Category Archives: Labor

UTC Machinists Voting Sunday On National Challenge By Local Candidate

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor Date:

The historic, long-shot challenge by a Metro North mechanic trying to unseat the International Association of Machinists president comes to a vote at the union locals for Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace on Sunday.

Jay Cronk, a mechanic at the New Haven rail yard and former Machinists union official, won the right to an election against IAM president Tom Buffenbarger at more than 800 local lodges around the United States and Canada. Cronk and his challenge slate won the endorsement of 42 locals, triggering a general election vote for president, believed to be a first in the union’s history.

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

The campaign has been nasty, with accusations flying on web sites for both sides. And as voting unfolds at locals’ regular April meetings, both sides are claiming a strong hand.

“We’re crushing them,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the incumbent slate, including Buffenbarger.

Challenge slate spokesman John Courtmanche said it appeared to be a close race based on unofficial results filtering out. “Jay’s team is winning many lodges and many big lodges,” he said.

Voting is Sunday at the two lodges that represent about 2,500 Pratt workers at the East Hartford and Middletown plants; at the lodge that represents several hundred workers at United Technologies Aerospace Systems, formerly Hamilton Sundstrand, in Windsor Locks; at the Berlin lodge that represents Stanley Black & Decker; and at two Groton lodges.

Cronk’s local, representing Metro North, is scheduled to vote next week. Cronk returned to work there in December after a 22-year stint working for the union, mostly at the Maryland headquarters.

The Seattle area, where Boeing employees comprise about 10 percent of the roughly 325,000 active Machinist members, is a sharp battleground as a result of discontent stemming from a recent contract dispute.  Steve Wilhelm, a writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal, reported that he “criscrossed the parking lot” while voting was occurring on April 3, and found “every single person I asked, with no exceptions,” claiming to vote for Cronk and his slate.

Up for election are the president, the No. 2 position and eight general vice presidents who serve as the union’s board of directors, and hold full-time jobs at the headquarters.

Turnout could be a deciding factor. The endorsement votes, held nationwide Feb. 8, drew extraordinarily light numbers — just a small handful at the Connecticut lodges, sources said — because the union did not publicize that vote.

The U.S. Department of Labor is overseeing the election as a result of an agreement with the union after an accusation that the union did not properly handle a 2013 challenge.

For this month’s general election balloting, the local lodges have posted announcements of the national election on their web sites, and members are receiving some emails.

Cronk’s team said federal officials found that the Buffenbarger slate sent campaign materials to an email list meant for official union business. As a result, Labor Department officials emailed challenge slate materials to that same list, Courtmanche said.

A Labor Department spokesman had no comment and Sloan, the spokesman for Buffenbarger’s incumbent slate, also declined to comment about it.

 

Bill Would Require Labor Breakdown For Companies Receiving Big State Aid

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government, Labor, Politics, Public finance Date:

State taxpayers want to get their money’s worth when they give a company a huge aid package, and to that end, many lawmakers want to add a new hurdle.

Any firm that gets at least $10 million in state assistance would have to file a report showing how it intends to favor Connecticut-based contractors for any construction work covered by the aid, under a bill that advanced Thursday in the legislature.

The firms would also have to report on the names of construction contractors, the total number of full-time construction employees on the site and the wages paid, and the total number of construction workers on the project who live in Connecticut.

“We want to see more Connecticut construction jobs as a result of these state investments,” said state Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, which advanced the bill to the Senate floor in a 12-5 vote.

The bill is part of a long debate over how much the state should demand of the companies it backs with economic development aid. Unions support the bill and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes it, saying it’s onerous.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s development commissioner, Catherine H. Smith, told lawmakers she’s concerned the bill “may dissuade some larger companies from considering the state.

The administration’s caution is probably wise. Promoting local jobs is great but we wouldn’t want other states to shut out Connecticut-based construction workers. And when it comes to new business regulations, Connecticut is on the watch list — so we should pass up even some decent ideas, for the greater good.

New Haven Machinist Forces National Election For Union Boss

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor Date:

Jay Cronk, who returned to his Metro North job after 22 years with the long-shot hope of winning election as international head of the Machinists union, has made history.

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

No, Cronk hasn’t wrested the top job from Thomas Buffenbarger — not yet, anyway. But Cronk has forced a national election for president, believed to be the first time that’s ever happened in the storied union’s 125 years.

The secret balloting will be held under U.S. Department of Labor supervision at the first April meeting of more than 800 Machinist union locals.  To make that happen, Cronk and his challenge slate had to win the nomination vote of at least 25 locals in a Feb. 8 vote.

The final tally: Cronk won 42 local lodges and Buffenbarger, who has headed the Maryland-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers since 1997, won 758.  Cronk won his own local in New Haven and the Middletown local at Pratt & Whitney, but not the East Hartford Pratt local.

So it’s still a long-shot for Cronk and his “reform slate” of six other Machinist union members vying to take over.  But Cronk said he’s optimistic. About 500,000 union members and retirees will be eligible to vote, and Cronk won the largest local, at Boeing in Seattle, along with three other locals there.

The campaign, already underway on web sites and Facebook pages, is not high-budget but it’s nasty — and has been since November, when Cronk was fired from his job as a union official in headquarters, the week he declared his candidacy, and returned to work as a mechanic.

“I think most IAM members are so fed up with Jay Cronk and his lies and his false accusations and his slimy tactics that they will crush him,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the incumbent officers, including Buffenbarger.

Cronk, who makes similar charges against the incumbents, has already defied predictions by winning the 42 lodges around the country. “This is where they never wanted to be,” he said of the sitting officers. “They have controlled the process for years.”

They still do control the process. Cronk’s main task is to get the word out to members nationwide that there’s a national election for president, something none of them has ever seen.

Plan To Charge Stores For Paying Low Wages: Flawed But Has Merit

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Retail Date:

Connecticut is already one of the three states with the highest minimum wages and it’s the only one with mandatory paid sick days. Now advocates for the working poor are pushing for a novel plan to address the crisis of below-poverty wages: Penalize employers that pay too little.

The controversial plan isn’t in effect in any state and was narrowly defeated in Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart threatened to pull out. The idea is to extract money from low-paying retailers and fast-food companies to help the state compensate for the income supports that low-wage workers receive.

Fair is fair, the logic goes. Why should taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Tina Conners, a McDonald's employee in Manchester who lives in her car. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Tina Conners, a McDonald’s employee in Manchester who lives in her car.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Care to get upset? A recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services showed that a family of four with two adults working a total of 60 hours a week at $10 an hour would be eligible for $29,147 a year in public assistance — much of it Medicaid. And that wouldn’t even include the earned income tax credit, which would push the total higher.

That means you the taxpayer are subsidizing you the shopper to the tune of thousands of dollars for every low-wage sales employee. Still feel good about those 12-packs of socks for $6?

Under the Connecticut version of the wage penalty bill, which had a hearing Tuesday before the legislature’s labor committee, any company with at least 500 employees in the state would have to pay $1 per hour per affected worker into state coffers if it paid less than the “standard wage” for its lowest job classification. For a minimum wage worker in fast food, for example, the standard wage is $11.31 an hour — 130 percent of the $8.70 minimum.

The idea has big problems, illustrated in the story of Tina Conners, who’s from Manchester and told lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday, in a meeting in his office, that she lives in her car.  Conners, 21, works between 10 hours and 20 hours a week  at a local McDonald’s. She’d like to have more hours but can’t get them.

Conners was at the Capitol to push for the low-wage penalty and a higher minimum wage, which Malloy wants. But what she needs more than a slightly higher wage is many more hours. She told me she’d prefer to log 20 to 30 hours a week, leaving her time and money to go to college and eventually, a career as a dentist.

The $1 an hour penalty wouldn’t come close to paying for the public subsidies that we the taxpayers have to shell out for low-wage workers, but it would be a start. And it wouldn’t help Tina Conners add hours to her workweek; if anything, it could lead to fewer hours.

Another problem: Franchisers such as McD’s and Subway are not the employers. No worry, advocates say. Franchisers would be liable even if they didn’t own the stores in question.

Bills like this come up precisely because low-wage employers are abusing the public trust. We as greedy, shortsighted consumers are the ones letting them do it — all the worse in the case of the poison we’re buying and ingesting from the fast food industry.

And so the bill is politically brilliant if only for the point it makes: The fines would not go to the workers, in effect an enforced wage; rather, the money would go back to the taxpayers.  “Politically, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a home run,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a leader of the effort. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not a home run for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, who argue that the bill would raise costs in the state and drive out retailers that pay property taxes and offer opportunity to workers. “Our employers do the best job they can,” said Tim Phelan, president of the retail merchants group.

Well, no, they don’t. He can say that about his small retail members that are just getting by, but not about the big national chains and franchises that are transferring billions of dollars from taxpayers to shareholders by shortchanging workers. McDonald’s employees alone receive $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, an October, 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project showed.

Phelan and CBIA advance the idea that low-wage jobs are entry level. “They provide the learning experience,” said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, the state’s largest business group.

Certainly any specific worker can get ahead, but by definition the system will screw most people, simply because the wage structure at many big retailers is so bottom-heavy.

Both sides flash numbers showing why states should, or should not, force employers to pay higher wages or penalize those that don’t.  But ultimately, the states are just bystanders in a private-sector pay system that creates opportunity for a few and poverty for the many, to the benefit of us the consumers.

Maybe we should try the penalty. Flawed as it is, nothing else is working.

Connecticut-Based Challenge To International Machinists Union Gains Momentum

by Categorized: Labor Date:

A Machinists union battle that many members of that very union don’t even know about is heating up and could be poised to make history.

Jay Cronk, a Metro North Mechanic in New Haven and former national organizer at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is challenging Thomas Buffenbarger, the union’s international president.

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

In order to force a national election — which hasn’t happened since 1961, and even then not for president — Cronk needs to win the endorsement of 25 out of more than 1,000 local lodges. He already has 14 in hand, a U.S. Department of Labor official told Cronk’s camp.  Another 83 lodges, including four in Connecticut, will hold endorsement balloting on Saturday.

Cronk’s slate of seven candidates had to gain in-person nominations at locals on Jan. 25, to set off this coming Saturday’s endorsement votes. Among its 97 nominations, the slate was unopposed in 14 — meaning not one person in those locals nominated the national slate headed by Buffenbarger.

The election was the result of a settlement between the Machinists and the U.S. Department of Labor, which accused the union of illegal and improper practices in a 2013 election, in which a challenge candidate did not win the needed 25 endorsements.

Cronk, was fired in November from his national job in the Maryland “Grand Lodge” as a staff representative after he announced his challenge, and in December returned to his Metro North job of 22 years earlier.

The challenge slate has received an endorsement from the executive board of the largest local, with 18,000 members at Boeing in Washington state, where many members were upset about Buffenbarger’s position in a recent contract vote.  Despite that, it’s a major effort for the challenge slate just getting word out to union members that there even is an endorsement election this weekend.

I could find no mention of the vote on any union websites in the state, and a union member in Connecticut told me that his local put out no notice of the nominations.

“We have very little confidence that the IAM will allow a free, fair and legal vote on Saturday,” Cronk said in a written statement in which he accused the union leadership of coercion, illegal campaigning and other violations, “so appalling that we hear it’s backfiring against the incumbents.”

Rick Sloan, a spokesman for the incumbent slate including Buffenbarger, said Cronk lied to me in a January interview — though he declined to say how. He said the accusations were the comments of  “sore losers before the fact,” and said, “The fact is the Cronkettes are expecting to lose…because they have had virtually no support throughout the International Association of Machinists.”

Tracking The Postage Stamp And The Minimum Wage

by Categorized: Economy, Labor Date:

wagestampsNEW

 source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Postal Service

Look at the price of postage stamps compared with the federal minimum wage since 1950.  An all-too-familiar pattern emerges.

For more than 20 years, until 1971, the two measures rose in near-lock-step. The minimum wage was 25 cents an hour for every penny the U.S. Postal Service charged to mail a letter.

Then rates started to pull apart — in that fateful time of inflation, the Arab oil embargo, Nixon’s wage and price controls, women entering the workforce in great numbers, the birth of the computer age and the Japanese threat to U.S. manufacturing.

By 1974, a stamp cost a dime and the minimum wage had fallen behind. Instead of $2.50, it was $2. And we’ve never looked back.

Stamps rose mostly in step with the Consumer Price Index until last month, when the 3-cent increase exceeded the inflation curve. And remember, postage prices are controlled by a (quasi) public agency.  As for the minimum wage, we all know it has lagged since the early ’70s.

That latest stamp hike is supposedly for just two years but of course it will never go back. If the minimum wage had kept up with postage prices, it would now be $12.25.

By no coincidence, the early ’70s was precisely when American workers stopped sharing in all they produced. Put another way, the income and total output are in place but workers aren’t seeing it.

Sure, some states, like Connecticut and Oregon, have pushed ahead of Congress by setting a minimum wage in the $9 range. Connecticut started to pull ahead of the nation for good in 1999. But no state has come close to keeping up.

Now President Obama wants to push the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants the state to match that amount even if Congress doesn’t act — which would help many workers and hurt others.

Connecticut would be a lot better off if Congress raised the national wage. What should Congress do?  Even a wage of $12.25 an hour is barely enough to get by, and while it’s politically impossible to adopt, we’re basically paying it anyway with food stamps, rent subsidies and the earned income tax credit.

But it seems clear that Congress needs to give a raise at least for workers in a job for, say, 500 hours, and perhaps for everyone. Pass it and put a stamp on it.

A College Athletes Players Union? Like The Min-Wage Fight, It’s The Result Of Abuse

by Categorized: Economy, Education, Labor, Politics Date:

As it happened on Tuesday, the same day that President Obama proposed the largest minimum wage increase in history, football players at Northwestern University petitioned federal labor officials for the right to form a union.

The College Athletes Players Association, with Northwestern’s co-captain and standout quarterback Kain Colter as its face, submitted registration cards to the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board.

It’s a bad idea but it’s about time this happened.

There will be many steps and many battles before the players gain collective bargaining rights. The NCAA is saying they’re not employees so they have no right to organize.

The would-be union, headed by a former UCLA player and represented by the United Steelworkers, says it’s not looking for big money, or any money at all, other than the basic, low pay that most people agree players should receive.

Rather, the union’s demands include “financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trusts fund to help former players graduate and ‘due process’ before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

This has been brewing for decades, as big-time college football and basketball programs reap billions, larding up coaches’ salaries and university coffers. Players do get an education and a 4-year tryout for the NFL or NBA but that still leaves plenty of room for abuse, especially for the non-stars.

This will be a great fight, just as the national battle unfolds over Obama’s push for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, up from $7.25 an hour.  And they are linked, in that both are developments that would not happen in an ideal world, but have merit simply because the abuse has gone too far.

The whole point of a minimum wage is to set a floor that gradually rises, below which workers can’t get by without some form of outside help. Raising it radically might be jarring to the economy, but it hasn’t changed in five years and it was historically low even in 2009.

Likewise, NCAA athletes in big-time programs such as the Big 10 have seen everyone else get rich while they sacrifice not only every hour of free time, but their health.

Colter, a great natural leader, was among the players who wore the letters APU on their wristbands — for All Players United — in a Sept. 21 home game.  That week, he told reporters the movement was not players vs. Northwestern, but teammates exerting their rights. “It’s players coming together for a better cause,” he said in a video posted by the Northwester News Network, run by students.

In a written statement, the NCAA said “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education….We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”

In the old system, boosters illegally snuck envelopes of cash into athletes’ hands and while that was corrupt and insidious, it took care of a few problems. Now we need a modern system to take care of players, just as the minimum wage needs to be indexed to inflation once and for all, so we don’t have to go through this charade of a debate every three years.

Instead of modernizing, Congress and the NCAA screw around doing nothing, so we get a president fighting for a 40 percent hike in the minimum wage and a college players union petition.

Flawed ideas whose time has come. Enough is enough.

 

Pratt Workers Stage Rally Inside East Hartford Plant

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor, Manufacturing Date:

About 200 Pratt & Whitney workers in the Machinists union marched through the East Hartford factory Tuesday morning, shouting “solidarity forever” and blowing whistles.

Workers at the Pratt & Whitney East Hartford factory in a 1-hour job action Tuesday.   Handout photo

Workers at the Pratt & Whitney East Hartford factory in a 1-hour job action Tuesday.
Handout photo

The one-hour march came five days before the deadline for the company and the union to reach a new contract for 2,700 Machinist members in East Hartford and Middletown. There is still no agreement on Pratt’s major demand, that the union give back 252 jobs and allow the company to bring in outside vendors to pack and move parts and materials inside the plants.

Health insurance costs are also at issue, according to postings by the company and the union.

It’s customary for the union to hold a solidarity march inside the plant as talks reach the final stretch. While the event is technically a work-stoppage, production is not typically disrupted as not all union members participate for the entire time.

The union is scheduled to vote on Pratt’s final offer Sunday and could strike as soon as Monday morning at 12:01 a.m. both sides are preparing for a walkout but, it should go without saying, both sides hope to avoid it.

Report Shows Grim Shortage Of Living Wage Jobs In Connecticut

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Poverty Date:

A new report Tuesday showed more detail about what we already knew: That most jobs in Connecticut pay less than the so-called living wage, and that there are lots of people looking for a few good jobs.

How bad is it? Connecticut’s living wage for a single adult with one school-age child is $28.68 an hour, and two-thirds of all projected open jobs in the state pay less than that, according to the 15th annual “Job Gap Study” produced by the Alliance for a Just Society.

Worse still, Connecticut will have 41 “job-seekers” for every open job that pays that $28.68 wage, which translates to about $60,000 a year at 40 hours a week, all year. A job-seeker is defined as a person who’s unemployed and actively looking, working part-time not by choice, or not working and not looking because he or she is discouraged by the lack of jobs available.

The living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is $19.44 an hour, or about $40,000 a year, the level where about half of openings will occur, the report claimed. And there are 25 job-seekers for every one of those openings — by far the largest number of any of the ten states studied in the report.

Nationally, the report said, there are 21 million job-seekers, down slightly from the depth of the recession in 2009 but up from 11 million in 2007.

The Connecticut report, released by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, lists $1,261 a month for housing and utilities for an adult with one child, $630 a month for clothing and personal items and $307 a month for health care.

Connecticut in May adopted a higher minimum wage, which rises by 45 cents from $8.25 to $8.70 an hour on Jan. 1, then by another 30 cents to $9 an hour at the start of 2015.  The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not changed since 2009, and the alliance backs the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the wage to $10.10.

That’s still short of the $15-an-hour wage that fast food workers will demand Thursday in a national day of strikes in 100 cities, including Hartford and New Haven.

But the problem is more complicated than raising wages across the board. We need to understand why work has been so badly devalued, and how to address it without throwing thousands of firms out of business, perhaps through a tiered minimum wage.

Hoping For Pipeline Work, A Union Trains Installers

by Categorized: Energy, Government, Jobs, Labor Date:

We could be years away from a big buildout of natural gas pipelines under the state’s long-term energy plan, but when it happens it could be big.

So on Tuesday, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 flexed some muscle by demonstrating its new training program for unemployed and underemployed workers hoping to get into the pipeline pipeline. The Meriden-based union local would like the work to go to its members, of course, and is offering up $4 million worth of equipment for training, along with experts.

“For over 100 years, Local 478 has been a top provider of highly skilled operating engineers in the state of Connecticut,” said Craig Metz, business manager for the local, in a written release.

The idea, pushed hard by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was on hand Tuesday, and encoded in an energy bill adopted earlier this year by lawmakers, is for the state to take advantage of natural gas supplies by building out a transmission and distribution system that regulators said could exceed 900 miles.

Predictions call for a shortage of crews in a state that now adds just a tiny fraction of that pipeline amount in a typical year. The operating engineers’ training program drew a lot of cheers from labor, construction and political quarters, as Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the state AFL-CIO called it a perfect example of government-labor cooperation.

It does look like a good idea and it’s better to be ready than not ready. The danger is that worker training programs are rife with potential pitfalls — especially if the work never materializes. Natural gas could spike in price, the planned buildout could face delays or another shock to the labor market could create a glut of pipeline workers.

But in both energy planning and labor markets, educated guesses are all we have. And for now, we think we’ll need pipeline installers for the next decade.