L.A. LABOR NEWS
"more labor news than a month of the L.A. Times"
L.A. Labor News * Editor: Jim Smith * May 10, 1995 * #3
* Donahue resigns, Kirkland to run.
* Labor mobilizes against Horcher recall.
* Worker Memorial Day.
* Framers on strike.
* Kirkland in L.A.
* Labor Notes conference.
* UE fights KPFK layoffs.
Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:
FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685
Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294
May 10, 1995 * #3
DONAHUE RESIGNS; KIRKLAND TO RUN;
11 UNIONS FORM OPPOSITION GROUP
Months of rumors and posturing ended, May 9, with Lane Kirkland's announcement that he is a candidate for reelection as president of the AFL-CIO.
A committee, representing 11 presidents of some of the most powerful industrial, building trades and public worker unions in the AFL-CIO, promptly announced its opposition to Kirkland's reelection.
On May 8, the number two man in the AFL-CIO, Secretary-Treasurer Tom Donahue, announced he would retire in October. It's unclear if Donahue is resigning in protest to Kirkland's reelection bid. The 66-year-old Donahue had been mentioned as a transition president if Kirkland agreed to retire.
Donahue's resignation ends the possibility of a compromise between Kirkland supporters and opposition forces and sets the stage for a contested election.
"We will not be supporting Lane Kirkland, the present incumbent," said Gerald McEntee, president of the one-million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
A search is on by the 11-union committee for candidates for president, secretary-treasurer and 33 vice presidents who together make up the AFL-CIO Executive Council. The election will be held at the AFL-CIO convention, Oct. 23-26, in New York City.
Reliable sources say that both John Sweeney and Richard Trumka are interested in running for the top job. Sweeney's desire to run is an open secret in his union, SEIU. United Mine Worker's President Trumka has apparently modified his earlier reluctance to take on incumbent Kirkland. Trumka recently won a mail-in ballot poll for AFL-CIO president by rank-and-file readers of the magazine, Labor Notes.
The new Committee to Open Up the Election Process will be open to all unions including those not represented on the Executive Council.
"We intend to talk with the leadership of all unions in the AFL-CIO, ask them to join us, ask for their ideas and ask them to help us open up the entire process of electing the next leaders for this great federation," McEntee said. "We believe that new, bold and effective leadership is needed and we believe it's there to be found."
Initial members of the committee are George Becker, President, United Steelworkers of America (USWA); Owen Bieber, President, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union (UAW); Arthur A. Coia, President, Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA); Ron Carey, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT); Wayne E. Glenn, President, United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU); Frank F. Hanley, President, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE); George J. Kourpias, President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM); Sigurd Lucassen, General President, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC); Gerald W. McEntee, International President, AFSCME; John J. Sweeney, President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Richard L. Trumka, President, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
HUNDREDS TURNOUT IN LABOR
EFFORT TO SAVE HORCHER'S SEAT
Much more is at stake than one seat in the California Assembly. The fate of Diamond Bar Independent Paul Horcher on May 16 will most likely be shared by Speaker Willie Brown and a host of anti-labor bills.
At a time when the lower house is more ideologically divided than it has been in years, control rests on a single vote. Paul Horcher renounced his Republican Party membership last December and cast the deciding vote that kept Willie Brown as Speaker of the Assembly.
A number of anti-labor bills have died in committees this session by only one vote. If Horcher is defeated at least some of these could be resurrected. The Republican agenda includes "right-to-work," ending prevailing wages, anti-affirmative action and gutting Cal/OSHA.
Vengeful Republicans have targeted Horcher for recall. If they are successful, his successor, elected on the same ballot, will most likely be anti-Brown and anti-labor.
More than 400 labor union members have turned out each weekend to walk precincts in the San Gabriel Valley district. Phone banks at SEIU Local 660 have been worked nightly by 30-40 callers.
On the other side, Republicans are turning out up to 1,000 canvassers by pulling in their troops from all over California. Last weekend, six plane loads disembarked from Northern California.
Last weekend when nearly 600 labor supporters showed up at IBEW Local 45 to begin their door-to-door work, sheriff deputy's squad cars descended on the crowd thinking a riot had broken out.
Among the unions turning out large numbers of campaign workers are SEIU, building trades including Painters and Laborers, UFCW, Firefighters, Machinists and Teachers.
The election still hangs in the balance. Horcher has represented Assembly District 60 as a Republican since 1990. Whether voters respect Horcher's courage in dissenting from the Republican's right-wing agenda or vote straight party line remains to be seen.
WORKER MEMORIAL DAY EVENT
BUILT BY LABOR COMMUNICATORS
The newly-formed L.A. Labor Communicators, working with Health and Safety labor experts, staged their first event &endash; a Worker Memorial Day memorial service in front of the Los Angeles Federal Building, April 27, during the lunchtime rush.
With a shameless (constant?) eye toward publicity and TV camera angles, the group staged/manufactured an educational event they hoped would turn out the media &endash; an outdoor memorial service commemorating the 56,000 American workers killed, injured or poisoned on the job each year and the thousands more who will die and be injured if the Republican assault against OSHA is allowed to continue, half a dozen red and white wreaths, photo blow ups of workplace accidents, and victims tearful families.
District Attorney Gil Garcetti and various labor leaders also spoke out on the tragedy of workplace fatalities. Wearing black ribbons and buttons saying fight for the living, 120 union workers attended the noon-time rally.
Perhaps it was the skillful press releases and follow-up calls to the media that made them turn out or more likely, that the event piggybacked on the tragedy in Oklahoma City the week before, but the media did turn out for the event which got some play in the L.A. Times, La Opinion, KNX Radio, and Channel 34. In addition, the Daily Breeze in Torrance ran an op-ed piece on the importance of OSHA that the event organizers had co-written.
One of the mandates of the LA Labor Communicators is to help reshape public opinion about labor unions by getting better press coverage for labor issues. According to event planners, the Worker Memorial Day event was the opening lob in helping labor inch forward in those efforts. In the press it did receive, labor was successful in spotlighting worker health and safety.
IMMIGRANT FRAMERS SHUT DOWN
SO. CALIFORNIA HOME CONSTRUCTION
By David Bacon
Hundreds of framers began walking off construction sites on April 3rd, in a strike originally centered in Orange County. Picketing spread quickly as hundreds of workers joined it from Fillmore to Newport Beach. Big groups of strikers, ranging from 75 to 300 workers, now gather in the mornings in Orange, Sylmar, El Monte and Riverside to go out to the construction sites, and picketing has spread to Palmdale and Antelope Valley. Last week framers came up from San Diego to talk about hooking up with the strike, and it's likely that it will spread all the way to the Mexican border.
Once again, immigrant workers are closing down the homebuilding industry of Southern California, as they did four years ago when the drywallers fought homebuilders and contractors for a year, and won recognition for their union at its end. This time the strikers are the framers - the carpenters who build the wood skeleton of new homes. And like the drywallers, they are almost all from Mexico and Latin America.
Strikers estimate that over 800 workers are actively picketing, and that hundreds more simply don't show up to work. Alejandro Lopez, a member of the strike committee, estimates that "we've stopped over 95 percent of the work in Orange County." He says that eight contractors are ready to reach agreement, and that one already signed a one-month contract in order to continue operating while the strike closes down his competitors.
Picketing in the framers' strike breaks the stereotypic image of a few strikers with picket signs standing beside a driveway, watching strikebreakers take their jobs. When the framers picket, as the drywaller did, their lines number in the dozens, and even in the hundreds. Last week, for instance, a group of strikers headed out a building site in Huntington Park. They arrived at an apartment house being built a few blocks from downtown, and set up a line across the street. They began calling out to the workers inside to put down their tools. A half-dozen did, and walked out through the gate in the fence.
Then a group of strikers put their signs down, and went onto the job. At first the foreman tried to ignore them, as they went from worker to worker, patiently explaining what they were fighting for. They had leaflets in Spanish and English, and handed them out. Some of the workers talked to the strikers, and a few more left. Others seemed frightened, and bent their heads down and kept on working. The contractor, a white man who didn't speak Spanish and seemed to have difficulty telling the strikers from the workers, finally realized what was going on, and began shouting. He and the foreman demanded that the striker get off the property, and called the police. By the time the police arrived, the strikers were already outside, and most work on the site seemed to have stopped.
Then the strikers marched through the streets of Huntington Park to another building site a few blocks away, and the whole drama was played out again.
In the big developments on the suburban fringe of LA, however, the strike has met much stiffer opposition from contractors, police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. During the first days of the strike, the strikers caravanned from the union hall to the picketline in their own cars. On Monday, April 16 a caravan of about 35 cars filled with strikers left the union hall in Orange for a construction site in Newport. In Chino Hills they were suddenly cut off by patrol cars of the migra, as strikers call the INS. "They blocked us in front and in behind. Two people escaped, but the migra took sixteen of us. One of the migra agents told me they had been looking for us for two days. He said they were looking for cars with bumper stickers saying 'Carpenters Working Together.' That's us." Lopez notes that the INS has a policy of not conducting raids on picketlines, and says that they stopped the caravan so they could deport strikers without having to pick them up from the lines.
Lopez also says that the developers are cooperating with the INS because the strike is hurting them. He recalls a recent conversation with Ernie Castro, who owns a big construction company. "He told me he would call the migra. I asked him Why we weren't illegal while we were working for you, and now we're illegal because we're striking?"
Baldwin Keenan, business agent for Carpenters Local 2361 in Orange, says that strikers have also been harassed by the local police departments. "The police try to keep us away from the job sites," he says. "They arrest pickets, and give tickets for imaginary infractions, like parking too far away from the curb." After days of police and INS harassment of caravans, the union began renting busses to take workers to the picketlines.
The framers have a much closer relationship to the Carpenters Union than the drywallers, whose strike was supported by the union, but run independently. Strikers not only use the union halls to organize themselves, and travel to the lines in union-rented busses, but they also receive economic assistance for their own survival &endash; both money and food. But according to Keenan, although the union is heavily involved, "the guys run this strike. As a union, we've discovered that this is better, that we need to go directly to the workers."
Lopez and members of the strike committee agree. They describe a year-long history of organizing which preceded the strike, in which framers held meetings, talking about how they might begin raising wages which have fallen to a level lower than they were 25 years ago. They discussed the tactics the drywallers used in their successful fight to win a union, and organized committees on job sites in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Together with the union, they stopped work for two weeks last fall, in a trial run for the current strike. "At that time there was no economic assistance from the union," Keenan explains, "and the strike couldn't be sustained. This time there is."
During the meetings in which framers organized their committees, they also refined the three demands which have become the strike's rally cry. "We want a stable price of $156 a day, for eight hours, with overtime pay if we work longer." Current wages for framers can be as low as $50-80 for a ten or twelve-hour day, according to the union. Since framers are often paid by piece rate, the hourly wage can fall even close to minimum wage. Wages have dropped 25% since 1988.
"I make $95 a day, in 9 and 1/2 hours," Lopez says, "but I'm pretty experienced. We also don't work the year around, or every day. I have a wife and two young children, and we had to leave two apartments in the last year because we couldn't pay the rent."
Workers are also demanding a medical plan, and a training program. Training is important, they say, because Mexican framers have less experience and knowledge than the minority of white carpenters who work in homebuilding, and who are generally paid more. Mexican framers usually do repetitive assembly work, while experienced journeymen do layout, pickup, and stair building, among other more skilled jobs. "With the money we make, we can't give up even a couple of hours now to learn better skills. That's why we need both higher wages and a training program," Lopez says.
These differences in skill, experience and income also have created divisions among the framers themselves, with white workers generally working during the strike, and the bulk of the workforce, which is Latino, supporting it. Michael Olds, a Carpenters Union organizer, says that he tells white workers that "this is a workers' movement, for everyone, and you need to be part of it. If we put a floor under wages, it will help you too."
Wages have gone up since the strike started, as contractors and developers try to pull experienced workers across the framers' picketlines. Lopez says that some workers are getting as much as $22 an hour to break the strike, and that the piece rate has doubled. "The question is," Keenan says, "can we put a floor under these wages, and hold them there. That's what this strike is all about."
David Bacon is a labor writer based in Northern California
Lane Kirkland meets the membership in Los Angeles
Lane Kirkland's new road show opened to poor reviews in Los Angeles, April 21. The rare opportunity to hear a beleaguered AFL-CIO President drew approximately 400 labor leaders and members to a dinner at the Hotel Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. It was the first of four major appearances for Kirkland over the next month and a half. His tour is part of the AFL-CIO's regional conference schedule. If the other three regional conferences go the same way, Kirkland may be happy to step down.
An appearance by Kirkland before the rank-and-file is not an everyday event for the normally reclusive successor to George Meany. Even more unusual, perhaps historic, was the critical tone of the questions from the floor. No one in the room urged Kirkland to seek another term.
Kirkland seemed either ill or ill-at-ease during his speech. Less than half the audience stood to applaud at the beginning and the end of his talk which focused on the anti-labor attacks from the Republican Congress. "It's time for this labor movement to close ranks," Kirkland pleaded.
His responses to questions from the floor were rambling and assumed hostility from the questioner. The sharpest exchange was between Kirkland and Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
McEntee criticized Kirkland for refusing to help finance the efforts of a coalition of unions to defeat Republican members of Congress in the next election. While acknowledging the AFL-CIO's top priority of reelecting Clinton, McEntee said, "We can walk and chew gum at the same time." An angered Kirkland responded by calling the coalition a "dual" organization duplicating the tasks of the state and local federation bodies. "Why didn't you invite me to your meeting," snapped Kirkland. "I've told you the federation is not the tail of the kite to any affiliate."
AFSCME's McEntee and John Sweeney, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been among Kirkland's strongest critics on the national Executive Council. They and other public sector and hospital worker unions are running scared in the face of massive cutbacks being passed by Congress.
Until the Republicans took charge, public sector unions had largely avoided the union-busting and membership losses that have afflicted unions representing employees of private corporations. Labor still represents 38 percent of public employees while unionization in the private sector has dropped to 11 percent.
Kirkland also had to fend off questions about the lack of diversity in the AFL-CIO's leadership bodies and the lack of a labor voice in the media. Less than ten percent of the 35-member AFL-CIO Executive Council are women or people of color.
The public debates among the AFL-CIO leadership are probably the most heated since the Mine Workers' John L. Lewis punched an old-guard AFL leader J.C. Hutcheson of the Carpenters on the floor of the 1935 AFL convention in Atlantic City. Lewis' physical and symbolic blow started a chain of events that resulted in the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO, in turn, organized the mass production industries and brought organized labor to its pinnacle of power and prestige in the late 1930s and '40s.
"Kirkland should step down. We need someone who will take the ball and run," says Cecil McIntyre, Branch Agent for the Los Angeles chapter of Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association (MEBA). "Anything else I would say about Kirkland would be in more colorful sailor's talk. You wouldn't be able to print it."
Labor Notes Conference draws record turnout
The biennial Labor Notes Conference is the largest uncontrolled gathering of labor activists in the country. This year, more than 1100 people registered and attended the April 28-30 meeting in Detroit.
They came from every major union in the country to meet other union activists, compare notes, hear fiery speeches and participate in 50 educational workshops. Unlike highly structured union conventions, any labor activist was welcome to attend and participate on an equal basis with anyone else. Most impressive is that almost all of the 1100 paid their own transportation, hotel and registration.
"People feel rejuvenated by getting in touch with people in the same struggle and by seeing such a variety of struggles," says Martha Gruelle, a Labor Notes staffer.
One non-registered visitor who probably didn't feel rejuvenated was James R. Hoffa, Jr. The surprise encounter with the son of the former Teamsters president took place in a hallway just as a workshop on Teamster-represented industries was breaking up.
Hoffa, Jr. who is an attorney and an announced candidate for President of the Teamsters Union almost immediately got into a confrontation with a group of Diamond Walnut strikers. Hoffa accused the strikers of being sent around the country by Ron Carey (the current president) to cause trouble. "He showed up and began verbally attacking the strikers most of whom are grandmothers," said Ken Paff, the national organizer of Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Hoffa beat a hasty retreat as more workshop participants came into the hallway and began chanting Carey's name in response to Hoffa's accusations.
The support for international president Carey by Labor Notes activists is an example of the growing integration into union structures of rank-and-filers who once found almost no one they liked in union office.
Many of the activists are now local union officers, themselves, or shop stewards or newsletter editors. In many cases, their official legitimacy is the result of long, hard-fought challenges to entrenched union bureaucracies.
The theme of the conference was stress and struggle in the workplace. While no one asked for a definition of stress and struggle, the workshops addressed both coping with employer attacks and developing new initiatives for labor.
Workshops, which took up most of the weekend conference, focused on workplace strategies; changing the union; skills; social issues; teams, quality & cooperation programs; cross-border work; public sector strategies; community based work; and international solidarity.
The "War Zone" in Decatur, Illinois, was a frequent topic of conversation. Workers at three large plants there, Staley, Caterpiller and Firestone have been forced on strike and/or are battling lockouts. A national march in Decatur has been called for June 25.
Featured speakers at the conference included Bob Wages, president of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers; Bob Clark, secretary-treasurer of the United Electrical workers (UE); Jane Slaughter, director of Labor Notes; and Baldemar Velasquez, president of Farm Labor Organizing Committee.
One conference participant, Harry Kelber, circulated an internet message asking why union publications have taken no note of the event. "I called Michael Byrne, editor of the AFL-CIO News, and asked whether he planned to do a piece on the conference. He said he would not because the publication doesn't do stories on Labor Notes conferences," said Kelber.
Even without sanction by the AFL-CIO News, the Labor Notes Conference has grown to be an important event in the labor movement. The next one will take place in April, 1997.
Labor Notes is published monthly. For a subscription send $20 to 7435 Michigan Ave. Detroit, MI 48210 or call 313/842-6262.
UE fights layoffs at radio station KPFK
A May 5 sickout by 17 union members at Pacifica station KPFK-FM has brought a "corporate style" labor-management battle to public view.
"Pacifica management would like to bust our union," believes shop steward Lyn Gerry, an engineer at the station.
For years KPFK has been known as a progressive radio station supporting labor and left struggles. Pacifica, which operates the station and five others has recently come under attack from right-wing Republicans intent on eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Gerry says the staff was called together on March 30 and handed a list of layoffs which management claimed were necessary because of a $59,000 budget deficit.
UE Local 1421 is fighting the layoffs which, Gerry says, did not respect seniority and included a shop steward &endash; both violations of the contract.
In addition, the contract requires management to work with the union to find alternatives to layoffs. The union did present an alternative that included job sharing and eliminating temporary employees before beginning layoffs of permanent workers but it was rejected.
Acting program director Gwen Walters called the union proposal, "unworkable."
The staff layoffs are apparently part of major changes taking place at the station and the Pacifica network since January.
General Manager Cliff Roberts and other station management were forced to resign on Jan. 4. Since then, Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott has been calling the shots, says Gerry.
One of Scott's goals, Gerry believes, is to "eliminate local staff at all stations and centralize programming, fundraising, business functions and subscriber services in one central Pacifica location." UE represents staff at WBAI in New York and KPFA in Berkeley. Two other stations are non-union. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents national news staff but the new centralized job positions would be non-union, according to Gerry.
The contract for UE members at KPFK expired in 1991 but remains in effect because of an evergreen clause. Bargaining has been sporadic since then because of rapid management turnover.
Labor Party Advocates
L.A. chapter meeting. 7 p.m. May 17 ¥ OCAW Local 1-547, 4637 Manhattan Beach Blvd (Exit 405 at hawthorne). This meeting will plan a public hearing, to be held on June 24, on the need for a labor party. 213/660-2891.
Working . . . The Musical
with new material from Studs Terkel's The Great Divide. 8 p.m., Saturday, June 3 and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 11. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West (near Universal Studios). $15. A fundraiser for West Side COPE. For more information call Carole Sickler 213/381-5611.
The Men Who Sailed The Liberty Ships
A documentary about the merchant marine in World War II. Talking heads include longtime union activists Bill Bailey, who died recently in Northern California, and Pete Goodman.
KCET has not yet decided whether it will air the PBS program. Call them at 818/637-5238 and tell them you want to see it!
Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:
FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685
Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294
May 10, 1995 * #3