TrenchNews, Verse 3


Wednesday morning when I got home from work, I found an email from one Kawana Lloyd at SEIU HQ, addressed:

To the one of best bloggers in the world!!!!

She didn’t know my name but somehow she knew I was one of the best bloggers in the world. Nice of her to notice. Then it opened by saying:

I know I haven’t personally e-mailed you before (although colleagues of mine here at SEIU may have in the past). [They haven’t. They don’t know my name either. – MA]

I am, however, trying to keep up with news on your blog.

Was she really? How discerning of her. I found myself congratulating her good judgment and exquisite taste while wondering why she couldn’t have gotten a bulk-mailing program that knew my name. While I found her compliments gratifying, her message, such as it was, I found less so. It was very mysterious, for one thing.

There is a HUGE announcement happening tomorrow involving Walmart, SEIU, the Center for American Progress, Intel, the Committee for Economic Development, and many more.

An announcement concerning what, exactly?

She didn’t say, although the words “health care” were in the breathless press release she thoughtfully attached to her email. How the phrases “health care”, “SEIU”, and “Wal-Mart” got into the same sentence baffled me.

She did, however, invite me to come to Washington for it, which I found very decent of her. She didn’t enclose money for the trip, though, so I couldn’t make it. She did include a link to a webcast of the event, whatever it was, so I could watch it on my monitor. Unfortunately, I work nights and was asleep when it went on, so I missed it.


Then, Thursday morning, I found another missive from Kawana waiting for me, this one headed, more simply, “Hey Bloggers:”.

Apparently I had done something in the previous 24 hours that caused me to sink in Kawana’s estimation from “one of the best” to “Hey, you”. I couldn’t imagine what it was but I was immediately sorry for it and Stern-ly vowed to try to correct…”it”.

The second message repeated the announcement of the announcement but included something new: a video of Andy Stern.

Andy may be a helluva union leader but on tv he looks constipated, exuding all the charisma of a stricken flounder. The fact that he went on for some time without saying anything didn’t help.

I thought about replying to Kawana, pledging any help or support she might want for…whatever it was…but I was still puzzled by what it was all about. I found out when I was cruising the WaPo later that afternoon.

WaPo: “Wal-Mart, Union Join Forces on Health Care


Two once-implacable foes in the business world found common ground yesterday, at least for a few minutes, as they publicly pledged to work together for the first time to fix what they called the nation’s health-care crisis by 2012.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott sat at one end of a table and vowed to put aside differences to “drive this debate forward.” On the other end was Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and frequent Wal-Mart critic, declaring he had made a “tough choice” in the goal to improve coverage.

How this unlikely alliance came about illustrates the deepening concern that businesses, labor groups and lawmakers have over skyrocketing health-care costs. The issue has divided the nation’s largest retailer and the SEIU, which founded a group called Wal-Mart Watch that has harshly criticized the company’s wages and benefits. But yesterday they said they could come together under the broad umbrella of universal health care. And each realized it could not be achieved without the other’s help.

“That’s what makes it powerful,” Stern said in a phone interview. “It’s risky, and it’s right.” (emphasis added)

“Universal health care”? Wal-Mart??

This did not compute. In fact, it made no sense at all. The world’s Biggest Right-Wing, Anti-Union Corporate Cheapskate suddenly committed to supporting socialized medicine? Red Flags were sprouting like poppies in an Afghan field. It had to be a trick.

It was.

I decided to hold off writing about this until I saw how it shaked out. I was just having too much difficulty with the cognitive dissonance it set up in my brain to feel comfortable cheerleading. Sure enough, on Friday I nipped over to eRobin’s Fact-esque where she linked to Ezra Klein at TAPPED (CAP was one of the participants in the event). In his post, Ezra quoted from a UFCW press release he had received via email.

Today, at this morning’s press conference announcing Wal-Mart’s supposed support for universal health care, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, in response to a reporter’s question, admitted to the media that Wal-Mart WOULD NOT stop funding candidates who oppose universal health care coverage.

Wal-Mart’s “commitment” to universal health care didn’t even survive its first hour. Its first half-hour.

Ezra summed it up with his usual pith.

[T]o simply commit, without consequences or resources, to the vague goal of universality means nothing. It’s Wal-Mart grasping for health care headlines that don’t mention their atrocious worker policies.

The UFCW press release called Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott’s presence “a publicity stunt”, and that about covers it. What I fail to understand is how Stern could have avoided seeing this coming. After decades of lies and swindles, why would he believe anything Lee Scott said? Or any other Wal-Mart exec for that matter? Rob put it this way:

Andy Stern must have known that WalMart’s support was this shallow. Did he figure that the initial publicity would be worth standing next to Lee Scott as he lied?

If so, it blew up in his face. He’s been had. Wal-Mart got the headlines and the tv coverage it wanted without making a single sacrifice, a single commitment, or breaking a single bead of sweat.

Andy? Next time, ask me. Or Rob. Or Ezra. Or anybody who doesn’t have head firmly planted up ass.

Of course, it’s not just Andy. He wasn’t on that stage by himself. What was CAP doing there? Or the CED? Both their reps should have known better even if no one else did. Where were their Red Flags? On vacation, apparently.

Well, they’ve been snookered but good. Lee used them for some cheap news coverage, gave up nothing, and walked away (you expected this, didn’t you?) Scott-free. They allowed themselves to be tagged, marked, and stripped by a world-renowned swindler, and they’re going to have to take all the outrage and horse-laughs this is going to generate. They’ve got it coming.

We can only hope they’ve learned their lesson.

PS Kawana didn’t email me again to let me know how it went. I’m crushed. I really thought we had something going. *sigh*

And now, the rest of the stories.

TrenchNews, Verse 3

Tammy, Weekly Toll: Tammy’s been busy this week with two posts:

What Happens When Workers Die

Different things. Sometimes they’re honored as an example of heroism….

and “A Family Farewell

A collection of some of the responses people sent her when they found out Jordan had closed down Confined Space. Be sure to read the comments.

Baltimore Sun: “Troops return to painful wait for needed help

By Andrew Weaver and Ray McGovern
Originally published February 4, 2007
The California Nurses Association reported that in the first quarter of 2006, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and they have a backlog of 400,000 cases.” A returning soldier has to wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits, and an appeal can take up to three years.

This is unacceptable and reprehensible.

The saying “War is hell” doesn’t begin to describe how horrible it has been for tens of thousands in our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. War inevitably involves witnessing and sometimes engaging in gruesome acts of violence. It is a shocking confrontation with death and devastation. It is normal for human beings to react to war’s psychic trauma with profound fear, anger, grief, repulsion, helplessness and horror – or with emotional numbness and disbelief.

Trauma is the Greek word for “wound.” Just as a physical wound from combat can cause suffering in the body, psychological trauma can cause acute suffering of mind and spirit.

It is not surprising to find that an assessment of more than 220,000 military personnel returning from Iraq published in the April Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly one in five has significant mental health problems. Repeated tours of duty increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder by 50 percent.

At the same time, we are hearing disturbing news reports that these traumatized soldiers are not receiving the mental heath care they urgently require. Last month, National Public Radio journalist Daniel Zwerdling did an extensive story on the military’s treatment of personnel returning from Iraq who suffer from emotional problems, including PTSD.

Veterans coming home stated that their superiors have harassed and punished them for seeking help for psychological problems triggered by their service in Iraq. Several of the soldiers’ supervisors acknowledged the callous treatment.

Add this to the sadness of the previous post and you’ve got an ugly situation that’s only going to get uglier as more and more of the wounded return.

Leo Casey, Edwize: “Those Unguarded Moments Of Truth

The authoritative Daily Labor Report of the Bureau of National Affairs provides an account of the appearance of a former Bush Department of Labor official, Steven Law, before the leadership of an industry group, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). Law took the opportunity to mount a full scale attack on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to use card check authorization for the purpose of union recognition. “If you think that unionizing is a great thing,” Law told the assembled, “then this (legislation) is a great thing.”

Mr Law went on to advise the industry group to “retaliate”.

Tula Connell, Firedoglake: “Employee Free Choice Act is in the House — Take Action!

A few years ago, we in the union movement began pushing for a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that would level the playing field for workers and help rebuild America’s middle class and restore the freedom of workers to choose a union. (Get the details of the act here.)Even in the unpleasant 109th Congress, we got 215 co-sponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate. But with a new, worker-friendly Congress, we now have 231 House co-sponsors—and the bill, H.R. 800, was introduced Monday night!
I’m not a big fan of using exclamation points. But after years of working for this bill, its introduction in the House with a Democratic majority is such a major deal for America’s workers that it’s impossible not to be thrilled! The last time legislation to change U.S. labor laws was introduced was in the late 1970s, and it didn’t get very far.

We have a list of the House co-sponsors here. Check it to see if your lawmakers have signed on. E-mail them and ask them to support the bill, H.R. 800.

Do it, by all means. The Republicans will certainly try to block it, or else blackmail the Democrats into more tax cuts for the corporatocracy before they’ll let it pass, as they did over the minimum wage bill. Tell your Senators not to let them get away with it.

Boston Globe: “Strike talk at Stop & Shop

Supermarket workers in Connecticut and western Massachusetts authorized union leaders Monday night to call a strike against Stop & Shop if the supermarket chain refuses to relent on health care issues.

Brian Petronella, president of Local 371 of the United Food & Commercial Workers, said his Westport-based local voted unanimously to reject a company proposal for paycheck deductions for health insurance. Workers also unanimously gave union leaders the go-ahead to call a strike as early as Feb. 19 if a contract scheduled to expire the previous day is not extended.

In addition, union locals in Springfield, Mass., and Farmington rejected the health care proposal and authorized a strike, Petronella said.

Andy certainly had the issue right, if not the players.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Nortel Cutting 2,900 Jobs

Canadian telecom equipment maker Nortel Networks Corp. said Wednesday it plans to cut 2,900 jobs, or about 8.5 percent of its work force, over the next two years in an effort to cut costs.The job cuts, 70 percent of which will occur this year, and other cost cutting measures are expected to save about $400 million a year, with about half the savings realized in 2007.

The company also plans to shift about 1,000 positions from higher-cost to lower-cost locations, with about 40 percent of this taking place this year.

Nortel said its new business model requires a “significant reduction” in administrative expenses, but added its research and development investments, while reduced, will be maintained at 15 percent of total sales.

The company added it is also cutting costs by reducing its global real-estate portfolio.

The cost of these actions could be as high as $390 million, the company said, with about $300 million related to the job cuts and the rest to real estate reductions.

Why would they do that when they’re a profitable company? Why do you think? The day after the announcement:

Nortel Networks’ U.S. shares rose 99 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $26.92 on morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

There you go. Canada learning from us when it oughta be t’other way ’round.

JD2718: “New Action/UFT: ‘…if the educators are not involved…’

“…if the educators are not involved
wise educational decisions will not be made…”

New Action/UFT urges a “Yes” vote on the bipartisan resolution dealing with the Department of Education’s proposed reorganization for New York City public schools. We do so for several reasons:

* This reorganization continues a pattern of refusing to involve professional educators in the most crucial decisions involving the entire educational community. The resolution delineates the negative impact of the new proposal.
* The resolution comdemns the DOE’s proposal, and sets forth a goal (that the ‘chapter play a role in all educational decision making at the school level”) and actions to achieve that goal.

larval subjects: “The Monstrosity of American Party Politics

Nancy Pelosi has decided to bar labor representatives from meeting with freshman representatives to discuss the economic direction of the country, thereby giving the middle finger to labor in the United States. I think this is a lethal error, and that moves such as this account for the rising tide of religious fundamentalism in the United States. It is not by mistake that the same demographic that once made up the labor movements of the past is today aligned with the religious right.

Very disturbing. I’d like to hear an explanation.

On the Wilder Side: “Third Parties of Recent History

Did you know there was a Labor Party active in the 90’s? I didn’t.

‘History in the Making’ was emblazoned on delegates’ badges at the founding convention of the Labor Party, on June 6-9, 1996 in Cleveland, Ohio where some 1400 mostly-union delegates formed a new independent working class party. A constitution was created, an elementary national structure was formed, and an unusually progressive platform was hammered out by this first national union-based ‘labor party’ since the 19th Century. For about three years the challenge of a labor party spread widely and enticed many unions and individuals to it. At its peak in 1998-9 the party had some 15,000 members, 50 local chapters, and several hundred endorsing or affiliated unions that represented two million workers (some 13 percent of the unionized).” The Labor Party:Past and
Possible Future, Robert H. Mast

Fascinating reading. I missed the boat.

Minneapolis/St Paul City Pages (via The Wege, I suspect, but I can’t remember): “Twin Cities janitors agree to three-year labor contract

There will not be a janitors strike in the Twin Cities. Service Employees International Union Local 26, which represents 4,200 custodial workers, announced today that it has reached a new labor pact with the consortium of 18 companies that own office towers in the metropolitan area.

The janitors had been working without a contract since the end of last year. On January 13 members of Local 26 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, but no date was ever set for a work stoppage. (See “Dirty Work” for more details about the labor dispute.)

As with most labor disputes in recent years, the chief negotiating hurdle was health care.

Unlike the press conference, this is a legitimate victory for SEIU.

Queequeg the Harpooneer: “Ben Bernanke’s disappearing act

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave a speech today about economic inequality, then sidestepped some of the most important drivers of inequality. He performed a magic act: Poof! The federal government disappeared. Wealthy special interest groups vanished.

Bernanke’s speech attempted to “explain why the rich have gotten so much richer in the last few decades, leaving the poor and especially the middle class behind.” Queequeg takes it apart, piece by piece. (link via Digby)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Alaska Airlines pilots prepared to strike

The airline industry is on the brink of reversing a six-year trend of red-stained bottom lines and staggering losses. In response, North America’s largest pilots union is gearing up for a fight to win back the pay cuts that have helped the industry stay buoyant, and pilots say they are prepared to strike if the airlines do not comply.

“They’re angry. They’re tired. They’re fatigued,” Air Line Pilots Association International President John Prater said of the union’s 60,000 pilot members.

In the U.S. and Canada, pilots have forsaken $6 billion per year for the past five years in reduced benefits and wages, the union says.

Salaries for about 1,500 Alaska Airlines pilots were cut by about 26 percent in May 2005. The union estimates that cuts cost pilots between $80 million and $100 million per year in forgone benefits.

“We told them we expect that completely back,” said Prater, who was in town Wednesday to rally and listen to local pilots. He said the union is prepared for a fight with Alaska to win favorable terms in its current round of contract negotiations.

BBC: “Kodak to cut an extra 3,000 jobs

Confirming that its four years of restructuring work will finish by the end of 2007, it said it would now axe between 28,000 and 30,000 positions.

The US firm had previously targeted cutting 25,000 to 27,000 global jobs.

This, unlike the Nortel scam, is, unfortunately, a legitimate necessity. The digital photography revolution hit them right between the eyes and they didn’t respond very well – or very quickly. It would be a real shame if they went under. Silver nitrate-stock film is still and probably always will be of far higher quality than digital, stuck with pixels, will ever be. We need Kodak to survive.

AJC: “Cheaper overseas labor forces piano plants to close

Globalization will deal yet another blow to Georgia manufacturing March 30 when Yamaha Corporation of America closes its 190-worker plant in Thomaston.

The maker of pianos and other musical instruments announced Wednesday it will idle the 27-year-old factory here as well as a plant in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Both are victims of “market realities and new, fierce international competition,” said Yoshihiro Doi, president of the company, in a statement.

Yamaha’s closing nudges the state a little further along the arc that started decades ago when Georgia was repeatedly picked as a site for new — or shifted — production because of its low costs. Now trade deals, transportation and technology have made international labor a growing part of the cost calculation.

In many sectors, Georgia has been underbid.

Globalization hasn’t been in the news much lately but that doesn’t mean it isn’t continuing on its deadly path. Bear in mind that Georgia has one of the lowest wage structures in the nation. But not low enough for Yamaha.

Stephen Barr, WaPo, Federal Diary: “OPM Races to Go Digital Ahead of Retirement Wave

The electronic retirement record for federal employees is just over the horizon, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

About a year from now, all federal retirement claims will be processed through the OPM’s “retirement systems modernization” program. Using the Internet, federal retirees will be able to see their retirement records and benefits, and a first wave of federal employees will be able to estimate their future pension payments.

AJC: “Alcatel-Lucent Plans to Cut 12,500 Jobs

Telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent said Friday it swung to a loss in the fourth quarter and increased by 3,500 the number of jobs it plans to cut.

Alcatel-Lucent will now cut 12,500 job cuts worldwide over the next three years, up from the 9,000 originally previously announced when U.S.-based Lucent Technologies Inc. was acquired for $11.6 billion by Alcatel SA of Paris last year.

French unions have called for a strike Feb. 15 to protest the job cuts.

The company lost 618 million euros ($802.84 million) for the three months ending Dec. 31, compared to a profit of 381 million euros the previous year, Alcatel-Lucent said in a statement.

Chief Executive Patricia Russo said in a statement that the results were “clearly disappointing,”

Their Georgia operation may not be affected. Georgia, you see, is a third-world country next to France. It is to France what Bangladesh is to it. In any case, let’s hope they make it. This hasn’t been a good week for Georgia’s workers.

I thought we ought to end on an up-note, and this next story gives me real hope: people who never have before are starting to “get it”.

NYT: “Long Treated as Volunteers, Tips-Only Supermarket Baggers Take Up Fight for Hourly Wage


They are a fixture across New York City, giving shoppers a welcoming smile and a helping hand as they assist cashiers in packing everything from apples to zucchinis.In many supermarkets, managers treat these baggers as volunteers, not paying them wages and making them rely on tips.

But now, in a new front in the wage-and-hour wars, many baggers are speaking up, insisting that they are employees and should be paid like other supermarket workers. Call it the baggers’ rebellion — a rebellion that involves lawsuits, street protests and a boycott.

For eight months last year, Anton Bing, a 34-year-old Brooklyn native, bagged groceries at a Pioneer Supermarket in Brownsville.

“All I got paid was tips,” Mr. Bing said. “I worked six hours a day, and I got $25 to $30 a day in tips at most.”

His tips averaged $4 to $5 an hour, less than the state minimum wage, which was $6.75 an hour last year, rising to $7.15 on Jan. 1. Mr. Bing, a laid-off carpenter who is getting by with the help of food stamps, said he continued as a bagger because he was having a hard time finding other work.

In early January, he said, the supermarket began paying him an hourly wage, but only after he complained to the New York State attorney general.

That figures. Good for Mr Bing and the others sick of taking the leavings of the corporate behemoth. They’re finally fighting back.

Welcome to The Revolution, guys.


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