Beneath Your Feet: The Maintenance Crews That Keep The MBTA Running

Via WBUR.org Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that he’s giving a special panel 30 days to come up with recommendations to fix the MBTA’s finances and operations. And for good reason. In the past couple of Read more

Five Reasons Congress Should Oppose the TPP

VIA TRUTH-OUT.ORG As with previous free trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would likely harm rather than benefit American workers, hurt the US economy and not help workers in other countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral Read more

More Than a Game: It’s Time We Put Our Money Where Our Values Are

By Cherri Senders January 29, 2015  The Super Bowl reflects the best of America. Not just because we get to watch some of America’s greatest athletes participating at the highest level in their sport. Nor Read more

Beneath Your Feet: The Maintenance Crews That Keep The MBTA Running

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Train wheels to be repaired and or replaced on the floor of the MBTA subway main repair facility in Everett. (Courtesy Karen Hosking)

Via WBUR.org

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that he’s giving a special panel 30 days to come up with recommendations to fix the MBTA’s finances and operations.

And for good reason. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the failings of the MBTA — about systemic problems and a lack of financing, about bad management and political pitfalls. We’ve heard about maintenance backlogs, old rolling stock and poor service. In short, we’ve heard about a system that already can’t meet demand, even as we demand that it be expanded.

We’ve talked a lot about everything that’s wrong with the MBTA. And, granted, there’s a lot to legitimately complain about. But, it also might be time to take a second to talk about at least one thing that works about the T.

Last year, we visited the MBTA’s maintenance shop. It’s the system’s only repair facility — a 110 square foot warehouse in Everett. Every single part that breaks down on the T — whether it’s a valve, a wheel, a break, or an entire undercarriage — is sent there.

“When you’re standing on the platform, you’re only seeing the shiny part,” says Edward Belanger, a maintenance supervisor of the MBTA’s subway main repair facility. “We handle the stuff underneath. The majority of our work is under the deck.”

Belanger has been at this facility for about a decade, and he’s responsible for overseeing the machine shop, sheet metal shop and electronics room.

“You have a lot of different trades under the same roof,” he says. “It’s very reminiscent of America when companies did everything themselves.”

But very skilled work happens here, too.

“People don’t like it when the wheels come off,” says Belanger.

264 Machinist Glenn Morgan bores a train wheel at the Everett Main Repair facility. Courtesy (Joseph Votano)

 

When we visited, worker Tony Moccia was inspecting a red line axle for signs of cracks or bends.

“The T is always recycled, but not for green reasons,” says Belanger. “The axle unit you’re looking at, with the resilient coupling, is worth about $11,000. Some of these axles will actually run the entire life of the car without being replaced.”

And the wheels that are placed on those axles are held on by nothing other than an extremely tight, pressed fit — that means no welding, no lugs screwed in like on your car. Just an ultra precise press fit.

“The hole has to be 0.025″ smaller than the axle,” says Belanger. “Just about the width of a human hair. So, if John misses it, either way, we can’t use the wheel.”

John O’Donnell bores the hole to get that red line wheel on the axle. When John is done boring the hole, you’re not supposed to be able to slide anything thicker than a human hair between the wheel and the axle. You would think they would use some kind of laser-guided, computer aided machine.

But, no. With great care and skill, O’Donnell achieves that ultra tight press fit using an almost 80-year-old mechanical boring machine that’s been there since the T moved into the Everett building.

“We don’t throw a lot of wheels away, because John’s good,” says Belanger.

So good that the wheels stay on, until the maintenance crew needs to take them off. It’s no easy task and requires another special — and old — machine.

“Steve and Mike are going to press off a number three wheel,” says Belanger. “They’re removing the wheel from the axle so we can put a new one on.”

And what does it sound like? About 170,000 pounds of pressure. In other words, loud.

“That’s the force it takes to hold one on,” says Belanger. “When you think about the diameter of a human hair, you don’t realize how powerful it can be.”

And with that precision, the crew makes sure that the wheels stay on the red line as it rumbles over the tracks. They also make sure that the train stays steady, even as thousands of riders board, changing the weight distribution on each carriage throughout the commute.

All of that is done, basically, with some valves and an air bag.

“Get on a subway car. You step on that car, and that car is even with the platform,” says Mark Craven, the foreman in charge of the air pressure section of the facility. He’s been with the T for 24 years. “As more people get on the car or get off the car, that wants to move up and down, but we have leveling valves that adjust that automatically, so that when you’re stepping on that car, if it’s an empty car, you’re not tripping over the door. And if it’s a full car, you’re not stepping into a hole in there.”

A subway train uses compressed air to close and open doors or trigger brakes to stop the train. The air tubes need to be descaled after many years of use. This is the purpose of these bluish-gray, cylindrical shaped tools. (Courtesy Joseph R. Votano)

 

Think about it. When you get on the train in the morning, you — and many other people — cram onto the train. With that extra weight, the car doesn’t sag down, even for a moment. It stays level with the platform and it stays level at the next stop, when more people board. And at stations like Park Street, when many people get off the red line — the car stays level, yet again. All because of a valve.

It’s just another example of the thousands of tiny parts that make up the entire system. And almost all of this maintenance work is done in-house. Belanger points out what’s called a gear unit — basically, the guts of the train: the transmission, the axles, bearings and wheels.

“It actually kind of symbolizes the building itself,” he says. “The pallet was made in our wood shop, the gear unit was rebuilt in the wheel shop, components of it came out of the machine shop and the bearings — the bearing housings — were actually worked on over in our welding or blacksmith’s area.”

Part of the reason they do everything in-house, even crafting things like replacement door hinges and simple things like washers — all from scratch — is because many of the trains are so old, they can’t buy the parts anywhere.

“We’re not a production shop, but we are. And we’re not a prototype shop, but we are. Many of these pieces — like these pieces for the track break — they were designed and manufactured here because nobody makes them.”

Here’s one of the big lessons to take away from this visit — Belanger and his employees are working on anything from blue line trains that are just a couple of years old to the Mattapan high speed line, which has rolling stock that was built back in 1945. Many of the companies that first manufactured those trains don’t even exist any more. Therefore, the T’s machinists are custom crafting individual replacement parts, using unique and really old tools. In other words, their skill really matters.

So, what’s it like to work here?

“It’s awesome. The ability to create has always been something I’ve been fascinated with, and this building has it all. It literally encompasses almost every single trade you would need to fabricate anything,” says Belanger. “We take it serious. There’s this imagery of the T that has a tendency to think that we’re not, like, on the ball, we’re not producing, we’re taking the public’s money. This building is working. It’s bustling the entire time…Those two individuals are responsible for every single wheel that goes on and off every single train in the entire system. Two guys. And it’s like, it doesn’t get more personal than that.”

It’s likely Belanger and his crew are taking the current crisis at the T very personally, and that they’re busier than ever doing what they can, literally and physically, to hold together an aging, underfunded train fleet.

That’s the irony of maintenance work, though. On most days, when the T runs, the work that comes out of this machine shop is invisible. Right now, it’s very visible. And whether or not the MBTA is suffering systemic, financial and managerial failures, the work at the T’s repair facility in Everett goes on.

We were able to learn about the facility and see it first hand thanks to two freelance photographers, Joseph Votano and Karen Hosking, who published a coffee table book in 2014 called “Boston Below” featuring pictures of commuters and some incredible photos of the Everett facility.

Five Reasons Congress Should Oppose the TPP

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There has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. (Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)

There has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. (Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)

VIA TRUTH-OUT.ORG

As with previous free trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would likely harm rather than benefit American workers, hurt the US economy and not help workers in other countries.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral trade deal currently being negotiated by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, would significantly expand the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which was ratified in 2005.

Business organizations, Republicans lawmakers and some Democrats favor giving the president “fast track” authority to get any deal reached by the Obama administration approved with limited congressional review under a statutory mechanism known as trade promotion authority.

The president needs Congress to grant him this authority, but lawmakers should oppose fast track on the TPP. As with previous free trade agreements (FTAs), the TPP would likely harm rather than benefit American workers and hurt the US economy.

Below are five reasons that lawmakers should oppose the TPP.

• FIRST, despite presidential promises of job gains, previous FTAs have resulted in lost jobs, stagnant wages, increasing inequality and other negative consequences for workers. On the 20th anniversary of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimated that almost 700,000 US jobs had been lost as a direct result of the agreement. (In 1993, President Clinton claimed that NAFTA would create a million jobs in its first five years of operation.)

Nearly 60,000 job losses can be attributed to the 2012 US-Korea FTA, EPI reports. Secretary of State John Kerry and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack insist that the TPP would support 650,000 jobs in the United States, but the Washington Post’s Fact Checker awarded their “illusionary” job claims four Pinocchios for “fishy math.”

• SECOND, several countries involved in the TPP have long violated fundamental labor rights. The worst offender is Vietnam, whose government has refused to allow workers the freedom to form unions. Vietnam’s senior advisor on international integration negotiations has stated in negotiations that Vietnam could “not accept [the right to establish unions] requirement.”

Vietnam’s General Confederation of Labor and affiliated unions are essentially appendages of the governing Communist Party, not independent worker organizations. Vietnam also has poor labor conditions, with workers in export manufacturing factories being exposed to hazardous chemicals and blocked emergency exits. Child and forced labor has been used in the textile and brick sectors in Vietnam.

Other TPP countries have problematic labor records. In Mexico, violations of freedom of association are widespread, and child labor and forced labor are problems; in Malaysia, electronics and other goods are produced using child and forced labor, according to the US Department of Labor; in Peru, child and forced labor are commonplace; and in Brunei, which recently adopted Sharia law, the exploitation of foreign workers and discrimination against women are endemic.

US workers should not face unfair competition from countries that systematically violate workers’ rights, or lack the capacity to enforce their own laws or investigate violations. Unless these countries strengthen the protection of fundamental labor rights, corporations will likely shift more US jobs overseas under the TPP.

• THIRD, even as US workers have lost out, workers in less developed countries have not benefitted from previous FTAs. Indeed, in several cases, these workers have seen conditions deteriorate further. The Colombian government has failed to curb widespread violence against union activists under the 2011 “Labor Action Plan” of the US-Colombia agreement. So far, 73 unionists have been murdered under the agreement.

Neither has the Colombian agreement delivered on promises to improve labor conditions. Labor abuses continue in Guatemala under the 2005 US-Dominican Republic Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). As a result of the Guatemalan government‘s failure to effectively enforce its own labor laws in more than 400 instances, the Office of the US Trade Representative initiated the first-ever labor dispute through a FTA in September 2014 – a complaint that was first filed six years ago.

CAFTA-DR has hurt Honduras‘ economy and contributed to recent waves of emigration. At least 31 unionists and 112 rural workers have been murdered in Honduras, and workers are routinely subjected to egregious abuses, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO in January. In recent years, labor violations have been getting worse, the government has weakened labor law, and the amount of permanent work has been reduced. FTAs have not improved respect for fundamental labor rights or uplifted standards, and TPP is unlikely to help workers in poor Asian countries.

• FOURTH, if previous experience is any guide, TPP will likely protect the rights of large investors and corporations at the expense of workers. US Trade Representative Michael Froman insists that won’t happen and that TPP’s labor chapter will cover child and forced labor, special economic zones, and labor standards, including minimum wages, maximum hours and other workplace conditions.

But past assurances have counted for little, especially when workers’ interests clash with the demands of powerful corporations and investors for weaker regulations (“non-tariff barriers to trade”). Labor obligations are rarely subjected to the same enforcement mechanisms as commercial provisions, and corporate rights always trump workers’ rights. There is little reason to believe it will be different this time round.

Finally, there has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. Unless labor rights become more central to trade negotiations, FTAs will continue to hurt American workers, not benefit them.

The administration should ensure that labor standards under FTAs at least conform with the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights At Work, which guarantees freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain, the abolition of child labor and forced labor, and the elimination of discrimination in employment, and it must strengthen and streamline enforcement mechanisms.

US workers have already suffered from decades of stagnating wages as a result of this nation’s poor record upholding international standards on freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The last thing workers need is an enormous trade agreement with nations that have even worse labor rights records.

Congress should oppose fast track authority and ensure strong and enforceable labor standards in any future FTAs.

More Than a Game: It’s Time We Put Our Money Where Our Values Are

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January 29, 2015

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 The Super Bowl reflects the best of America. Not just because we get to watch some of America’s greatest athletes participating at the highest level in their sport. Nor is it the glitzy, over-the-top halftime shows. It’s not even because the Super Bowl is one of this country’s last communal viewings, with more than 110 million Americans expected to tune in to witness the action in Glendale, Arizona.

No, the Super Bowl reflects the best of us because it epitomizes the Land of Opportunity that rewards hard work — from the athletes on the field, to the broadcast crews, to all of the stadium and support staff it takes to put on a show like this.

While the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks duke it out on the gridiron, the television, radio and online production crews will be doing their magic to make the contest accessible for fans around the world. For the halftime show, talented stagehands will set up Katy Perry’s performance platform quicker than it takes most of us to make a sandwich. And all the stadium and support staff will be busy keeping fans satisfied and making sure things run smoothly. With more money spent on this game — a jaw-dropping $4.5 million for a 30-second commercial and another $11.7 million spent by stadium fans on food, drink and merchandise — it’s no wonder these folks can all get paid good wages.

But the Super Bowl’s impact will also be felt off the field in Arizona this year. Pilots and their crews will safely transport fans to and from the Phoenix area, bus drivers will get folks to the stadium, hotel workers will make sure that these people have a comfortable stay — and don’t forget about the highly-skilled construction crews that built University of Phoenix Stadium.

What do all of these divergent folks — stage builders, TV production crews, transportation and service industry personnel — have in common? Most of them get paid good wages for a fair day’s work, receive health insurance and are treated with respect on the job. As a result, they can provide for their families, go to the movies, enjoy an occasional dinner out and be comfortable members of the middle class living the American Dream.

But not everyone in America is so lucky. With income inequality and the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots front and center in American politics today, what can TV viewers and fans watching the biggest game of the year do to make a difference?

11superbowl_partyThe $1 billion spent on food and beer for Super Bowl parties are a good place to start. When buying snacks for this year’s game, select goodies made by companies that treat their employees well. It’s as simple as grabbing a bag of Lay’s or Ruffles potato chips, Rold Gold Pretzels or a jar of Pace salsa over another brand. With an estimated $184 million spent on potato chips and another $40 million on pretzels for Super Bowl parties, those choices can start adding up — and making a difference.

Want to have a bigger impact? Shop at grocery stores that respect their workers.  Buy your supplies this year at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons, and stay away from race-to-the-bottom employers like El Super or Walmart.

To paraphrase Henry Ford, paying workers well is good business. Good wages make a stronger America for all of us — your friends, your neighbors and your community. For consumers, supporting high-road employers doesn’t have to mean a lot of sacrifice. If we were to dedicate just 10 percent of spending on products and services made by companies that paid their employees well, the change we would feel in our communities would be obvious and immediate. We need to reward companies that treat their employees humanely, and discourage those who don’t. Those high-road businesses would thrive and the bottom feeders would be forced to either rethink their approach, or wither away.

The buying power of the typical American consumer is an untapped resource. As a country, we’re learning to base some of our purchasing decisions on what may be best for the environment — the green movement. It’s about time that we also base our purchasing decisions on what is also best for America.

Then we can all be winners this Super Bowl Sunday.

Visit Labor 411 for a long list of union-made snacks and beverage

Contract Ratification for MBTA

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Today’s contract ratification meeting for Local 264 Machinists at the MBTA was held at the Mass Bay Credit Union in South Boston.  Every member that was there was given a copy of the Memoradum Of Understanding for the contract that will run from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018. After the meeting was called to order by President Mastandrea, the floor was opened for any questions that people wanted to ask were asked to and were answered by Business Agent Jimmy Foley as well as members of the negotiating committee.

The MOU was gone over in detail and there was some discussion on some of the changes to language and finally the vote was called for. All members that were in attendance had a vote. There were 121 votes cast.

Results to accept 2014-2018 contract proposal.

YEAS – 109

NAYS – 12

New Officers and executive board members sworn in

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At the January member meeting the new officers and executive board members were sworn in. Congratulations to Vice President Chris Gagne, Executive Board members Ben Sherman, Bob Walker Jr., Jeb Mastandrea,  Mike Haywoood and Trustee Sean Tempesta. We wish you all the best of luck in your new positions.

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Also at the meeting newly retired member Jim Bain was presented a plaque that was made by Everett Main Repair Facility Machinist Chris Fernald. Jim was at the MBTA for 32 years. He served the union in many positions and will continue to help in any way he can. We wish him well in his retirement.

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It’s Coming: The Worst Trade Agreement You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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by Robert Reich

Republicans who now run Congress say they want to cooperate with President Obama, and point to the administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, as the model. The only problem is the TPP would be a disaster.

If you haven’t heard much about the TPP, that’s part of the problem right there. It would be the largest trade deal in history — involving countries stretching from Chile to Japan, representing 792 million people and accounting for 40 percent of the world economy – yet it’s been devised in secret.

Lobbyists from America’s biggest corporations and Wall Street’s biggest banks have been involved but not the American public. That’s a recipe for fatter profits and bigger paychecks at the top, but not a good deal for most of us, or even for most of the rest of the world.

First some background. We used to think about trade policy as a choice between “free trade” and “protectionism.” Free trade meant opening our borders to products made elsewhere. Protectionism meant putting up tariffs and quotas to keep them out.

In the decades after World War II, America chose free trade. The idea was that each country would specialize in goods it produced best and at least cost. That way, living standards would rise here and abroad. New jobs would be created to take the place of jobs that were lost. And communism would be contained.

For three decades, free trade worked. It was a win-win-win.

But in more recent decades the choice has become far more complicated and the payoff from trade agreements more skewed to those at the top.

Tariffs are already low. Negotiations now involve such things as intellectual property, financial regulations, labor laws, and rules for health, safety, and the environment.

It’s no longer free trade versus protectionism. Big corporations and Wall Street want some of both.

They want more international protection when it comes to their intellectual property and other assets. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that secure and extend their patents, trademarks, and copyrights abroad, and protect their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans.

But they want less protection of consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment, because these interfere with their profits. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that allow them to override these protections.

Not surprisingly for a deal that’s been drafted mostly by corporate and Wall Street lobbyists, the TPP provides exactly this mix.

What’s been leaked about it so far reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry gets stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs. That will be a good deal for Big Pharma but not necessarily for the inhabitants of developing nations who won’t get certain life-saving drugs at a cost they can afford.

The TPP also gives global corporations an international tribunalof private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets.

Even better for global companies, the tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits found to result from a nation’s regulations. Philip Morris is using a similar provision against Uruguay (the provision appears in a bilateral trade treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland), claiming that Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations unfairly diminish the company’s profits.

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Anyone believing the TPP is good for Americans take note: The foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations could just as easily challenge any U.S. government regulation they claim unfairly diminishes their profits – say, a regulation protecting American consumers from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, investors from fraudulent securities or predatory lending, workers from unsafe working conditions, taxpayers from another bailout of Wall Street, or the environment from toxic emissions.

The administration says the trade deal will boost U.S. exports in the fast-growing Pacific basin where the United States faces growing economic competition from China. The TPP is part of Obama’s strategy to contain China’s economic and strategic prowess.

Fine. But the deal will also allow American corporations to outsource even more jobs abroad.

In other words, the TPP is a Trojan horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.

At a time when corporate profits are at record highs and the real median wage is lower than it’s been in four decades, most Americans need protection – not from international trade but from the political power of large corporations and Wall Street.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is the wrong remedy to the wrong problem. Any way you look at it, it’s just plain wrong.

The Five Best Labor Stories of 2014

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Walmart employees picket outside of the Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California on November 6, 2013. The employees accuse Walmart of continued unlawful retaliation against workers who speak out for change at the company. Some of the striking workers say that when they have come forward to call on Walmart to address issues with scheduling, wages, benefits and above all else, respect in the work place, Walmart has reacted by retaliating against them. (Photo: UFCW International Union / Flickr)

Walmart employees picket outside of the Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California on November 6, 2013. The employees accuse Walmart of continued unlawful retaliation against workers who speak out for change at the company. Some of the striking workers say that when they have come forward to call on Walmart to address issues with scheduling, wages, benefits and above all else, respect in the work place, Walmart has reacted by retaliating against them. (Photo: UFCW International Union / Flickr)

Via truthout.org-

This year has turned out to be another tough one for US workers. In particular, the results of the 2014 midterm elections, which saw the reelection of anti-union governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, demonstrated that the attack on labor rights at the state level, which started in earnest in January 2011, has yet to run its course. Next year, more states will introduce legislation that restricts collective bargaining rights, right-to-work bills that outlaw voluntary union security agreements and “paycheck protection” bills that make it more difficult for unions to raise and spend money on politics.

But 2014 also saw several more positive developments for workers and unions that suggest that the labor movement might yet have a brighter future in the coming years. Below are five important and hopeful stories from the past 12 months.

1. The Fight for Fifteen: Nothing comes close in significance to the struggle of fast-food workers, airport workers, home-care workers and workers at federal government buildings for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. In the latest round of actions, fast-food workers and their allies held strikes and protests in at least 190 cities around the country. Prior to the first strikes in New York City two years ago, few would have taken seriously the demand for $15 per hour for McDonald’s and Burger King workers. Now, not only is it taken seriously, but it has also influenced living wage battles in cities across the nation. Next year the most important labor campaign in decades will escalate its protest action.

2. OUR Walmart: Just over two years ago, Walmart workers participated in the first ever strikes in the history of the world’s largest retailer. This year’s Black Friday protests were the largest so far: Thousands of community allies joined workers from OUR Walmart to engage in walkouts, sit-down strikes and other protests. These actions highlighted the high cost to the public of poverty wages, poor working conditions and management retaliation. Each year, employees at Walmart, like those at McDonald’s, receive billions of dollars in public assistance because their wages are so low. Workers continue to face intimidation, but the tide may be turning against billion-dollar corporations that pay poverty wages at home and abroad. Coordinated by UNI Global Union, the campaign at Walmart has a vigorous international component: Workers in Chile and South Africa have protested this month, and next year will see more protests in the United States and overseas.

3. The UAW Campaign at Volkswagen in Tennessee: In February, when the United Automobile Workers (UAW) narrowly lost a representation election at the Chattanooga plant, this campaign could easily have been remembered as one of the year’s low points. After the UAW collected membership cards from a majority of workers, Tennessee’s governor and senior US senator colluded with anti-union organizations to mislead and intimidate workers into voting against the union. But the UAW has rebuilt support within the plant and now at least 45 percent of the Volkswagen workers are members. The company, which has behaved in an exemplary fashion throughout, has granted it limited bargaining rights. The campaign demonstrates that if employers remain neutral and workers are free from coercion, they will choose union representation – even in the South. If McDonald’s and Walmart were to behave like Volkswagen, their employees would benefit from unions, decent wages, full-time hours and respect at work.

4. The Reinvigoration of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): For much of the past four years, the GOP Congress, anti-union groups and big business have attempted to stop the NLRB from functioning, with considerable success. In the past few months, however, the Board has made a number of important decisions that should offer some protection to workers who want to choose a union. Earlier this month, the NLRB reissued its final rules to streamline the union certification process and get rid of the worst cases of pre-election delay. In a landmark case in December, an administrative law judge ruled that Walmart violated the law when it discriminated against protesting workers at two California stores. Most recently, the Board’s general counsel ruled that McDonald’s is a “joint employer” and thus responsible for the unlawful actions committed by franchise managers against workers who participated in legal strikes and protests. It’s tempting to dismiss the NLRB as increasingly irrelevant, but the Board under the Obama administration has shown that it still matters and can still play a critical role in protecting workers’ rights.

5. The San Francisco Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights: For several years, California has bucked national trends, both in terms of maintaining union membership levels and improving labor standards. Perhaps the most significant development in the latter respect has been the enactment in December of San Francisco’s “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights.” The pioneering legislation provides several important benefits for tens of thousands of low-wage workers in grocery and department stores, restaurants and banks: advance notice of work schedules and estimates of how many hours they are likely to work; the posting in conspicuous places of schedules two weeks in advance; and “predictability pay” if their employer changes their schedules at short notice. Enforcement of the new law will prove challenging, but progressive lawmakers throughout the country are watching it closely, as are its opponents. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said that state and national chambers were extremely concerned that “what’s happening in San Francisco can spread nationally.” And with a bit of luck, it just well might do that.

Some commentators have suggested that the labor movement’s problems have been caused by “self-sabotage,” including its alleged backing for law enforcement after recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, and its support for more prisons. Such an analysis both exaggerates the influence of the labor movement – militant managers, not militant workers, have been the driving force behind the transformation of US employment relations – and misrepresents the labor movement’s position on these issues, which has evolved significantly. In the wake of the killing of unarmed black men in Ferguson and New York, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, AFT president Randi Weingarten, among others, spoke out in support of “Black Lives Matter” protests.

Trumka said: “We cannot wash our hands of these issues…. Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement.” Trumka, who has made confronting racism a priority, has also attacked mass incarceration, stating that we need to replace it with “mass employment,” and has given it significant attention at AFL-CIO conventions. Police and prison guard unions disagree with these actions, of course, but they have seldom played well with most other unions, and should not be confused with the entire labor movement. The views of the leadership of the mainstream labor movement on race, policing and mass incarceration is now more progressive than ever before. While that is a welcome development, it will not reverse the long-term decline of unions.

“Self-sabotage,” if it exists, certainly does not explain the decades-long decline in union membership. If the labor movement is to be criticized, it should be for being a little too timid for a little too long. The experience of the past few decades has demonstrated that organizing within the official NLRB system is virtually impossible, and that organizing “outside of the law” is extraordinarily difficult. Most likely, it can be done only as part of a mass movement, which is why the Fight for $15 is potentially so important.

Next year, like 2014, will likely pose serious challenges for US workers and their organizations. But the campaigns and the policy and regulatory developments discussed above demonstrate that there’s life left in the labor movement, which remains the last, best hope for reversing skyrocketing levels of economic inequality and restoring some measure of justice and decency to the US workplace.

Local 264 Elections Results

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Congratulations to all of the candidates who were newly elected or re-elected. We also thank the candidates who did run in this election, it was great to have so many solid people running for positions. There will be a re-vote for Norfolk  County Labor Council during the monthly member meeting in February.Local 264 Election Results 12-19-2014 copy

IAM Local 447 on strike at country nissan

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Local 264 members traveled to Hadley MA to show support for the newly organized workers on strike.

Local 264 members traveled to Hadley MA to show support for the newly organized workers on strike.

The International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 447 has organized seven technicians and three car detailers at Country Nissan in Hadley. To frustrate their efforts for a first contract, the company has committed unfair labor practices, including a sharp reduction in hours as well as unnecessary disciplinary actions. On Saturday November 15th over a hundred union brothers and sisters from IAM Locals 264, 447, 743, 1420, 1871, and retirees.  Also members from IBEW Local 103, SEIU, UFWC, MA Nurses Association, MA Teachers, Jobs with Justice, students from UMass and MA AFL-CIO President Steve Tolaman all came out to show their support for these workers on the picket line. The great turnout on Saturday is just proof that when one union member is being taken advantage of it is crucial that all union members stand with them and fight injustice in the workplace.

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Election Results ‘Will Not Weaken Our Resolve’

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Tuesday’s elections brought disappointing results for union members and working families, but voters went out of their way to support minimum wage initiatives in numerous states.

While the GOP took control of the U.S. Senate and widened its majority in the House, voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota overwhelmingly passed minimum wage increases. Four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days also passed.

“The results of this election will not weaken our resolve,” said IAMAW International President Buffenbarger. “We will continue to fight for our members and their families in Congress and in statehouses around the country.”

 

Robert W. Alley, Sr., a member of the newly-formed IAM Maine Lobstering Union, was one of many union members to be elected Tuesday.

“Given our early successes at the statehouse acting collectively as a newly-formed union, I had a new found faith in the idea of government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” said Alley, who will represent Maine’s 138th House District, a collection of seaside communities on the state’s northeastern coast. “I then decided to take it to the next level – we were going to have our own lawmaker at the statehouse working hard not only for Lobstermen, but for all working families in Maine. More union members need to run for public office. We can win and I’m living proof.”

“The labor movement is finding out that many of our so-called friends in government have forgotten that friendship is a two-way street,” said IAM Eastern Territory General Vice President Lynn Tucker, Jr. “This is how we change that, this is how you change your government – you take their jobs.”