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Fight Workplace Closings
Even before the current economic crisis hit in 2008, both private and public sector management – and too many public officials – were fixated on downsizing jobs. UE members alone lost tens of thousands of the best manufacturing jobs in the 80s and 90s. Slashing jobs and throwing workers into desperate straits is called “streamlining,” “rightsizing,” or “adjusting to the global competitive environment.” It is encouraged and applauded by Wall Street. Politicians who attempt to slash public sector jobs are praised in the corporate media as “fiscally responsible” and “willing to make the tough decisions.”
No workers are safe. While some closings and layoffs result from years of mismanagement and decline, others are dropped on perfectly profitable plants like a bolt of lightning. Manufacturing employers methodically shift production to overseas, southern, or non-union plants that pay a fraction of the wages and benefits paid in a union shop. Technical, medical, financial, professional and other highly skilled jobs are also under attack, as employers and politicians promote the “offshoring” of American jobs formerly considered immune to globalization. Tasks now performed electronically from outside the U.S. include completing tax returns, reading medical scan results and other medical diagnoses, and customer service calls. Corporate tax deductions and cash incentives by federal, state, and local governments that reward plant closings and layoffs are a national scandal.
Public sector workers at the state and local level are being laid off as the budget crisis worsens. Manufacturing jobs that once provided good wages that supported the municipal tax base are replaced by low-wage non-union service and retail sectors. Public-sector workers are threatened by a host of privatization schemes, resulting in lower wages for the smaller workforce that takes their place. In virtually every case companies either bribe lawmakers outright, or disguise bribes as campaign contributions, in order to win the right to substitute a low-wage private workforce for the existing public-sector staff.
U.S. “free trade” policies encourage the flight of capital and export of jobs. At the state and local level, lawmakers try to outdo one another with incentives for companies to abandon one state or locality for another. There is little-to-no monitoring of these handouts to companies; measurement of the jobs promised, gained and lost; or the harm to education and local government from letting big companies out of their responsibility to pay taxes. These policies have contributed to a multitude of problems, including high unemployment, reduced opportunities for young people, and budget deficits at all levels of government, which in turn cause job losses for public-sector workers. In the end, taxpayers are left to clean up the mess that is left in the wake of the job loss storm. Most politicians conveniently forget or ignore the pain and suffering unemployed workers and their families endure.
UE insists that decisions about investments, credit, workplace closings, and mass layoffs are too important to be left exclusively to managers, directors, shareholders, bankers, or politicians. Workers and communities have a large stake in these debates. Workers and communities have a right to more than an early warning of closures and mass layoffs. The loophole-ridden Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification (WARN) Act is in dire need of improvement and strong enforcement, since bosses routinely ignore it with impunity. Our union demands sweeping legislative solutions, including controls on capital investment and credit, and severe enough penalties that companies have a strong disincentive to destroy our jobs.
The public Post Office has provided universal postal service over many generations, and is continuously rated the most highly regarded government entity by the American people. Since the 1970 postal strike, which shut down mail service nationwide for four days, postal workers have had good, livable-wage jobs supporting their families in every community, and collective bargaining through their unions. Postmaster General Donahue wants to eliminate Saturday delivery, shut 3,700 postal facilities, and fire 120,000 workers (220,000 by 2015) despite a no-layoff clause in union contracts. Rep Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, wants to void the postal union contracts altogether and open the door to privatization. These proposals would sabotage and destroy our national treasure –– the public Postal Service.
In February 2011, Esterline closed the profitable Haskon plant, in Taunton MA, throwing over 150 UE Local 204 members out of work and moving their jobs to non-union facilities in Mexico and California. Local 204 had represented Haskon workers since 1943. The local fought back with a strong community campaign to take the plant by eminent domain but fell short, not for lack of effort by local leadership. The lesson of Haskon and other plant closing fights is the need for quick action by the union, including efforts to protect and secure production and manufacturing assets to enable the facility to remain open.
The closing of the GE lighting plants represented by UE Locals 731 and 751 between 2009 and 2011 illustrates the greed of one of this country’s oldest and largest manufacturers. GE stopped making incandescent light bulbs in Ohio and other U.S. locations, and shifted to manufacturing compact florescent light bulbs in China.
Until the day that we achieve meaningful action by the government, we are forced to rely on solidarity with our fellow workers and communities in the struggle against workplace closings and mass layoffs. UE has been a leader in developing innovative approaches to fighting closings and saving jobs, through eminent domain campaigns, workplace sit-ins, building broad alliances, political action, alternative forms of ownership, and other means. While we have not found a surefire formula for saving jobs, we must continue to struggle and to explore new solutions. We have no other choice. No boss can be allowed to fire or lay off workers without a struggle.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 72nd UE CONVENTION:
- Demands that the union or workers in a viable business be given an opportunity and time to locate new investors with an interest in buying the enterprise and continuing operations in the same location. This should include the possibility of creating a worker-owned cooperative. The company should be forced to sell at a reasonable market value rather than close. The company should not be allowed to close until a reasonable amount of time has been given for the workers to identify investors and assemble the necessary financing;
- Demands strong action by the Obama administration, future administrations, and Congress to prevent banks from destroying jobs by cutting off credit to viable employers. Banks that force workplace closings and sabotage the U.S. economy should be nationalized, with their assets redirected to promote healthy economic growth;
- Demands that Congress renegotiate the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the proposed Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), the U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement (CTPA), and encourages the union at all levels to participate in actions to prevent further extension of corporate-led trade agreements;
- Demands that Congress strengthen the WARN Act to eliminate current loopholes, and require earlier notice of a plant closing or product line move, and provide for enforcement of real penalties against bosses who ignore this law;
- Demands that Congress fully fund and expand the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA);
- Enact a Job Destruction Penalty Act that requires companies to pay severance and health benefits to laid-off workers, make payments to affected communities and states to offset lost tax revenues and the cost of retraining displaced workers, and repay any tax breaks and financial incentives;
- Calls on locals to bargain aggressively for strong contract language to prevent or delay plant closings or product line movement and for good benefits in the case of a plant closing;
- Encourages all locals to develop “contingency plans” in the event of a closing, including, but not limited to, researching which political bodies that have authority to exercise eminent domain and, if there is no such body, campaigning for the creation of one;
- Insists that public-sector workers and the communities they serve be given a voice in matters of public employment and service provisions;
- Encourages all locals faced with a closing to analyze the circumstances of the shutdown, and to quickly pursue whatever strategy is necessary to keep the workplace operating, including taking private-sector workplaces by eminent domain if the owner is unwilling to sell at a fair market price to people who will keep the workplace operating, or provide a sufficient and fair closing settlement for the workers;
- Demands that law agencies routinely prosecute corporate leaders whose unjust actions result in the loss of workers pay and benefits, such as the successful prosecution of the former owner of Wisconsin Die Casting and the felony charges lodged against the former management of Republic Windows & Doors;
- Encourages locals to enlist support from the local community and government to pressure employers to keep plants open and members employed;
- Demands that Congress and state legislatures take action against plant closings by forcing companies to reveal their reasons for closing to the public; if the closing is intended to push up their stock market values, run away to escape labor or other regulatory issues, or due to mismanagement, the company should be put in receivership until the problems can be worked out and a new owner found;
- Demands that Congress and state legislatures impose a moratorium on all plant closings and layoffs;
- Calls on the four postal unions and each of their locals and state associations, as well as central labor bodies and state labor federations in every part of the country, other national and local unions, the AFL-CIO, Change To Win, and community allies, to organize a coordinated national and local campaign, including mass demonstrations to defend postal workers, save Saturday delivery, stop Post Office closings and layoffs, and save the public Postal Service.