iMail for Thursday, March 16, 2006

Organizing Drive Gears Up at Alabama Mercedes Plant

Fair wages, a voice at work and decent benefits are the foundations for a good job anywhere in the United States. Increasingly, however, these benefits are only available to union members with access to collective bargaining rights.

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, nearly 3,000 workers at a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz facility are looking forward to joining those ranks as an IAM organizing campaign there gathers steam.

Roadside billboards, television ads and a website showing IAM members as solid citizens are early highlights of the campaign, aimed at securing the support of the community as well as informing workers about their legal right to organize.

“We’re letting people know the right to organize and form a union is protected by federal law,” said GLR Don Barker, who is coordinating the IAM drive at Mercedes-Benz.

“There’s a long history of unions helping to bring good wages, benefits and health care to Alabama workers, and we intend to continue that tradition.”

One of the few unions to be founded in the South, the IAM currently represents more than 7,500 workers across Alabama in jobs ranging from aircraft mechanics at Pemco in Dothan, Alabama to rocket builders at Boeing in Huntsville and Decatur, Alabama.

“We want the men and women at Mercedes-Benz to know that we’re proud to be a part of this community, this state and this country,” said Barker.

“There are IAM members in all 50 states and we’re looking forward to giving workers in Tuscaloosa the same rights and opportunities enjoyed by IAM members everywhere.”

IAM Journal Profiles Seniors’ Crisis

Mugged is the cover story of the latest issue of the IAM Journal, which details parents, grandparents and their children being plunged into poverty by a cabal of drug companies, politicians and corporate CEO’s taking advantage of this nation’s health care crisis.

“Corporate America and its political allies blackjacked them with higher fuel, higher drug and higher insurance costs,” said IP Tom Buffenbarger in the introduction to a feature length article describing the slow motion mugging seniors have faced during the past five years.

“Privatizing Social Security and the new Medicare Part D Drug Plan were nothing less than premeditated scams to rip off an entire generation.”

The article urges IAM members to protect their own retirement by fighting back. A special website serves as a companion to the article and gives readers the opportunity to “Whack a Hack” and join the fight against politicians and CEO’s who “stole your pensions, mugged your parents and robbed the gold from your children’s golden years.”


United Begins Pension Contributions for IAM members

In accordance with IAM collective bargaining agreements, United Airlines began contributing on March 1 to the IAM National Pension Plan on behalf of all active IAM members at the carrier. This makes IAM members the only employees at United Airlines with a defined benefit pension plan.

In an early example of why IAM negotiators fought so hard to preserve a defined benefit plan at United, the initial monthly benefit of $33 times years of future credited service for Ramp and PCE members at United is scheduled to increase to $51.06 times years of service by the end of the current agreement in 2009.

Additionally, a just-completed actuarial review determined the initial benefit rate would be $3 higher than the estimates provided during ratification.

“A year ago we were fighting in bankruptcy court, on Capitol Hill and across the bargaining table to save our pensions,” said District 141 President Randy Canale in a bulletin to members. “An overwhelming strike vote and United’s realization that we were not only prepared to strike but willing to follow through even if it caused the liquidation of the carrier provided the leverage to negotiate the only defined benefit pension plan remaining at the airline.”

Members at United can still contribute to 401(k) plans, but they are the only employees who have the security of a replacement pension that is beyond the control of United’s management and not subject to the fluctuations of the stock market.


Wal-Mart Shifts Health Costs to Taxpayers

Retail giant Wal-Mart ranks high or tops the list of companies with employees on the state health care program for uninsured residents in 23 states, according to a new AFL-CIO report. The Wal-Mart Tax: Shifting Health Care Costs to Taxpayers, quantifies the impact of Wal-Mart’s refusal to provide affordable employee health care insurance on publicly funded state health care programs.

“It’s wrong that large corporations — like Wal-Mart — weasel out of their duty to provide health insurance for their employees and shift those health care costs onto others,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

“As the nation’s largest and most profitable private employer, Wal-Mart simply cannot justify dodging its health care responsibilities.”

Wal-Mart’s refusal to pay decent wages and provide affordable health care insurance to its workers puts it atop the list in at least 19 of the 23 states surveyed in the new AFL-CIO report.

In Arizona and Maine, roughly 10 percent of Wal-Mart’s workers get their health benefits from the state. In Washington State, it’s almost 20 percent. More than 10,261 Georgia children had parents working for Wal-Mart. In New Jersey, Wal-Mart tops the list of employers pushing workers into state-provided health care programs although the retailer is only the state’s eighth-largest employer.

The AFL-CIO and its unions, together with progressive state legislators and other allies, are launching and supporting Fair Share Health Care legislation in more than 30 states to stop large, profitable corporations such as Wal-Mart from shifting health care insurance costs onto their local communities.


China Calls for Internet ‘Discipline’

Appealing to Western capitalists for silent support of China’s widespread practice of Internet censorship, Premier Wen Jiabao, urged foreign companies to “exercise more self-discipline” if they want to operate in the huge market here.

Speaking to foreign journalists after the annual session of the National People’s Congress, Wen sidestepped charges of censorship and would only say “every citizen in the country needs to abide by the laws and safeguard the national and social interests.”

Chinese authorities have closed Internet cafes, blocked e-mails, search engines, foreign news and politically-sensitive websites and recently introduced a filtering system for web searches based on a list of prohibited key words and terms. Violators may face imprisonment and according to recent regulations some could even be sentenced to death.

Since 1995, China has become one of the fastest-growing Internet markets in the world. The number of Internet users is doubling every six months and estimated to be nearly 111 million.

The Chinese market is so attractive to companies doing business on the Internet, that activists say they are willing to sacrifice fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of speech in order to win approval by the Chinese government.

Representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Cisco Systems and Google recently faced sharp questions from the House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee over their willingness to cooperate with China’s Internet crackdown.



Former Local Lodge 2202 President Diane Matz passed away on March 11, 2006. An Alaska Airlines employee, Matz had served as a shop steward and in a number of other union positions. A celebration of her life will be held in Tuscon, Arizona at Tin Town, 850 E. 7th St., corner of 7th and Tyndall, 6:00 p.m. Saturday, March 18th. For more information contact LL 2202: 206-878-5498.