Unions are taking a stand

They're fed up, and they're not going to take it anymore.
Tribune News Service
Nov 25, 2012

 

That's the case for thousands of employees across the country who are striking and walking out of jobs rather than accept changes to their pay and benefits. It might be a shot in the arm for a labor movement that had been left for dead but saw big gains in the November election as voters elected pro-labor candidates.

The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just five in 2009, rose to 13 this year as of October. And unions aren't done yet.

Nurses are striking this week at hospitals operated by Sutter Health in California; workers voted against concessions at Hostess Brands Inc., forcing the company's hand; pilots at American Airlines are wreaking havoc on the airline's schedule as it tries to cut pension and other benefits.

"There's a lot of agitating going on," said Julius Getman, a labor expert at the University of Texas. "People are unhappy. They feel that they're not being well-treated. There is a swelling of annoyance at the rich."

This week, labor faces a pivotal test of just how strong this movement is, with a group called Our Walmart asking associates to strike at stores across the country during the retailer's busiest days of the year.

The group says it is protesting Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s retaliation against workers who seek to unionize. It wants to get the corporation to sit down with the group and listen to workers' complaints.

"There comes a time when you have to stand up and you have to fix what is broke, and Wal-Mart is broken," said Evelyn Cruz, 41, who works at a Wal-Mart in Pico Rivera, Calif., and walked off the job there Tuesday.

Cruz says that the company has cut staff so that her department has half the number of people it once did, and that Wal-Mart gives poor shifts or fewer hours to the people who complain. She was one of a handful of workers who participated in the first strike in the company's history in October.

Wal-Mart, for its part, says that it does not expect the protests to disrupt business, and that most of its employees are happy at their jobs.

"The fact is, our pay and benefits plans are as good or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Kory Lundberg said in an email.

The Bentonville, Ark., retail titan last week filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking an injunction to stop the protests.

That's unlikely to make a difference with the protests. Our Walmart filed a complaint in response Tuesday, accusing Wal-Mart of trying to deter workers from participating in the strikes.

Labor actions usually occur in clusters, and big turnouts on Friday could prompt others to take action, Getman said.

"If there really is turmoil at Wal-Mart on Friday, it will set in motion a lot of other protests," Getman said. "There will be a sense of, 'Well, they did it; why shouldn't we?' "

As the economy improves and workers feel more secure in their jobs, they're often more willing to take action, said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

"Insofar as there's an uptick in employment, workers can think, 'If I get fired, I can maybe find another job,' " he said.

Even if few of the strikes achieve their desired results, victories at the polls in November all but guaranteed labor will have some influence at the White House. Unions helped re-elect President Barack Obama and were also influential in the elections of Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said earlier this month that he expected card check legislation, which makes it easier for companies' workforces to unionize, to be introduced in Congress in the next four years.

Although labor experts consider that unlikely, they say Obama could take up the issue of raising the minimum wage, or could issue an order requiring companies to rely less heavily on part-time workers.

The fact that they have the influence to do so, even in an era of declining union membership, indicates that things may finally be turning around for the labor movement, said Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University.

"The unions are taking a higher profile. They've become energized after the elections," he said. "The labor movement is starting to feel revived, but it knows it's not quite there yet."

— By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Comments

MacUser

With the unemployment so high, Wal-Mart could make it so easy, you strike, you're fired. There should be plenty of people left to take the cry babies jobs if they don't like them.

43°North

yes, yes, whiners/ cry babies. Good attitude there Mac. What do we have to thank unions for anyway? 1. a middle class 2. Five day work week 3. Employer health care, retirement benefits, insurance 4. child labor/sweatshop laws 5. arbitration/collective bargaining 6. clean/safe workplace 7. better pay/minimum wage ...and the list goes on and on. Basically, your way of life was provided by unions. That is a group of workers banding together who want better conditions and wages, and work towards that end. If you have ever been a member of a TEAM, you would understand what it means to band together for the greater good of the team. But obviously, like everyone else today, you are just worried about #1 (that would be YOURSELF).

newsblogger

And taking a company wide pay cut is not banding together to save jobs? We took a 15% pay cut in 2011 (company wide) and never once thought about striking. Sometimes everyone has to tighten their belts as a group to the company (which pays the employee). Unions have outlived their usefulness and need to fade away for the greater good of all. I have lost work in the past because of a union thug getting priority over the hours. How is that fair? And FYI there are plenty of states that are "right to work" with no union interference and somehow the people in those states manage just fine.

43°North

FYI, wonderful, please move there and get you non-union job. That would be fine. Just saying, thank a union member for all those 'perks' I mentioned above, like a five day work week...oh yeah, give concessions so you can work 70 hours a week at minimum wage with no benefits. Makes sense to me.

Vladtheimp

The union bosses who killed Hostess are just old white men, like the founders, but they seem to be taking care of themselves very well.

What is the value of the "perks" you mentioned when you have killed the goose that laid the golden perks?

FRANK HURT PRESIDENT $262,654.00
DAVID DURKEE SECRETARY-TREASURER $244,396.00
JOSEPH THIBODEAU EXEC VICE PRESIDENT $218,989.00
STEVE BERTELLI VICE PRESIDENT $198,062.00
MICHAEL KONESKO VICE PRESIDENT $184,297.00
ARTHUR MONTMINY VICE PRESIDENT $175,505.00
ANTHONY JOHNSON VICE PRESIDENT $167,433.00
ROBERT OAKLEY VICE PRESIDENT $167,265.00
RANDY ROARK VICE PRESIDENT $166,849.00
SEAN KELLY VICE PRESIDENT $161,789.00

http://www.unionfacts.com/union/...

newspaperlawyer

Corporate Greed!!!!!

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved bonuses for executives of Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, who stay on as the company is broken up and sold off.

On Thursday, as part of a plan to liquidate the company and lay off 18,000 workers, a federal judge in White Plains, N.Y., approved paying 19 Hostess executives bonuses totaling $1.8 million. Hostess has said it has interest from at least 110 firms who want to buy pieces of the operation.

The decision comes as the company, known for its iconic snack cakes like Ho Hos and Ding Dongs, says it doesn't have enough cash on hand to pay retirement benefits to some former employees.

The bonuses do not include pay for CEO Gregory Rayburn, who was brought on as a restructuring expert earlier this year, according to The Associated Press. Rayburn is being paid $125,000 a month.

Former employees are outraged over the bonuses handed out to high ups.

"Anybody's got a reason to be upset who lost their job if there handing out large amounts of money," Paul Carroll told ABC News.

In a statement overnight, Hostess said the bonuses are designed to keep top brass from leaving before winding down what's left of the company "quickly and cost-effectively."

"I was qualified to draw my pension, with no notice I lost about 70 or 75 percent of it I didn't work 34 years to lose it," Carroll said.

Hostess was given interim approval for its wind-down last week, which gave the company the legal protection to immediately fire 15,000 union workers. Hostess said last week it will retain about 3,200 employees "to assist with the initial phase of the wind-down," which is expected to last about a year.

The company began facing troubles a few years ago as pension costs rose and health-conscious consumers stopped buying products.

A contentious battle began with Hostess asking its workers to take a smaller paycheck to keep the company open for business.

The bakers union went on strike Nov. 9, when the company imposed a contract that would cut workers' wages by 8 percent. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) said the contract would also cut benefits by 27 to 32 percent.

Hostess, which is privately owned by investment firms, has struggled in recent years with two bankruptcy filings. The company said it "has done everything in its power to pursue a reorganization of its business as a going concern, including spending the better part of 18 months negotiating with its key constituents to obtain a consensual agreement."

With Hostess out of business that means the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes and 570 bakery outlet stores throughout the United States, the company said.

 

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