Organizing, Political Action, Union Training On GEB’s Agenda

January 28, 2008

Pittsburgh


Meeting here January 17-18, UE’s national leadership body, the General Executive Board, reviewed UE’s work in organizing, political action, and leadership training.

Its first meeting since the 70th UE Convention in September, the board reviewed the success and impact of that event . Attendance was up over the 2005 convention, reported Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple, and board members reported positive assessments by participants from across the country. The board also reviewed the delegate’s assessments of the convention workshops, provided on written forms by participants in each workshop. These were very positive overall; the most common suggestion for improving workshops was to have them run longer. For the next convention, suggested several board members, the schedule should be rearranged to allow more time for workshops, and to allow one “free” evening with no planned activity. Bruce Klipple reported on preliminary arrangements for the 71st Convention in 2009. It will be in New Haven, CT, September 13-17.

ORGANIZING ON MANY FRONTS

Director of Organization Bob Kingsley reported a busy, exciting schedule of organizing activity in several states. Workers at a Ralston cereal plant in Lancaster, OH members of a newly-independent local union, were set to vote a few days after the GEB meeting on affiliation with UE. GEB member Ruth Hollabaugh, president of nearby UE Local 741 in Sparta, OH, reported on a meeting she recently attended with many of the Ralston workers. “They’re a good group of people who are ready for UE,” she said. “Money is their main issue, as well as respect and the lousy shift schedule they work.” Eastern Region Pres. Andrew Dinkelaker added, “I was impressed with the caliber of people. They have a very clear idea what they want and don’t want, based on their experience in another union.” Also participating in the meeting with Ralston workers were members from UE Locals 506, 618, 684, 712 and 766.

Kingsley also reported on a coordinated campaign involving several hundred, mostly female, contract clerical workers for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) centers in Vermont and California. Because multiple subcontractors run parts of this operation for the lead contractor, Stanley Associates, and because the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) looks for excuses to divide workers into smaller groups, employees will be split into some nine bargaining units. As the GEB met, NLRB elections were expected soon in several of the units.

The campaign was sparked by a $2 an hour wage cut imposed by Stanley when it took over the operations in December. The company also took away personal and sick days and a chunk of people’s vacations. A reminder of the NLRB’s pro-employer bias: the union buster who runs Stanley’santi-union campaign is Jack Toner, who previously served for 10 years as the Executive Secretary of the NLRB – the person who directs the NLRB’s day-to-day operations.

Vermont GEB member Carmyn Stanko, president of Local 267, had met with Stanley workers, and described their working conditions as “shocking,” including low wages and excessive forced overtime. “This is almost slave labor. One woman, working 16-hour days, fell asleep, fell, and broke her nose. But I’m optimistic, because the women I met are very strong.” More information on this campaign is available at online at justiceatstanley.org.

Kingsley reported continued growth of Locals 170 in West Virginia and 150 in North Carolina. Some 130 members in those two states and Virginia participated in the first round of a new leadership training program. Larsene Taylor of Local 150, a healthcare technician at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, NC, reported an uptick in union activity among workers in North Carolina’s Dept. of Health and Human Services. “People are getting fired up,” she said, around a new UE 150 initiative for a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights. “Now workers at Broughton, the largest mental health hospital, are getting organized.”

Kingsley reported on the success of the union’s events in three states on December 10 – Human Rights Day – where we announced our filing of a request for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the lack of collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. He also reported on the global organizing summit in Washington, DC just before the holidays, with unions from around the world and global union federations. “We’re not the only country where workers are facing difficulty organizing.

UE is using its international solidarity links – specifically with the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Unions (ICEM) and Germany’s chemical workers union – to pressure the multinational chemical company Freudenburg (employer of Local 1107 members in Necedah, WI) to live up to its pledge of neutrality in organizing campaigns. Brother Kingsley said Freudenberg worker in Iowa are seeking to join UE.

UE is also turning up the heat on the Japanese corporate giant Mitsubishi in the fight for a first contract for workers at Hishi Plastics (owned by Mitsubishi) in New Jersey. The union plans to take this campaign public beginning in late January, Kingsley announced.

Western Region Pres. Carl Rosen said that the Department of Homeland Security and Internal Revenue Service are “reloading” after a federal judge recently struck down their “no match” campaign of mass firings and intimidation against workers. “They’re finding ways around the judge’s order,” and preparing to come after workers again. “We expect that a lot of people will be coming to us for help in March,” especially in the Chicago area.

Political Action Director Chris Townsend reported that Bush campaign manager Karl Rove defined the Republican campaign theme: “Terror, terror, terror!” Townsend discussed preparations for UE’s political action conference in Washington April 27-30, and the importance of getting members registered to vote – now facilitated by information on the political action page of UE’s website. Beth Austin, Local 893, talked about the record turnout for the Iowa caucuses, especially on the Democratic side – a bad omen for Republican candidates. Austin also announced that the Iowa locals will conduct a political action day in Des Moines on Feb. 12, emphasizing the demand for legislators to “fully fund our jobs.”

Carl Rosen reported on a recent meeting in Chicago of the steering committee of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) and that organization’s plans for the coming months. He and Northeast Region Pres. Peter Knowlton urged locals and individual member to join USLAW.

In discussing UE’s educational work, Pres. John Hovis said recent sub-regional training events have been a big success and were “just what the union had in mind” when it adopted the regional and sub-regional structure. During reports from each of the regions, in which all members of the GEB participated, several emphasized what members in their area had gained from sub-regional educational events.

Tom Gharing, Local 622, reported that management in his shop is increasingly using trumped-up allegations of “hostile work environment” to go after workers who have harassed no one. This sparked a discussion, with other member saying they’ve witnessed this as a new trend among employers.

Bruce Klipple made a detailed presentation on the union’s financial progress and its budget. The Board earlier discussed the fact that more and more locals are being audited by the U.S. Department of Labor. While Bush has cut back on OSHA inspectors, and the five-person National Labor Relations Board is down to two members, the administration has beefed up the Labor Department staff for more harassing audits of labor unions.

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