iMail for Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Record Turnout Fuels Close Contest

Despite unprecedented interest in the upcoming presidential election and record-breaking voter turnout, the race to win the Democratic nomination for president remains excruciatingly close. While more than 18.3 million Democrats have taken part in primaries and caucuses so far, fewer than 4,500 votes separate the two Democratic front runners, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

While Sen. Clinton won her home state of New York handily, the results in one city, Syracuse, NY, could hardly have been closer: 6,001 for Clinton and 6,001 for Obama.

“It’s clear this contest has the attention of voters,” said IP Tom Buffenbarger. “Syracuse provides just the latest example of how important it is for every eligible voter to make his or her voice heard.”

Former Pullman Porter Celebrates 100th Birthday

Celebrating a bit of Black History in real time, family and friends of Franklin Tilley gathered recently in Kansas City, MO to honor his 100th birthday. Born December 13, 1907, Franklin Dallas Tilley started work in 1929 as a laborer for Kansas City Southern Railway and later went to work for the corporate giant Pullman Company,where he became a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first African American labor union.

The BSCP, chiefly organized and founded by A. Philip Randolph in 1925, was made up mostly of porters of the Pullman Company. The union struggled for twelve years before winning its first collective bargaining agreement with the company. BSCP members went on to play a significant role in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1940s and 1950s.

“What a great man and unionist,” said retired Midwest Territory Education Representative Ed Lewis, who was on hand to present congratulations on behalf of IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger and Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) International President Robert Scardelletti. Lewis, who serves as President of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in Chicago, IL, also presented a congratulatory letter on behalf of the museum.

 “They say when you get old, people forget you,” said Tilley at the ceremony. “Well I can sure tell you, these people never forgot me, and I thank you for that.” Brother Tilley reads the Bible and the newspaper daily, likes to play dominoes and still drives. Brother Tilley retired as a switchman in 1972.
BSCP merged with the former Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks in 1978. and are today represented by TCU, which is the successor to those unions. TCU affiliated with the IAM in 2005.

IAM Mourns California Rep. Tom Lantos

Long-time human rights activist Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) died yesterday at the age of 80. The only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Lantos was first elected in 1980. His leadership over the years in championing human rights was recognized by fellow Democrats who elected him chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2007.

It was Lantos who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus 24 years ago, and it was his personal history that played such a large part in his commitment to defending human rights and civil liberties. Born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, he was 16 when Adolf Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944. He survived by escaping twice from a forced labor camp. Most of his family, however, perished in the Holocaust.

Lantos was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in December, and last month announced that he would not seek reelection to a 15th term.

“It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a Member of Congress,” said Lantos at the time of the announcement. “I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.” Lantos is survived by his wife, two daughters, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Railroad Workers Board the IAM Train

Twenty-two workers at the North Carolina and Virginia Railroad (NC&VA) will have the benefits of IAM representation as a result of two National Mediation Board Elections on January 31, 2008. The new IAM members are engineers, conductors, locomotive mechanics, trackmen and one supervisor.

The NC&VA is a short-line railroad headquartered in Ahoskie, North Carolina. The NCVA started November 1st 1987 on a former Seaboard Coast Line Railroad from Boykins, Virginia, to Cofield, North Carolina.

Harold Gahr, a retired Transportation Communications Union vice president was instrumental in organizing this group.

New York Health Care Workers Ratify New Accord

After months of negotiations, members of Local 1607 in Ithaca, NY, ratified a new agreement last week with Beechtree Care Center, a not-for-profit, skilled nursing facility and rehabilitation center. The three-year agreement calls for four percent wage increases in the first two years and a three percent raise in the third year.

“We’re pleased with it,” said IAM District 65 Business Representative James Johnston. “Our members really care about the residents. They’re like family to them.”

Other contract improvements for the 110 nurse’s aides, licensed practical nurses and dietary staff include an increase in holiday pay to 2½ times their normal rate and being able to use accrued sick days for themselves or their children.

“Our members at Beechtree deserve respect,” said Eastern Territory GVP Lynn Tucker, “and they stood strong until they had a contract that showed evidence of that respect.”

“Congratulations to Business Rep. James Johnston,” added District 65 DBR Norm Smith. “The entire bargaining committee should be commended for their resolve in negotiating a fair agreement for the members.”

FMLA Expanded for Wounded Military Families

For the first time since the bill was passed 15 years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been expanded thanks to efforts of the Democratic majority in Congress. The legislation extends unpaid family and medical leave for up to six months for the families of wounded military personnel.

Originally proposed by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as the Support for Injured Servicemembers Act, the expansion enables military family members to take FMLA leave for “any qualifying exigency” relating to a family member’s call up to active duty or deployment.

“By extending the Family Medical Leave Act to military families, [this] provision will help parents, spouses and children take care of a number of issues that arise when a loved one is deployed,” said Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA.), who introduced the amendment.

“This needed expansion in FMLA is a great victory for our military families and all families across America,” said IAM Women’s Department Director Cheryl Eastburn. “We need to stay vigilant, however. Before the ink has even dried on this new legislation, the Labor Department is already considering new regulations to reduce the number of families eligible for FMLA.

Under FMLA, companies employing 50 or more people must allow workers up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave to care for themselves or family members during serious health conditions, or for the birth or adoption of a child.