iMail for Thursday, February 26, 2009

IAM Applauds Obama Career Training Proposal 

The IAM applauded President Barack Obama’s remarks this week about the need for lawmakers and educators to work together to give American workers the vocational training they will need to survive and thrive in the new economy.

In a frank and detailed speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama outlined programs and goals he said are essential to rebuilding the U.S. economy, including providing the option for a year or more of technical career training for every American.

“It is our responsibility as lawmakers and as educators to make this system work,” declared President Obama. “But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. So tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship.”

The president’s proposal echoes goals set by the IAM more than 16 months ago, when they launched America’s Edge; Our Skills, Our Kids,’ a campaign to draw attention to the absence of skills training opportunities for young people seeking an alternative to a traditional four-year college education.

“The need for sophisticated skills training programs is even greater now than it was a year and a half ago,” said IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger. “An entire generation of highly skilled workers is preparing to retire. Without a means to train the next generation, we will face a high-skills deficit that will put our nation and our economy at a serious disadvantage. The president is absolutely correct to give this issue the high priority it deserves.”

Mexico Feels NAFTA Backlash

Nearly 15 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) became law, the global recession is exposing a new dimension of the controversial trade accord.

High unemployment is on the march in Mexico, where manufacturing companies are moving abroad in search of lower costs and even cheaper labour. Sound familiar? Recent statistics show the Mexican economy in tatters, with auto and manufacturing workers suffering a fate not unlike Canadian and U.S. workers who saw tens of thousands of their jobs fly south in the wake of NAFTA.

More than a half-million Mexican workers lost manufacturing jobs since November 2008, as the official unemployment rate climbed to 4.3 percent. The actual unemployment rate in Mexico is much higher, as the government counts anyone working even one hour a week as being employed.

With Canadian and U.S. unemployment hitting record highs each month, Canadian and U.S. workers may be slow to sympathize with Mexican workers losing jobs that were once performed north of their border, but workers in all of North America now share something besides a similar former occupation: They’re all casualties of NAFTA.

The migration of Canadian and U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico was initially touted as necessary to jump start the development of new industries in all three countries. But with corporations now looking beyond Mexico to China, South Korea and Indonesia, it’s increasingly clear that whatever NAFTA may give, NAFTA can also take away.

As the years pass and workers in one country after another feel the pain of NAFTA, the question to ask is not who’s losing, but is anyone really winning?

Toronto Health Care Workers Join Local 1295

One hundred and seventy workers at Ambutrans Incorporated in Toronto, Ontario, are the latest health care sector workers to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The newest members of Lodge 1295 in Toronto provide non-emergency ambulatory patient transfers from Toronto to Durham Region in the east and Mississauga in the west. This is the second group of patient transfer workers to join the IAM this year. One hundred workers at Ontario Patient Transfer in Hamilton joined Local 1295 in January. The IAM also represents Patient Transfer workers at Medi-Van in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“The need for structure in this industry is very important to these workers, that and the desire for better wages and benefits are the reasons they turned to the Machinists,” said District 78 Organizer Scott Jackson. “I can’t say enough about the hard work of apprentice organizers Roy Bhansingh and Ralph Martin. They were in constant contact with our new members either by text messaging or through the use of our web site. Communication was a key factor.”

Tennessee Machinists Ratify Four-Year Pact at Trane

More than 1,000 IAM members of Local 1296 in Clarksville, TN, have a new four-year agreement with Trane Company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heating, air conditioning and ventilating equipment.

The contract, which received a unanimous recommendation from the union’s bargaining committee, provides for a $1,500 lump sum payment upon ratification in addition to annual raises in the second, third and fourth year of the agreement. The contract also provides for a 7.5 percent increase in employer pension contributions and holds the line on employee health care costs, with caps in place to limit future increases.

Prior to the negotiations, the Local 1296 Bargaining Committee took part in the unique Negotiation Preparation Class offered at the William W. Winpisinger Center. In the week-long class, union negotiators draft contract proposals and prepare communication techniques to keep members at Trane informed throughout the process.

“The training at the William W. Winpisinger Center played a big part in the success we achieved at the bargaining table,” said District 711 Assistant Directing Business Representative Rickey Wallace. “This committee can take great pride in the results they achieved for the members of Local 1296.”

“The Local 1296 Bargaining Committee was well prepared and knew what they wanted to achieve when they sat down with the company’s representatives,” said Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez. “The value of a full service union, combined with membership solidarity has never been more evident.”

Solis Secures Labor Secretary Post

Working families can find solace in knowing they have one more advocate fighting on their behalf in Washington, DC.

After nearly two months of procrastinating interrogations, background scrutiny, and back-and-forth correspondence, the Senate has finally confirmed Rep. Hilda Solis as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The show of support by millions of Americans overcame the sideshow put on by some Senate Republicans not in favor of her commitment to defending workers’ rights, including the right to form a union without employer interference.

As Secretary of Labor, Solis will fight to improve skills development and job creation programs, assure workers get the pay they have earned, address the retirement security crisis, and improve working conditions. She also understands that giving workers a voice and the freedom to organize is the key to rebuilding our economy.