least 300 dpi (high resolution) to be adequate for printing. Make sure you include your name, your union and include complete contact information (best phone number and mailing address as well as e-mail).
If you’re sending snapshots or printed photos, mail to: Union Label & Service Trades Department, Attn: Walk in My Shoes, 815 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
Click here to download a form to print and return to Union Label.
Members of the UAW overwhelmingly ratified an agreement with General Motors (GM) Corp. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told a Detroit press conference today that 74 percent of GM’s U.S. production and skilled-trade workers voted in favor of the deal.
Under the agreement, the union-run retiree health care trust will gain 17.5 percent ownership of a post-bankruptcy GM, with an option to buy another 2.5 percent.
“UAW members have once again stepped up to make necessary and painful sacrifices to preserve U.S. manufacturing jobs,” Gettelfinger said.
This settlement agreement will give GM a chance to survive the worldwide collapse of industry sales and return as a viable company once the economy recovers and consumers begin purchasing vehicles again.
The concessionary settlement agreement, which takes effect today, meets the requirements of the U.S. Treasury for additional loans to General Motors. It includes modifications to the union’s 2007 collective-bargaining agreement with GM and modifications to the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) trust.
UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, who directs the union’s General Motors Department, said:
We’ve negotiated an agreement which will make GM competitive. And thanks to hard bargaining and strong public support from our members and from many Americans who care about our country’s manufacturing base, we won a commitment from GM for new small-car production here in the United States.
“It’s going to stop the imports coming in here from China,” Gettelfinger added. “We can build those small cars in this country.”
In a separate announcement, GM said it plans to reopen a shuttered U.S. factory to build compact cars that will likely be the smallest vehicles GM has ever produced here.
The company said in a written statement that the retooled factory will be able to build 160,000 small and compact cars per year. The automaker did not say which factory would be selected to build the cars.
A pact between GM and the UAW was essential before a June 1 deadline for the company to restructure its debt as part of a process widely expected to include a bankruptcy filing.
In April, UAW members ratified a similar agreement with Chrysler, Fiat and the Treasury Department.
In the end, Gettelfinger said, the deal is good for America. In an interview on the PBS “NewsHour” last night, he added:
It’s good for the economy. The auto industry is a major economic driver in our country, and to see the companies fail would be economic disaster.
As one of the millions of America’s workers who have been laid off in recent months, Brandon McGuire knows it’s tough going in the current economy. He also recognizes that as a union member, he is better equipped than his nonunion counterparts to survive an economic downturn. That’s why he supports the Employee Free Choice Act: so millions more workers can have a better chance at their freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.
McGuire, an Army veteran, served a year in Iraq, where his duties included welding projects. He moved to Anchorage, Alaska, after his military service and signed on as an apprentice with Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA) Local 367.
A native of Texas, where union membership is relatively low, McGuire had no firsthand knowledge or experience with union workplaces before joining his local union. He now describes himself as 100 percent pro-union and pro-Employee Free Choice because of the job training and financial security union jobs can provide.
Even though he has been laid off since December, he has a good shot at getting back to work through the jobs waiting list maintained by his local union. He also has some financial security because, as an apprentice, his pay is $27 an hour, plus health insurance and other benefits. He says:
If I weren’t in a union, I’d be lucky to find work for even $15 an hour.
McGuire, 29, says current labor law gives employers too much of an upper hand in the union voting process.
I don’t like the fact that employers can just stall and kill off any kind of union choice by the workers.
My biggest reason for supporting the Employee Free Choice Act is so employers can’t do that anymore.
Workers and their supporters held informational pickets at Red Cross locations across the country today to tell the organization that donor and recipient safety must come first. The actions spotlighted the Red Cross’ plans to boost profits by jeopardizing the safety of our nation’s blood supply and mistreating workers.
Carrying signs proclaiming “Donors Before Dollars” and chanting “We are the Red Cross,” some 200 people joined a giant inflatable rat to “blow the whistle” on the Red Cross at its national headquarters in Washington, D.C. The marchers picketed in front of the building during the busy lunch hour, just blocks from the White House.
Most of the marchers are concerned that blood safety will suffer because the Red Cross national office is insisting that workers take pay cuts and that qualified nurses be replaced with unlicensed supervisors. Some carried handmade signs saying, “Nurses Are Needed” and “No Blood Money.” Said one marcher who asked not to be identified:
Here is an organization that made millions of dollars in donations last year and it can’t share that with the folks that make the Red Cross what it is.
One major problem, rally organizers say, is that national Red Cross officials have taken over contract negotiations that used to be handled by local or regional officials. Joe Marutiak, a member of Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 459 in Michigan, said even though contract negotiations have been hard over the years, “we have always been able to respect each other and resolve our differences.”
But this year the national Red Cross took over the negotiations entirely and the respect for the employees is gone.
Workers also protested in New London, Conn., Buffalo, N.Y., St. Louis, Oakland and Pleasanton, Calif., and East Lansing, Mich.
For 15 years, the Red Cross has been under a federal court order to improve its blood donor operation. Despite $21 million in fines since 2003, it continues to fall short. According to the New York Times:
Such measures, however, are undercut by high turnover among employees, who are paid little better than minimum wage, former executives say.
But rather than pay its workers a decent wage, the Red Cross is trying to force employees to work unlimited hours, replace nurses with unlicensed supervisors, slash workers’ health care and cut or freeze wages.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says in a statement that the Red Cross’ actions demonstrate why workers need to be protected:
For decades there was a great relationship between workers and the Red Cross and it’s a shame that they are now engaging in this disgraceful behavior that endangers donors and workers. This is yet another example of why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act so workers have the freedom to choose to join a union.
Union leaders negotiating with the Red Cross around the country echoed Sweeney’s sentiments. Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4 in Connecticut, said:
The Red Cross workers we represent in Connecticut are currently stuck working without a contract. The company is endangering donor safety by attempting to decrease the use of RNs and LPNs and reducing the amount of time off between shifts.
In New York state, Red Cross employees represented by Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1122 are currently working without a contract and already have made major concessions in the two previous pacts, says local President Jim Wagner.
The need for workers to have a free choice to join a union is clear in Illinois, where 180 Red Cross employees voted to join AFSCME Council 31 more than two years ago—but so far, the organization has thrown roadblocks into the recognition process and workers still do not have a union. Says Council 31 President Henry Bayer:
Enough is enough. It’s time to let the workers have the right to join a union that they voted for.
The nationwide events were organized by the National Red Cross Committee for Donor Safety, which is comprised of AFSCME, CWA, OPEIU, SEIU and the Teamsters.
The just-launched blog by the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate for workers who don’t have a union, features news and information about the issues that Working America’s 2.5 million members say they are most concerned about—the economy, health care, jobs, education, retirement security, the mortgage and housing crisis and other issues.
Says Working America’s Laura Clawson:
We’ll put the challenges working families face into the context of the broader economy. The Main Street blog is where working people come to learn and talk about “the economy,” which isn’t distant or abstract, but something we all deal with every single day, at work or in the search for work, in the aisles of the grocery store and at the kitchen table.
It will feature news you might have missed, opinions on the news everyone’s talking about and personal stories about getting by in this economy. And we don’t want to be talking at you. We hope you’ll talk back in the comments section—tell us what we’re missing, or what we say that strikes a chord with you.
The kind of information you’ll find on the Main Street Blog enables you to take action—writing lawmakers, talking with your neighbors and organizing your community. Says Clawson:
Working America’s Main Street blog features news, opinion and life experience you can connect with. It’s about the economy beyond the numbers—not just how many people are unemployed this month, but why it’s happening and what to do about it.
Click here and take a look around Main Street.
When Brynwood Partners in 2006 took over the Stella D’oro factory in the Bronx, the Wall Street private equity firm had every reason to believe it would be easy to slash the wages, pensions, holidays and sick pay of the 136 bakery workers.
But the takeover brainos forgot one important fact: The workers are represented by a union, Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM). And throughout their more than nine-month strike, the workers have been strongly supported by their union brothers and sisters and by members of the community as they walk the picket line every day outside the plant where Brynwood now employs strikebreakers.
The saga of Stella is part of an all-too-familiar story of what has become our American Dream—a Dream deflated, bust and broken by unfettered corporate greed. Originally a family-owned firm, Stella was acquired by RJR Nabisco, then taken over by Kraft when RJR Nabisco broke up (in the wake of the disastrous KKR leveraged buyout). Stella was run into the ground by its corporate overseers, then dumped to private equity earlier this decade when Kraft began to dispose of “non-core” assets under pressure from Wall Street.
Generations of New Yorkers grew up with and loved Stella D’oro cookies, once an iconic, national, premium Italian-style biscuit brand.
Vicky has 28 years on the job baking those cookies. She began work at Stella D’oro at age 20. Now she has no paycheck coming in nor any health benefits. Vicky and her co-workers walk the strike lines at West 237th and Broadway every day, defying corporate chieftains who, after the union contract expired July 31, 2008, demanded reduced wages, four fewer paid holidays and workers shell out an additional $1.32 per hour for health insurance.
Imagine the equity guys having to sweat over $1.32 an hour. If only.
Every day is another hardship for the workers on the picket line. A month into the strike, they already were talking among themselves about their fading American Dream. This from the Riverdale Press:
On Sept. 11, nearly a month since the 24-hour picket outside of the Kingsbridge factory began, striking workers sat on lawn chairs underneath their usual blue tarp and an American flag.
It was a day fraught with symbolism, as workers struggled to make sense of the stark contrast between the patriotism they felt on the anniversary of that tragic day and the American dream they say is slipping away from them.
The bakery workers have been joined on the picket lines by nurses, staff at the City University of New York, textile workers and many others, with New York State Teachers Union recently presenting the workers with $2,500 for their strike fund. The workers have taken their struggle to the luxurious offices of Brynwood Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and to the home of Brynwood Partners and Stella D’oro Chairman Hendrik Hartong III, son of Henk Hartong Jr., former Pittston coal CEO and Brynwood founder.
If you’re in New York, stop by the picket lines or take part in a rally and march this Saturday, May 30. The group is assembling at noon at the Target on West 225 Street, one block east of #1 Station and will march to Stella D’oro factory at 237 Street/Broadway.
Either way, you can take action to support the striking workers by sending an e-mail to Henk Hartong and Brynwood Partners at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them to go back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair agreement to preserve the living standards of their loyal employees.
Solidarity is what has enabled the workers to withstand these long months without pay or health care. Solidarity is what will enable them to win.
This is a cross-post from the Firedoglake blog.