Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Labor Movement's 1%?

Amid the speeches and rallies at the AFL-CIO Convention this past week in Los Angeles, there were many resolutions passed, as well as a handful of amendments to the AFL-CIO constitution.  Most of the resolution and amendments were what you would expect from a labor convention.  There were resolutions opposing efforts to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as one supporting the American Labor Museum.  There was also an amendment recognizing the role of young workers with a seat on the Executive Board.

Then there was Constitutional Amendment 11.

Here is the amendment in its entirety:
Submitted by the Executive Council
 Referred to the Constitution Committee

Article V, Section 5 is amended as follows (New language in bold and italics)
Section 5

(a) The President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Executive Vice President, or any one of them, after having served five years as an Executive Officer of the Federation and either having reached age 65 or having served in any capacity a total of 20 years with any organization affiliated with the Federation, and/or with the Federation, shall, upon leaving office, have the title of President Emeritus or Emerita, Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus or Emerita and Executive Vice President Emeritus or Emerita and shall render such service to the Federation in an advisory and consultative status as is mutually agreed to by the Executive Council and the emeritus or emerita officer.

(b) The President Emeritus or Emerita, Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus or Emerita and Executive Vice President Emeritus or Emerita shall, in consideration of their active service prior to leaving office, be afforded for life a pension, payable weekly, in an annual amount equal to 60 percent of either the highest annual salary received as an Executive Officer or thereafter paid to the corresponding Executive Officer, whichever is greater. If, after attaining eligibility for this pension, such Executive Officer shall die, either before or after receiving such pension, the Officer’s surviving spouse shall be paid an annual annuity for life, payable in weekly installments, of 30 percent of either the highest salary received by such Executive Officer, as an Executive Officer, or thereafter paid to the corresponding Executive Officer, whichever is greater. The Executive Council is authorized and directed to enter into a legal and binding agreement with the President, the Secretary-Treasurer, and the Executive Vice President to make these retirement compensation and annuity benefits payable by the Federation for their intended duration pursuant to the terms and conditions of this Section. The Executive Council is also authorized to provide, after such benefits become non-forfeitable, for (1) the cash-out of a portion of these retirement compensation and annuity benefits (through accelerated payment of the present value thereof) where the officer will be subject to taxes on the value of benefits not yet otherwise payable, and (2) appropriate arrangements, including payment by the Federation, for payment of employment taxes attributable to these retirement compensation and annuity benefits. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Executive Council is authorized to modify or eliminate the benefits provided in this section. 

When I first read this amendment, I didn't really think anything of it.  After all, I am all in favor of pensions, as just about anyone in the labor movement is.  The crisis around Social Security has far more to do with companies reneging on employee pensions than it does about baby boomers - but I digress.

When I really started to dig into the language of this amendment, I began to realize just how tone deaf the leadership of the labor movement has become.  The amendment awards pension in the amount of 60% of the officeholder's highest grossing year after 5 years on the Executive Council, or 20 years with any affiliated labor organization.  This also increases any time a current officeholder's salary is increased in order to keep up with inflation.

This happens to work out great for Richard Trumka, who served three terms as the president of the United Mine Workers of America(UMWA).  Given his length of time as an officer with UMWA, he almost certainly is eligible to draw a pension from that organization.  Now he is eligible to draw a pension from the AFL-CIO that as of 2012 would pay him an estimated $166,000 annually for life.

It works out even better for Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.  According to the amendment, an officer becomes eligible for the lifetime pension when they either reach retirement age, or their total service time with affiliated labor organizations reaches 20 years.  Guess which year Liz Shuler took her first staff job with the IBEW?  That's right, 1993.  I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, but you have to admit that's one hell of a coincidence.  I'm 33, and Ms. Shuler is not all that much older than I am.  She could decide to leave the AFL-CIO tomorrow, and under this new amendment, she would collect roughly $146,000 a year.  This is remarkable since she easily has 15-20 years before she is retirement age.

At a time when the AFL-CIO is out railing against the 1%(and rightfully so) and the inequality of wealth in the workplace, it seems unfathomable that they would pick this moment to make the divide between the rank and file union member and their leadership even wider.  To do so in such a public fashion is even more stunning.  This sort of excess harms the labor movement and does little to dispel feelings among the average worker that their union leadership is out of touch with the day-to-day struggle in the shop.

The bottom line is that while there shouldn't be an issue with our leaders being fairly compensated - that's what we're fighting for after all - but it should be done in a common sense way that is not excessive.  

Maybe next convention someone will have the good sense to introduce an amendment inspired by the United Electrical Workers(UE) that restricts the salary of the national president to the same level of the highest dues paying member.  Given the diversity of the workers in the house of labor, they'd still be doing pretty well for themselves.

In Solidarity,


Monday, September 9, 2013

AFL-CIO Proposed Resolutions

The 2013 AFL-CIO Convention is underway in Los Angeles, and I decided to peruse the proposed resolutions, as well as proposed amendments to the AFL-CIO Constitution.

Here are some of my favorites:

Resolution 5, which just passed, co-opts the IWW method of growing membership to organize the unorganized.  This would extend AFL-CIO membership to all workers, even if they are not yet working under a collective bargaining agreement.

Constitutional Amendment 1, which would add a Young Workers' Representative to the AFL-CIO Executive Board.

Then there's Constitutional Amendment 2 & 3.  Amendment 2 is the Machinists' Union(IAM) complaining about Raider Unions, which made me think, "Pot, meet the kettle."  Amendment 3 is an amendment to reaffirm that Article XX(anti-raiding) will not be applied to non-affiliated unions. Paranoid much?

Let's see what else comes up.

In Solidarity,


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What It Means To Be The Only Non-Union Employees in a Union Environment

I thought about this entry on Monday, but I'm just getting the chance to post it.  The reason for this is that I was working on Labor Day, along with the other employees in my department.  We happened to be the only employees in the plant who were required to work.  We are also the only department that is not in the bargaining unit.

While working Monday didn't really bother me(I consider May 1st to be the real Labor Day), it did get me thinking about the other differences between the employees in the bargaining unit, and my department.

There are the obvious holidays that we do not get to enjoy spending with family and friends.  We also do not follow seniority when it comes to open job promotions, or bidding on our routes.  We were also the only employees in the plant who did not have their cost of living increases retrograded, which meant a few hundred dollars to most of us.  We also do not ever get weekend days off unless we are on vacation.  This is despite the fact that there are enough of us to rotate weekend duty so that everyone gets one weekend day a month off.

Then there is the most important issue - Job Security.

There have been several people in the bargaining unit who have lost their jobs over questionable evidence, and nearly all of them have been awarded their jobs back with back pay by arbitrators.  Our department has had four employees terminated in the last six months.  While the evidence was much stronger in some cases over others, none of the employees was allowed to have the chance to have their day in court.

In contrast, my job classification in a nearby plant happens to be in the bargaining unit.
What are the differences between those employees and us?

For starters, they make $3.13 more an hour than we do, which is a direct result of their contract negotiations.  Secondly, they can bid on their routes using seniority, which means your loyalty to the company is rewarded by giving you first choice of your job assignments.  They also rotate weekend assignments, and had their cost of living increase retrograded.  Most importantly, they have the right to grieve any adverse action taken by management against them.
So when I think of what it means to be union(which I have been in the past) and non-union(what I am now), the difference is crystal clear:

Lower Pay, Less Fairness, No Job Security.

In Solidarity,