iMail for Thursday May 4, 2006

Thursday, May 4, 2006

‘Surge’ Conference Highlights Critical Shortages

“The fact that the United States no longer manufactures a battlefield tank is almost unthinkable when you consider the kind of world we’re living in today,” said IP Tom Buffenbarger after a two-day meeting with dozens of business, labor and policy experts to examine the future of U.S. defense manufacturing capabilities.

The “Surge Roundtable” opened at IAM headquarters in Upper Marlboro, MD seeking answers to two basic questions: First, will the U.S. have the unique tooling to manufacture the means of its own defense in seven to ten years, and second, will the U.S. still have a workforce capable of operating those unique tools by then?

“The disturbing answer to both questions is clearly ‘no’,” said Buffenbarger. “From ships to aircraft to land-based weapons systems, we have traded home grown expertise and capability for low cost foreign suppliers and a questionable supply chain that makes us vulnerable in a way we never were before.”

Despite the diverse background of those attending the conference, there was broad agreement on the need to secure the industrial base required for America’s defense and on the importance of providing alternative career paths for the next generation of industrial workers. Click here to view interviews with Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and other roundtable participants.

Reynolds Executives Charged over Anti-Union Campaign

Workers from RJ Reynolds’ facilities in Winston-Salem protested at the RJ Reynolds annual shareholder meeting this week to call attention to a vicious anti-union campaign by Reynolds’ management against workers seeking to unionize with the United Tobacco Alliance (UTA).
The UTA also filed National Labor Relations Board charges Wednesday against RJ Reynolds for threats to move production from Winston-Salem to Mexico and Puerto Rico if employees in North Carolina voted to unionize. Additionally, the Geneva, Switzerland-based union representing workers at RJ Reynolds’ parent company, British American Tobacco (BAT), is citing Reynolds’ anti-union campaign as a clear breach of agreed upon guidelines for multinational enterprises.
The United Tobacco Alliance for a Voice and Freedom (UTA), a joint effort by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM), seeking to organize over 2,000 production and maintenance workers at the company’s Winston-Salem and Tobaccoville, NC facilities. The vote to unionize is set for May 11.

Bush Administration Targets Energy Worker Pensions

According to a press release issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) on April 27, that agency will no longer reimburse government contractors for expenses associated with defined benefit pension coverage “for new contractor employees.”

The move reverses a long-established practice and is aimed at forcing employers to offer 401-k retirement packages instead of defined benefit pensions.

Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman claimed the new policy will “ensure that future costs for pension and medical benefits are more consistent with market trends.” No mention that those “market trends” were established in part by bankrupt airline and steel companies.

According to Economic Policy Analyst Monique Morrissey, the reason for the Bush administration’s bullying DOE contractors into choosing a particular kind of retirement benefit is two-fold: “Part of the story is patronage. The same investment companies that would have benefited from Social Security privatization will earn big fees handling the individual accounts of employees who would otherwise belong to pension plans. The other part is ideology. Bush dislikes collective solutions and would rather see every worker fending for himself.”

A growing number of companies are shedding their pension plans, accelerating a trend that has resulted in the loss of nearly three-quarters of pension plans during the past two decades. Just under 47,000 companies offered defined-benefit pensions in 2001, down from more than 170,000 in 1985. In the past five months alone, Verizon, General Motors and IBM have said they will close their plans.

Raytheon Shareholders Target Executive Pensions

IAM representatives presented a proposal at the May 3rd meeting of Raytheon’s shareholders and Board of Directors to adopt a policy giving shareholders the vote to accept or reject any supplemental senior executive pension plan or SERP (Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan). The proposal won support from 49.2 percent of the vote, narrowly missing a passing vote.

“Paying out lavish retirement benefits to executives is unnecessary given the already extremely high levels of executive compensation at Raytheon,” said IAM Senior Research Economist David White. “In addition, Raytheon’s SERP gives certain executives enhanced benefits and credits that are not provided by the company’s other defined benefits plans.”

For more than a decade, companies have been setting up SERPs allowing senior managers to defer compensation amounts that are above and beyond limits set by federal tax law. The IAM, in cooperation with union-affiliated investment funds and other activist shareholders, will continue to support efforts to reign in SERPs.

GOP Congress Dilutes Lobbying Reform

Remember the “Contract With America?” It was the GOP pledge to reform government that swept them to power in 1994. They promised an “end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public’s money” and said they would start a “comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse.” GOP leaders like Newt Gingrich whipped public furor over misuse of funds at the Congressional Post Office or deliveries of ice to Congressional offices.

Eleven years later, the era of Republican “reform” includes a GOP House member caught writing out his bribe list on his House stationary; plea bargains by top aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and DeLay’s own resignation over lavish trips and legislative favors to lobbyists.

GOP leaders in Congress pledged stiff reforms when the Abramoff scandal first broke, but now a watered down bill that the Washington Post called a “joke” and USA Today described as a “toothless sham” was passed 217-213 by the GOP-controlled Congress.

“This empty shell of a bill is driven by one thing – the majority’s cynical calculation that it will not pay a price with voters this November for failing to take meaningful steps to end this culture of corruption,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking Democratic leader.

Just some of the bill’s highlights include: lavish trips paid for by private groups is banned only until after the election; No ban on corporate jet travel at reduced rates for lawmakers. And, executives who aren’t egistered lobbyists can still ride along; watered down proposals for accountability for fundraising by lobbyists. Jack Abramoff would be proud.

Mississippi River Run Set for June 10th

The IAM Midwest Territory will host the 6 th Annual “Hawgs for Dogs” Mississippi River run on Saturday, June 10, 2006. Check-in for the fundraising ride will take place at Wilwerts Harley-Davidson at 145 North Crescent Ridge in Dubuque, IA 52003. 

The benefit run will stop at several checkpoints along the way where riders can draw cards for a possible winning hand for prizes. After a day of riding, Saturday evening events include a dinner, prize drawings, award presentations and music.

For more information, call Wayne Laufenberg (IA-NE) at 563-583-0122, Russ Wittkop (IL-IN-WI) at 920-406-1501, Steve Cohan (MN-SD-ND) at 952-496-1199 and Steve McDerman (MO) at 314-731-0603. Discount hotel accommodations will be available for all run participants. 

The ride will benefit Guide Dogs of America, the school dedicated to provide guide dogs and instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind and visually impaired men and women from the United States and Canada The internationally recognized program was founded through donations by the IAM in 1948. http://www.guidedogsofamerica.org

Machinists on Strike at R-Theta

Members of IAM Local 2243 in Brampton, Ontario, walked out at R-Theta Thermal Solutions in nearby Mississauga, Ontario, after rejecting deep concessions the final contract offer from the company. The 63 IAM members manufacture aluminum heat sinks and other thermal products used in the electrical industry to cool semi conductors.

“The employer has been demanding concessions in every area of the collective agreement since negotiations began last August,” said District 78 Business Representative Paul Mitchell. “This last offer, which sought to change their pension plan after freezing contributions for a year, really crossed the line as far as our members were concerned.”

Other demands included reduced rates of pay for new hires, swing shifts and safety equipment replacement will be at the discretion of the employer as well as a wage freeze in the first year of a three-year agreement.