"more pro-labor news than a year of the L.A. Times"


L.A. Labor News * Editor: Jim Smith * July 31, 1995 * #7




* One union for metal workers.

* Unions defend Abu-Jamal.

* Dennis Rivera interview.

* County budget fight.

* Local 399 executive board fight.

* March across Golden Gate Bridge.

* Foreign-flagging picketline.

* ILWU strike.

* CLF candidates.

* Calendar.


Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:

FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685

E-mail: LALabor@aol.com

Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294

July 31, 1995 * #7




A surprise announcement of unity by the three largest U.S. industrial unions has stunned the labor movement.

The new two-million member union has long been a dream of labor activitists. In many countries, metal trades workers have long been united in one union. A notable example is IG Metall in Germany which has conducted aggressive strike actions to raise the standard of living and shorten the work week.

A transition to a full merger will take place over the next five years. It will combine 800,000 Auto Workers, 500,000 Machinists and 600,000 Steelworkers. All three unions have been devastated in recent years by plant closings, runaway shops and NAFTA.

The merger was supposedly initiated by a chance discussion between Machinists president George Kourpias and USWA president George Becker. The two later brought in new UAW president Stephen Yokich.

However the talks began, they were not reported at the UAW convention last month in Anaheim. Many longtime labor observers were taken by surprise. In the days following the announcement, the press scrambled to find academics to interpret the news for their readers.

The UAW and USWA have similar union cultures from their 1930s birth in the CIO. The Machinists, on the other hand, have a 100 plus year tradition dating back to a time when unions were illegal or semi-legal. IAM bodies continue an old tradition of calling themselves lodges or grand lodges.




At least two union conventions have strongly opposed the execution of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal who many believe was politically framed for the death of a police officer and was denied due process.

The Newspaper Guild and SEIU's Western Regional Convention have both gone on record against his execution scheduled for Aug. 17.




Dennis Rivera is the president of the independent New York hospital workers union, 1199.If his union was part of the AFL-CIO, he would likely be one of the top candidates for leadership of the federation. His militant actions on behalf of working people, regardless of union affiliation and his unassuming behavior have inspired admiration and respect throughout the labor movement.

Rivera was in Los Angeles, July 25, to support county workers and SEIU Local 660 in their fight against massive layoffs and cuts in services. The following interview is abridged for space.


Q. While the labor movement continues to suffer declines in membership, your union, 1199 - the National Health & Human Services Union continues to be amazingly successful. Why?

Rivera: We've been lucky. We've been in an industry - health care - which up to this point has been expanding. And we have a union with a very proud tradition. It was called by Dr. Martin Luther King, "the conscious of the American labor movement." It's a union that strives to involve the members. We believe that's crucial. In order to win victories, we have to mobilize our members. For instances, we have a shop steward for every 25 members. The idea is to have as many members as possible involved and making decisions on managing the union. We have 117,000 members, but without having them mobilized we don't have any power.

Why should people be mobilized? What does the union represent in the lives of its members. More than 65,000 of our members have job guarantees. That is, for the life of the contract they can not be terminated for economic reasons. If those who have less than two years of employment lose their jobs, they get 80% of their salary for one year plus family health care benefits, training money and placement in the first job that is available.

All members get health care benefits completely paid for their families with no co-pays, no premiums, no deductibles on a comprehensive plan that covers dental, hospitalization, ambulatory care and life insurance. We have the only child care program in the country that's a Taft-Hartley fund where the employers contribute a half percent of gross payroll. This gives us youth mentor programs, day care, after school programs, summer camps.

We have aggressive training programs that are used every year by 5,000 members who go to universities. If they have more than nine units with a C grade or better they get completely reimbursed for tuition. Close to a 1,000 members go to study full time with 80 percent of their salary paid, plus tuition and books.

We have a very successful home owner program for members, 75 percent of whom are renters. A member can become a homeowner with only two percent down. If they don't have the money, they can borrow it from their pension. We have a well known cultural program, Bread and Roses and a very active political action program. What we're trying to do is that old axiom, "from cradle to grave."

In other words, there is nothing in the lives of our members that the union doesn't touch. So when the union calls for a demonstration, we use highly sophisticated targeting and telemarketing, publications, stewards, a very dedicated staff and a whole atmosphere and culture to mobilize our members. When someone is asked to participate, they say, "well, I have to protect any and all of these benefits." It's not one single thing, but a culmination of all the things that makes our union successful.


Q. Health care is under attack in Los Angeles County and around the country. What should unions be doing about it?

Rivera: I find it amazing how quickly life in America changes. It was little more than a year ago that we were talking about universal health care coverage, including for 40 million uninsured Americans. Now the debate in New York state is about ending home care for people with AIDs who are in the final stages of their life.

Here in Los Angeles, they're talking about closing hospitals and clinics and denying access to health care.

In Washington, they're talking about cutting Medicare to the tune of $280 billion in the next seven years and cutting $180 billion on Medicaid and ending it as an entitlement program.

It is incredible how quickly an issue can turn in our society. The insurance companies were on their deathbeds two years ago until 1500 of them spent $300 million on Harry and Louise ads on TV to scare the hell out of the American public about what the Clinton plan was going to do. Now the insurance companies are controlling the health care industry with their managed care, for profit corporations.

The health care industry is in incredible turmoil because the powers-that-be have fought back. My honest estimation is that peoples organizations and the democratic forces in our society have been slow to react. Once we lost the quest to gain universal coverage, many people thought everything was going to remain static. No, today we have more people without health care coverage than we did a year ago.

More people are paying out-of-pocket expenses and paying their own premiums. We lost. Now we have to lick our wounds and go back into the fight so we can keep what we have and win.


Q. What's your opinion on the debate raging in the AFL-CIO?

Rivera: It's a wonderful thing that for a change there is a challenge in the leadership of the AFL-CIO. I think there should be direct election of the president of the AFL-CIO. We did a poll about a year ago and found out that less than one percent of the American working people knew who Lane Kirkland was.

If there was a direct election for the leader of the working people of the United States, it would be incredible. At the end of the process, the whole country would be energized. The labor movement would come alive.

The second issue is that the political space of the labor movement is getting smaller and smaller every day. There has to be a direct link between politics and the legal right to organize. I claim that we do not have the legal right in our country to organize. Suppose we have 100 workers who want to join a union and we get 90 of them to sign a card. Then we go to the employer who says go to an election. It might take a year for an election and even if 100 percent vote for a union we could go two or three more years and not be certified to bargain on behalf of the workers. We must fight for labor law reform in our country and the right to organize.

Also, the labor movement must relate to people in all walks of life including workers at places like McDonalds and Starbucks. We have to talk differently, particularly to young people who do not relate to the labor movement. Lastly, we need to have militancy in this labor movement. Without a feeling of the power, energy and vibrancy of the labor movement, people will not have hope.


Q. People who know you well say you don't fit the stereotype of a major labor union leader. They say you work all the time. You're accessible to the membership. Your salary is closer to that of the average hospital worker than to that of leaders of large unions. You spend a lot of time and money supporting other unions' struggles. What is it that motivates you as a union leader?

Rivera: I think we have to answer this question in a very personal way. I get immense satisfaction with the work that I do. I get an incredible high out of putting together a program to provide child care to 50,000 kids or to provide free health care benefits or to correct an injustice by rallying thousands of people together. You have to like people. You have to be a "do-gooder."

A labor leader cannot just defend the rights of working people in the workplace, but must also build coalitions in the communities and be active in politics and social change.




Whether it was intended or not, SEIU Local 660's militant fight against a 20 percent cut in county services and 10,000 layoffs has created chaos. That chaos has finally begun to get attention from those with the money &endash; state and federal authorities.

It's also won support from the courts. Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne issued a temporary restraining order, last Friday, to stop the layoffs of 2,500 workers in the Dept. of Public Social Services. Local 660 persuaded that the Board of Supervisors violated its contract by not bargaining before issuing the layoff notices. The Supervisors then caved in and extended the moratorium in layoffs until at least Aug. 8.

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is coming through with $300 million in previously-withheld health care funds.

The California legislature is beginning to do its part by releasing $75 million held by the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

After "going ballistic," according to a Local 660 source, Assemblymember Richard Katz, fell in line with the aid to L.A. County. "Which is better, sinkholes or hospitals?" said Katz in reference to the MTA's bungled subway construction in Hollywood.

Local 660 has helped to create a political crisis by mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, storming county administrative officer Sally Reed's office, rolling sickouts, packed Board of Supervisors meetings, unity breaks at hospitals, visits and pickets at state legislators' offices, continuous lobbying in Sacramento by up to 30 union members at a time. In addition, the union has spent $500,000 on TV commercials urging viewers to call their Supervisor to demand an alternative to the cuts and layoffs.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in particular, has been feeling the heat. The former liberal, turned fiscal conservative, has complained about supposed threats to his personal safety.

Local 660 Communications Director Steve Weingarten responded in a letter to the L.A. Times that the union is engaged in nonviolent protest but said that county workers could sympathize since they are frequent victims of work-related violence.




A messy trusteeship blocking the assumption of power by newly-elected SEIU Local 399 Executive Board members may spell trouble for AFL-CIO presidential candidate John Sweeney. The trusteeship may be imposed within days say SEIU sources.

The Multiracial Alliance swept 21 ballot positions in the Local's June elections. However, members of the caucus say they have been prevented from assuming power by Local President Jim Zellers backed by international staff reps. Zellers ran unopposed for reelection.

A stalemate has developed with Zellers refusing to meet with the executive board. New Secretary-Treasurer Yolanda Rios, a Kaiser hosptial worker, has reportedly refused to sign checks until the executive board has been given authority to act. Each side has suspended, fired or forced out several staff members who were on opposing sides in the election.

The union represents 8,000 janitors and 16,000 health care workers. The Local's Justice for Janitors campaign has been among the most successful in the nation. However, the new five-year contract negotiated last April was criticized by rank-and-filers for its low top wage of $6.80 per hour and because it delayed health benefits for many workers until the fifth year of the agreement. Dissatifaction has also been expressed with the last Kaiser Medical contract that covers nearly 12,000 Local 399 members.

The Multiracial Alliance is a combination of the janitors' Grupo Reformista and Change '95, composed of health care workers. Those elected to office include 11 Latinos, five African-Americans and five whites.

Executive VP Cesar Oliva Sanchez, a Spanish-speaking janitor, calls the election a mandate for change. Members "wanted union officials who were committed to serving their needs."

Whether international officials including Sweeney feel the same way remains to be seen. However, talks with Sweeney and aides in Denver last weekend reportedly broke down.

Alliance members are bracing for the imposition of a trusteeship within the next few days.

Rank-and-file leaders vow not to go quietly should a trusteeship be imposed but to pursue Sweeney throughout the AFL-CIO election campaign.




National and worldwide news will be made August 20 as tens of thousands of health care workers and supporters march and rally at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The event was initiated by SEIU locals and the California Nurses Association and is sponsored by the North American Health Care Workers Coalition. It is co-sponsored by more than 100 unions and organizations.

Leading the march will be Rev. Jesse Jackson and the presidents of the nation's two largest health care unions &endash; Dennis Rivera of 1199 and Sal Rosselli of SEIU Local 250.

The march will challenge the health care industry's anti-worker, anti-patient agenda, says Rosselli.

A free concert will be held at the Presidio following the march across the bridge.

A two-day International Conference for Health Care Workers will precede the march. For more information, call 415/864-4141.




by Andrea Adleman

More than 100 Harbor Area trade unionists picketed American Presidents Line to protest the company's use of foreign labor. APL, one of the largest L.A./Long Beach Harbor companies whose ships Harbor labor has worked for decades, is now operating its first ship under a U.S. government waiver that allows it to fly a foreign flag and use foreign workers in direct competition with domestic labor.

"We are here to defend American ships and American jobs," said Bill Langley, a leader of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. Langley's and fellow unions in the newly formed Coalition for Maritime Jobs fear that other shipping companies will follow APL and seek a waiver to circumvent U.S. taxes, safety regulations, and unionized labor. For its part, APL has hoisted the Marshall Islands flag on six vessels.

The Long Beach picket line follows a June 29 informational picket at APL's San Pedro branch office.

MEBA's Marc Townsend said union members will continue to "raise hell with APL through the summer because we will not sit by as the company undermines the standard of living for U.S. workers and their families."

(Andrea Adleman is a Los Angeles-based free lance labor reporter.)




A striking worker was jumped by an independent trucker who crossed the picket line, July 19, while picketing GS Roofing.

Sixty-five members of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Local 26 struck the Wilmington roofing company after voting July 1 to reject the company's contract offer.

Local 26 president Luisa Gratz said GS Roofing is seeking to implemented a so-called "total quality management" program behind the union's back. The company is combining jobs and laying off workers, leading to a strike and 24-hour picket line over job security and economics.

The union wants the employer to give severance pay to workers being laid off. Gratz said that Harbor Area residents can lend support by telling the employer that "we have enough unemployment in the Harbor Area and that they support the union's position. If people are going to be laid off, they should at least be given a fair opportunity to survive until they get a job."

&endash; Andrea Adleman



It'll be nearly a year before Jack Henning retires as executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, but already three candidates have announced and more are rumored to be waiting in the wings.

Tom Rankin, CLF research director and Henning aide, was the first to announce and has broad-based support.

Art Pulaski, executive secretary of the San Mateo Labor Council, is running hard for the position. Pulaski is a Machinist and also has significant support in SEIU, California's largest union.

Mark Splain, associate director of the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, is the third candidate. Splain is a former SEIU staff member and was, for a time, trustee of SEIU Local 250.

Jerry Cremins, retired building trades leader, announced and then withdrew from the race.

Rumors persist that L.A. County Federation of Labor leader Jim Wood may join the race to succeed Henning.




The two declared candidates for President of the AFL-CIO, Tom Donahue and John Sweeney will address the California Federation of Labor conference, Aug. 24, in Los Angeles.

The campaign appearances will take place on the first day of the two day meeting. The second day will be devoted to union organizing. Gold Room, Biltmore Hotel, 506 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call 415/986-3585.


Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:

FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685

E-mail: LALabor@aol.com

Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294

July 31, 1995 * #7