Sunday Labor Column: ‘Congrats’ To Unionized Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Workers On Reaching A New Contract, It’s Good To Be Western New York’s Labor Storyteller & An Interesting Graph On Jobs Created By The Obama Administration
News, Notes & A Bunch Of Observations Made While Covering The Western New York Labor Community Over The Past Week:
First off, Congratulations to 1199 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare Workers East-Represented Workers at the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center who’ve reached a new agreement. From 1199 SEIU: After nearly four months of bargaining, a tentative agreement on a new Labor Contract that covers 29 employees of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has been reached. The Union Employees who are represented by 1199 SEIU include Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, Therapists and Discharge Planners. The tentative agreement is subject to approval by Union Membership and a ratification vote has been scheduled for Wednesday, February 1st.
Let me tell you that it is indeed a pleasure being Western New York’s Labor Storyteller. There are so many good Labor News Stories out there that are not being reported on or told by the mainstream media and that’s a real shame. It’s unfortunate that not many of the positive Labor Stories reported on by WNYLaborToday.com are not also covered by the region’s many daily newspapers, business newspapers and radio and TV Stations, which only seem to be interested in Labor when it involves a picket, strike or worse yet – an indictment. That’s why it was a real pleasure to report on Union Retirees from Buffalo’s Sheet Metal Workers Local 71, who are helping breathe light back into Buffalo’s Central Terminal Restoration Project. If you get a chance, take a moment to read what these Union Retires and what Local 71 itself is doing to give back to the Buffalo Community. It’s a story, again, that you more than likely won’t read about anywhere else. Without the benefit of having a copy of the original plans, the Local 71 Retirees are building sconce replicas based on provided photos and dimensions from the original lanterns that are now displayed in a Hong Kong restaurant. Kudos from Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper to Local 71 Retirees Larry Fuchs, a 40-year Union Member from Buffalo who retired in 2000; Roger Korsh, a 50-year Member from Buffalo who retired in 2002; and Robert Stetzko, a 30-year Member who retired in 2008, who meet religiously each Wednesday at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall and Training Facility on Liberty Avenue for a couple of hours to continue to build – from scratch – sconce lamps that once helped light up the Terminal’s Passenger Concourse. An appreciative Central Terminal Restoration President Mark Lewandowski tells WNYLaborToday.com that he’s thankful to the Local 71 Retirees for donating their time and providing quality craftsmanship to help restore some of the grandeur of the old Railroad Passenger Terminal that’s located on Buffalo’s East Side. As Korsh told WNYLaborToday.com: “We take a lot of pride in what we’re doing. It’s a big nut to crack. But we’d like to make (the general public) aware of where these sconces are coming from so they think twice about saying anything negative or putting down Union People or our Union.”
WNYLaborToday.com just ran across a very interesting U.S. Jobs Graph (shown below) that was posted by one of our Friends on the Social Network Facebook. It shows that nearly 3.2 million jobs have been created across the United States in the last 22 months. In addition, it shows the job-loss our country suffered during the remaining months of the previous Bush Administration. I wanted to re-publish this chart, which can be obtained at www.whitehouse.gov, after seeing so many disparaging comments made on the Internet in regards to the job President Obama is doing. Despite having to try to work with the GOP Party of No, the Obama Administration’s been getting some good results over nearly the past two years. On that note, WNYLaborToday.com plans to publish a Labor Perspective later this week on some of those disparaging comments – including several we’ve seen made by Union Members themselves, whom I feel are not being even adequately informed and educated on this and other positives coming out of the White House. It would appear many would rather bellyache, criticize and point fingers rather than take the time to really find out what’s going on. With that said, it’s not only mind-boggling, but truly sad to read the comments of some Working People who apparently are considering voting for one of these less-than-stellar (and I’m being kind) Republican Presidential Candidates, who become more and more of an embarrassment to the American People as each day goes by. I do not know how any Working Person – Union or non – could ever cast their vote for one of them? It just doesn’t make sense, especially since it is the GOP that’s leading the attack on Collective Bargaining and Workers’ Rights across the U.S. On that note, Organized Labor truly needs to further focus its attention on educating not only Union Members to what the real story is – but all Working People, including those who ignorantly scream that “it’s time to take our country back!” If they aren’t careful, it won’t just be the country that will be taken back, it will be the very couches they’re sitting on.
Part of the impetus for writing such a Labor Perspective also came about after WNYLaborToday.com posted the following information on its Social Networks from the National AFL-CIO News Now Blog: Despite massive attacks on Working People across the United States in 2011, there’s good news out today (Friday, January 27th) for Organized Labor: According to new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall Union Membership increased by 49,000 from 2010 to 2011 and that includes 15,000 new 16-to-24-year-old Members. An increase of 110,000 in the Private Sector was partially offset by a decline of 61,000 in the Public Sector, making the rate of Union Membership essentially unchanged at 11.8%, with some 14.8 million U.S. Workers Union Members. Public-Sector Union Density increased from 36.2% to 37% though November 2011. Private-Sector Union Membership remains at 6.9%. The largest increases in Union Membership were in Construction, Health Care Services, Retail Trade, Primary Metals and Fabricated Metal Products, Hospitals, Transportation and Warehousing. The bottom line, says National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, is that “Despite an unprecedented volley of partisan political attacks on Workers’ Rights and the continuing insecurity of our economic crisis, Union Membership increased slightly last year.” “Working Men and Women want to come together and to improve their lives,” Trumka said. While the overall numbers are not spectacular – they do show the Labor Movement is moving in the right direction, and I’m sure those overall numbers will continue to increase in 2012 as Organized Labor and Union Members alike move forward on the Recall Elections in Wisconsin and continue the fight for Working People in States such as Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida.
On that note, WNYLaborToday.com also ran across the following and interesting piece from CNN that was headlined: Is The Union Movement Making A Comeback? (It can be found at http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/21/opinion/lichtenstein-union-wisconsin/index.html). It was authored by Nelson Lichtenstein, a MacArthur Foundation Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara: In a stunning achievement for Unionists and Democrats, critics of the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker marshaled over a million signatures for a petition that has made it possible for Walker to lose his office in a Recall Election this Spring. If so, that would be the first successful Gubernatorial Recall in Wisconsin history and only the third in that of the United States. Walker blundered last year by pushing through the State Legislature a hugely unpopular law that cripples Public-Sector Collective Bargaining and thereby suffocates most Government Unions. Coming on the heels of the November referendum in Ohio, which overturned a similar Republican-sponsored law, it's clear that the American Trade Union Movement is not yet dead. Indeed, the defense of these venerable institutions retains the capacity to put thousands in the streets and mobilize millions of voters, not all of whom are Card-Carrying Unionists by any means. But those hostile to Unionism are hardly backing off. In Indiana, where Republicans control the Legislature and Governor's Mansion, they are about to pass a state "Right-to-Work" Law similar to those anti-Union statutes long ago enacted in Deep Red States as South Carolina and Texas. And in the Nation's Capital, Republican Legislators are on the warpath against the very existence of the National Labor Relations Board, the 75-year-old agency whose Depression-era mandate fosters the capacity of Workers to form "Unions of their own choosing." Why the fuss when Private-Sector Trade Unions enroll but one out of every 14 Workers and Unions has hardly grown in more than 30 years? Meanwhile, the strike has practically vanished from the American landscape - there were at least 10 times more each year in the 1970s - and the negotiation of a new Union Contract, in both the Public and Private Sectors, is considered a Labor Victory if the Workers escape without too many givebacks. Political rhetoric during this campaign season fails to capture what's at stake. The Republicans denounce the pensions long ago negotiated by Public-Sector Unions as too expensive and they keep up attacks on the contributions of Washington Union Bosses to the Democrats. For their part, most Democrats, and this includes President Barack Obama, rarely offer a full-throated defense of the Labor Movement itself. Instead, they frame the Republican anti-Union offensive in the Midwestern States largely as an assault on the Middle Class, as if questions of power and ideology were not at stake. But the fate of Unionism is all about Class Power in American Society and the ideologies that motivate those who either defend or defame these institutions. The Occupy Wall Street protests have moved issues of economic inequality closer to the top of the contemporary political agenda, but it's the Unions - in their sometimes plodding and prosaic fashion - that have long ameliorated the stark disparities of wealth and income that an unfettered Capitalism so naturally produces. Tax fairness is a big political issue this campaign season, but of far greater impact on the distribution of American wealth and power is the existence of a Union Movement and the prospect that it might one day grow again. In the middle decades of the 20th century, when incomes were less unequal - economists called this the era of the "great compression" - the Trade Unions were potent, both at the bargaining table and in politics. Conversely, there is much evidence to show that the sharp decline in Private-Sector Unionism since the late 70s is connected to the rising inequality we have today. When they are strong, Unions can limit the prerogatives of individual businessmen, Government Officials and the untamed workings of the Labor Market. Contemporary free-market conservatives find all this intolerable, which is why governors like Scott Walker and New Jersey's Chris Christie so often seek to demonize the Trade Unions as corrupt and omnipotent. Fortunately, that rhetoric has found its limit, first in Ohio and now in Wisconsin where more than a million citizens put down their names endorsing the Union Idea.