iMail for Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Unions Sue Florida Cities over FTAA Riots

An AFL-CIO lawsuit charges four Florida municipalities with violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of thousands of workers and retirees who traveled to Miami to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) summit in 2003.

The lawsuit documents extensive police use of tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets to assault peaceful protestors while blocking access to a lawful union gathering at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.

“Union members and retirees in Miami were met by thousands of police in full riot gear and armored vehicles, paid for in part with funds earmarked for the war in Iraq,” said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger, who spoke at the AFL-CIO rally in Bayfront Park. “Under the guise of providing ‘protection’ for foreign trade ministers, law enforcement personnel in Miami provided a chilling glimpse of the battle between free trade and free speech.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, follows nearly four years of legal efforts and seeks punitive damages and a declaration that some police violated the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of thousands of protestors.

“This is an extremely important First Amendment case,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “The AFL-CIO is committed to ensuring that such intimidation and abuse of peaceful protestors by our own government is never repeated in any city across this nation.”

Iowa Members Send Christmas to the Troops

Union members at Viking Pump in Cedar Falls, IA, recently held a Care Package Drive for 18 of their sons, daughters and family members serving in the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. The drive collected six barrels of donated food and personal items and $2,014 dollars in cash. The money was used to purchase additional items for the care packages.

The idea for the drive started with Local 1728 member Dennis Schuler, whose son was stationed in Italy and Iraq. Schuler discussed the idea with Local 1728 Recording Secretary Bruce Goodenbour and together they approached the company and representatives of the Molders union at Viking.

“We thought it would be a great idea to honor the family members of those working at Viking Pump who are serving our country,” said Goodenbour. “While not everyone agrees with the war, everybody agrees that we need to find ways to support our Armed Forces.”

Nearly 200 IAM members at Viking Pump work in machining, assembly, shipping and maintenance. The foundry workers are represented by the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers. Viking Pump manufactures hydraulic pumps and internal and external gear pumps.

Amtrak Labor Coalition Meets with Carrier, NMB

The IAM and its coalition partners, the Transportation Communications Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Transport Workers Union, recently attended a meeting called by the National Mediation Board (NMB) with Amtrak officials. It was the first face-to-face meeting of the parties since the NMB released the parties from mediation on October 31, 2007. Sticking points continue to be retroactive wages, employee health care contributions and work rule changes.

“Amtrak came with proposals that were even more unacceptable than previous terms,” said District 19 President Joe Duncan. “We are headed for either a Presidential Emergency Board or a strike. The Machinists Union is prepared for both.”

A Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) can be ordered by the President of the United States. 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. Although a PEB has not yet been ordered, the union coalition met separately to prepare for the expected PEB hearings.

Voters Boot Conservative Leader in Australia

Australian voters handed the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard its worst defeat in more than sixty years. Howard, a close ally of President Bush, also lost the election for his seat in the Australian parliament and is only the second sitting Prime Minister in Australian history to lose his parliamentary race.

One of the biggest issues in the election was Australian’s dissatisfaction with the anti-labor “Work Choices” program that Howard instituted. The program made sweeping changes to Australia’s labor laws designed to weaken labor unions and favor employers, including removing protections for workers from being unfairly fired, weakening organizing laws, weakening health and safety protections and reducing overtime pay for work on weekends and holidays. The “Work Choices” program sparked massive protests and was a key factor in the shattering of the coalition of voters that kept Howard’s conservative coalition government in power.

IAM pollster Vic Fingerhut became an issue in the campaign after Howard complained that Fingrhut’s “Working Families” strategy was directly responsible for his defeat.

Australia’s Labor Party, led by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, swept the parliamentary elections and gained substantial wins in provincial government races. After his election victory, Rudd said his priorities include improving Australia’s education system, hospitals and infrastructure and helping working families.

IAM Mourns Retired GLR/Organizer Tom Mason

Long-time union representative and organizer Tom Mason passed away last week at his home in Cottonwood, CA. Mason’s many years in the labor movement began in 1971 when he initiated into former International Woodworkers of America (IWA) Local 433 in Anderson, CA while employed by Kimberly-Clark Corp., a lumber/sawmill operation. Mason immediately became involved in the union, and held a variety of positions in the local over the years, including Trustee, Plant Committee Chair, Organizing Team Leader and First Vice President.

In 1989, he was appointed Organizer for the Woodworkers District in Gladstone, OR. The IWA affiliated with the IAM in 1994, and Mason’s membership transferred to the new IAM Woodworkers Local W-12. Recognizing his skills and expertise, Mason was promoted to Special Representative on the staff of the IAM Grand Lodge Organizing Department in 1997. He quickly advanced to Grand Lodge Representative for the Organizing Department in 1999, the position held until his retirement on November 1 of this year.

“Tom’s devotion to helping others is what made him such an excellent organizer… an excellent human being,” said Organizing Department Director Larry Washam. “He will be greatly missed.”

“Tom Mason loved the union because of what it stands for,” said International President Tom Buffenbarger, “and he loved to tell others so they could reap the benefits as well. Because of Tom’s passion, many workers and their families are living better today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Connie, and their family.”

Charges Fly as Iowa Caucus Nears

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is on the defensive today after a Washington Post article revealed his political action committee (PAC) doled out more than $180,000 to Democratic candidates and groups in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

A spokesperson for the Obama campaign denied any connection between the PAC’s giving and Obama’s presidential aspirations, according to the Post article. Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules prohibit a candidate from using PAC money to benefit his or her presidential aspirations.

Among the recipients of Obama’s generosity was New Hampshire State Sen. Jacalyn Cilley who announced she was endorsing Obama for President six days after receiving $1,000 from Hopefund, Obama’s leadership PAC.

“There were no negotiations about financial remuneration. No quid pro quo,” said Cilley according to the Post article. “I endorsed him because I believe in his policies.”

Others are not so sure. “This is just old style, Windy City politics — priming the primary pump with a few well-placed contributions,” said Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr., a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton. “But I am surprised that Senator Obama’s presidential campaign stooped to this level. It’s just not his style.”

Kentucky Gov Taps District President for Transition Team

After winning a landslide victory on November 6, Kentucky’s Democratic Governor-elect Steve Beshear immediately began reaching out to the labor community for help in achieving a smooth transition and crafting an administration that is responsive to the needs of working families in the Bluegrass State. Among those tapped to assist in the transition is Ken Koch, Kentucky State AFL-CIO Vice President and IAM District 27 President.

“Ken did a terrific job during the campaign, working with union members and working families from all over the state,” said Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez, Jr. “Governor-elect Beshear has made an excellent choice and I’m confident Ken will provide invaluable assistance to the governor’s team in the weeks and months ahead.”