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As I give it at least my dozenth try at getting the ol’ blogger legs back going, lets take a look at some highlights of life here in America, February of 2010 (grab a beer or a joint or a big mug of coffee, this is a long one):

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Seems it was a very good year to be a Washington lobbyist- the best year ever, actually.  The Center for Responsive Politics has looked into tens of thousands of  disclosure findings and found that in 2009 special interests of every kind spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government.  “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines.” said CRP director Sheila Krumholz.  Among those numbers, the dollars from your and my health care premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even have health insurance) spent ensuring Congress could not pass a meaningful overall of the health care system was $266.8 million (that amount spent by the pharmaceutical and health products industries represents a record for one sector).  The report also notes- oddly- that this year saw a decline in the number of actual registered lobbyists, prompting speculation that in the face of tighter controls on lobbying from the Obama Administration some aspects of lobbying have moved under-ground; now there’s a welcome development: the seedy back-room world of those with power manipulating politicians for their personal gain moving into a closet in the back-room.  “Democracy”? is that what you folks call this?

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I’m decidedly excited about organized labor threatening to “stay out” of this year’s elections in protest over the way the Obama Administration and Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have failed to deliver much of anything for working people.  Lets face it, the Republican Party is not even an option- in terms of political choice- for working class people (I know what you’re thinking about Tea Party-ers and rednecks and religious fundamentalists and the like, and I’ll get to them, but I’m referring here only to those who are at least partially aware of their class-standing, the existence of class society, and who reject in general the inherent good of wealth concentrated among the wealthy (even if some of these things happen far from even their own waking consciousness)).  For years organized labor have leaned towards the Democratic Party knowing they’d at least get thrown some bread crust, and that that would always be better than the mere crumbs the Republicans may throw.  But in the face of being so hopeful, so full of excitement and promise (and after spending serious money and donating serious volunteer time) to get Obama in and with majorities and everything, labor has gotten jack shit. Read the rest of this entry »

The news today is that the State of New York- who has purview over construction of the soon-to-be rebuilt bridge over Lake Champlain that was recently demolished (due to the fact that both New York and Vermont balance their budgets with an eye towards breaks for the rich and short-changing infrastructure)- will likely bid-out construction using a Project Labor Agreement (PLA).  A PLA, for those not in the know, is a set of minimum wage, benefit, safety, and workplace conditions that a state or municipality sets for workers on a project conducted by private contractors.  Plainly, if the public is going to hire private contractors, a PLA enforces minimum standards for how those private contractors can treat their employees- so it’s like the public (in the guise of government) saying to bosses “pay your workers fairly” (“your workers” in turn being the “public”).  Society looking out for its own interests instead of those of the rich or better-off.

I know what your thinking: American society does that?  Yeah, well, sometimes.

Of course, bosses (in this particular case, the owners of VT construction firms) are not without a voice.  Which is where Associated General Contractors steps in.  They jumped out in front of the message machine this morning claiming that a PLA would mean that VT contractors won’t get to bid on one of the biggest projects happening because the vast majority of VT firms are “open shops” (read: “we hire you for what we want to pay you, under the conditions we set for you, and if you don’t like it, you’re out of work”).  The cynicism of these folks and their stance on worker’s rights (and livable wages) is clear:  Here’s Don Wells of DEW Construction, a AGC member:

“The majority of Vermont contractors are open shops, and what this really does is force them to expose their company and their employees to the union. And most contractors, myself included, would not choose to do that,” Wells said. “People that run open shops take a lot of pride in what they do and the services and benefits they provide to their employees. Typically what happens in a Project Labor Agreement is you lose your right to negotiate with your own employees.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Direct from the UE’s website:

Richard Gilman, the former chief executive of Republic Windows and Doors, has been arrested  and charged with numerous financial crimes related to last December’s plant closing, including looting the company and defrauding creditors.  The abrupt plant closing provoked a successful six-day plant occupation by members of UE Local 1110.

Gillman was charged with eight felony counts under Illinois law, including financial crime and conspiracy, money laundering, fraud insolvency, theft with intent to control more than $500,000, mail fraud and wire fraud.

Judge Peggy Chiampas set bond at $10 million, 20 times more than prosecutors had requested. When Gillman’s lawyer argued with the judge over the bail amount, the judge responded that she wanted to “make sure” that Gillman doesn’t go anywhere, and that he is a danger based on his alleged “damage both to the individuals and the company.”

Assistant State’s Attorney John Mahoney said in court that Gillman and the others conspired to launder company funds and removed 10 semi-trailers of manufacturing equipment from the plant. Three of the trailers ended up in Red Oak, IA, where Gillman started a new non-union window manufacturing to take over Republic’s work. The remaining seven trailers, stored on the  South Side of Chicago, were seized by prosecutors.

A spokesperson for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said that other Republic Windows officials are under investigation. New search warrants have been issued part of the investigation, Daly said.

In January UE filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board for failure to notify or negotiate with the union about plant closing and transfer of equipment.

In the wake of Gillman’s arrest, Armando Robles, president of the UE Local 1110 told the Chicago Tribune: “He treated us like garbage for long, long years. He threw us out in December without any benefits. We were waiting for this,” and added, “It’s wonderful.’’

The UE Western Region issued a media statement on the new developments: “Corruption and abuse of workers rights is rampant in corporate America.  Very often where you see violations of workers rights there are other corporate crimes and poor conditions as well.  Republic Windows and Doors is just one example of something that happens routinely to working people.  UE members at Republic Windows and Doors organized and fought back against abuse and won.

“We hope to see justice served in this case, but we know that many other workers suffer and deserve justice as well.  In part that can come about through labor law reform that would ensure, for the first time, penalties for violations of labor law and by aggressively holding corporations accountable when they violate our rights.”

The UE statement also quotes Local 1110 Vice President Melvin Maclin: “We feel like justice has finally come and we all hope that this is the beginning of more bosses being held accountable for their crimes against workers.”

These two commercials are airing in just a handful of cities.  They’re put together by something called the “American Values Agenda for Change at Walmart“- a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Sierra Club, Campaign for America’s Future, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Consumers League, AFSCME, American Rights at Work, Communications Workers of America, Interfaith Worker Justice, LIUNA, National Labor Coordinating Committee, Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Auto Workers, United Farmer Workers and United Steel Workers.

From the UK Guardian:

First there was boss-napping, now angry workers at a factory in France have come up with a new tactic in their battle against mass redundancy.

Staff at bankrupt car parts maker New Fabris are threatening to blow up the plant if they do not receive compensation from the companies that provided most of the firm’s business.

The 336 workers at the factory at Châtellerault, near Poitiers in central France, want Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen to pay €30,000 (£25,850) to each of them, or some €10m in total, in return for the company’s remaining stocks of equipment and machinery. The workers, who are currently occupying the factory, have given Renault and Peugeot Citroen until 31 July to come up with the money.

Guy Eyermann, a CGT trades union official, told France Info radio: “The bottles of gas have already been placed at various parts of the factory and are connected with each other. If Renault and PSA refuse to give us that money it could blow up before the end of the month.”

Vermont readers are no doubt familiar with Fairpoint Communications, the North Carolina-based company that was allowed by State and Federal regulators to purchase the communications infrastructure and systems (phone lines and internet services) of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine from Verizon last year.  Despite ample evidence that Fairpoint was never fiscally or organizationally prepared for such a huge endeavor- and despite ample evidence that they’d screw over Verizon’s unionized worker’s and fail miserably at lofty promises to bring high speed internet to rural outposts in Northern New England still operating with the steam engine equivalent of internet access, State and Federal bureaucrats charged with protecting and securing the public interest did neither; they easily bowed to Fairpoint’s desires to become a corporate behemoth and to corporate behemoth Verizon’s desires to liquidate physical assets (and the blue color labor required for their upkeep) in order to invest more in digital (and retail) communications. Read the rest of this entry »

160-87, that was the final vote by tech workers at FAHC (Fletcher Allen Habitually under Construction) to join the AFT.  A huge congratulations to them all, because they now have a say on matters that affect them in the workplace.  I know, I know… having a say in matters that effect you (the Greek have a word for it, I’m not sure on the spelling but it’s something like “demo-cracy”) may sound crazy to some who prefer the idea that the people at the top, with the most power, who make the most money, deserve to just tell everyone else what to do, how to do it and when (without, of course, any “why”) but I think their lives will all be better- maybe a little, maybe a lot, but certainly better.

Cheers, and good luck in bargaining.

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