iMail for Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Florida Machinists Ratify Space Center Contract

On Nov. 4, members of Local 2061 in Cocoa, FL ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with United Space Alliance (USA), ending a five-month long strike by nearly 500 workers at the Kennedy Space Center.

IAM members there include electrical technicians, crane operators and drivers for the giant crawler that moves the space shuttle to the launch pad.

Since the strike began on June 4, Machinists have walked picket lines every day during one of Florida’s hottest summers on record. In addition to oppressive humidity and tropical downpours, temperatures regularly exceeded 100 degrees.

“These workers can stand tall and tell their children how they weathered much more than economic hardships to protect their jobs,” said Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez. “They made extraordinary and sustained sacrifices to preserve their pensions, their dignity and to make sure the next generation of workers had the same chances they did. Their story will inspire Machinists for years to come.”

Community and labor support for the striking workers remained high throughout the dispute. On August 30, hundreds of IAM members traveled from the union’s National Staff Conference in Orlando to join the picket line.

“Support for Local 2061 came from every corner of the IAM,” said IP Buffenbarger. “In addition to individual donations to the local strike fund, hundreds of members contacted their elected representatives and urged NASA to allow the collective bargaining process to work as it was designed. The importance of strong political allies was invaluable.”

The new contract increased pensions for current members and secured retirement benefits for future hires. The General Wage Package calls for flat rate increases rather than percentage raises, a move that provides for a more equitable distribution of raises among all members.

The addition of the IAM 401(k) Plan into the contract is an important benefit for future hires. Twelve contracts at the Space Center contain the IAM National Pension Plan (NPP) and the 401(k) Plan can be rolled into the NPP at any of those locations.

Strike Clock Ticking for Amtrak Machinists

Five hundred IAM members at Amtrak, who have been without a new contract since 1999, will be free to strike the rail carrier on December 1, 2007, unless the President of the United States intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB).

A 30-day countdown began when the National Mediation Board formally released the IAM and Amtrak from mediated negotiations on October 31, 2007.

“We expect and are prepared for a Presidential Emergency Board,” said Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. “Our attorneys and economists are primed to defend the fair and reasonable positions our negotiators have taken at the bargaining table.”

Once empanelled, a PEB has 30 days to investigate the dispute and issue its non-binding recommendations for settlement. After the PEB reports to the President, the parties to the dispute have a second 30-day cooling-off period to consider its recommendations. If no agreement is reached, the parties will be free to engage in self-help at the end of the second cooling-off period. The company can then lockout workers or impose employment terms and the union is free to strike.

“Our members have worked for eight years without a general wage increase because of Amtrak’s refusal to bargain,” said IAM District 19 President Joe Duncan. “A fair agreement is long overdue.”

The IAM opened bargaining with Amtrak in December 1999 and is negotiating as part of a 15,000 member-strong labor coalition that includes the Transportation Communications Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Transport Workers Union.

All coalition partners have been released from mediation after numerous requests and will make a unified presentation to the PEB. Retroactive wage increases, work rule changes and employee contributions to healthcare premiums are among the contentious issues.

Machinists Oppose Peru Trade Pact

President Bush is lobbying hard on Capitol Hill for a vote this week on the Peru Free Trade Act, legislation that would expand NAFTA into South America and create a new wave of low-wage competition for U.S. workers.

The IAM is standing firm in opposition to any expansion of NAFTA-like trade deals, calling for a “strategic pause” before any new trade accords are brokered. “IAM members have suffered the loss of thousands of jobs due to bad trade agreements, reflected by out-dated, failed models,” said IP Buffenbarger in a letter to representatives. “Now is the time to put together a real and meaningful trade agenda that puts workers first and will lead to the creation of jobs here at home.”

Chief among the IAM concerns is absence of clear, enforceable labor standards as detailed by the International Labor Organization (ILO). These include prohibitions of child labor and guaranteeing the right of workers in Peru to form independent labor unions. “We also continue to have serious concerns with respect to the procurement and services provisions of the agreement,” said Buffenbarger. “Among other things, questions remain regarding the impact on Buy American practices.”

Clinton Challenges ‘Old Energy Economy’

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a comprehensive plan addressing America’s growing energy and environmental challenges at a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa yesterday. The New York Senator said her plan would create up to five million new jobs through renewable energy advancements, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030.

To achieve these goals, Clinton’s plan would raise fuel standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030, establish a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund to invest in alternative energy and create a “cap and trade” system for carbon emissions by big businesses.

“I believe America is ready to take action, ready to break the bonds of the old energy economy, and ready to prove that the climate crisis is also one of the greatest economic opportunities in the history of our country,” said Clinton. “Seizing it will unleash a wave of innovation, create millions of new jobs, enhance our security and lead the world to a revolution in how we produce and use energy. It will be a new beginning for the 21st century.”

Wisconsin Local 873 Women’s Committee in the News

The Women’s Committee of Local 873 in Horicon, WI, was among scores of Women’s Committees around the IAM that participated in October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month by sponsoring a fundraiser to get the message out that “Early Detection is the Best Protection.”

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer). The Local 873 committee was alerted to the critical need for awareness and early detection by fellow member Janice Tobak, who lost five of her immediate family members to breast cancer. The Women’s Committee felt it important to bring this issue to the union body and the community as a whole. All proceeds were donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

And speaking of Janice Tobak – the Democratic Party of Wisconsin recently recognized her for service to her union and community by presenting her with the 2007 Eleanor Roosevelt Award. One of the highest honors a Democratic woman can get in the state of Wisconsin, Tobak was chosen “in recognition of her work as a Grassroots Activist who, in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, continues to work tirelessly to make a difference, support democratic ideals, and promote social activism.”

“We’re proud of the accomplishments being made by Local 873’s Women’s Committee and all of the Women’s Committees in the IAM,” said Women’s Department Director Cheryl Eastburn. “These women, individually and as a group, are non-stop in their pursuit to raise awareness and push forward the goals of working families across North America.”