Friday, July 22, 2011

Government by sound bite

Reprinted from Newstips:

“This is about sound bites, not good public policy,” AFSCME’s Henry Bayer tells David Moberg at Working In These Times, discussing Mayor Emanuel’s campaign against city workers.

A couple other things it’s not about: actually negotiating with unions over work rule issues, and actually collaborating with city workers on increasing efficiency.

What it does seem to be about, besides bashing unions, is generating headlines; that’s the area where Mayor Emanuel has proven himself particularly adept in his first months in office.

The headlines don’t always correspond to reality. Take Emanuel’s vaunted ideas for “reforming outdate and inefficient work rules.” These were issued in a press release but never presented to city unions.

Most of them involve contractual matters. There’s only one way to address such items: provide the unions with written proposals, and sit down and negotiate.

That never happened. The ideas were shown to CFL’s Jorge Ramirez and Chicago Building Trades Council’s Tom Villanova in a meeting with Emanuel last month, but they weren’t even given a copy to take with them. (They’re not in a position to negotiate, in any case – only the actual unions are.)

The first time AFSCME heard from the city was an after-hours phone call in the middle of last week – a couple days before the mayor’s big press conference — when they were told they had 48 hours to respond to his proposals, Anders Lindall tells Newstips. “We asked, what proposals? They said, the ones you’ve been reading in the papers.”

The very first meeting with city unions came Monday morning — three days after Emanuel announced layoffs, claiming the unions had missed his “deadline.”

Chicago’s city workers have not been oblivious to the city’s financial situation. Most of them (not including AFSCME members) have been working with a pay freeze and furlough days amounting to a 10 percent wage cut for a couple of years.

And the CFL is preparing a report encompassing front-line city workers’ ideas about how to increase efficiency. It’s likely to be a lot more serious than the mayor’s proposals, some of which seem to be for effect, and some of which don’t make sense at all.

For effect: Emanuel proclaims that city workers should be paid time-and-a-half for overtime, not double time. But the vast majority already are. Only a small bargaining unit of a couple hundred workers gets double time.

A headscratcher: require city workers to put in 40 hours rather than 35. (City workers currently work from 9 to 5 with an hour off, unpaid, for lunch.) As Lindall points out, it’s not clear how this saves money, even if you manage to get folks to come in at 8 or stay till 6 without paying them more; you’re still paying them the same, and saving nothing.

Unless you follow this up with layoffs – but Emanuel presented the work rule changes as a way to avoid layoffs.

It’s also not clear, as Moberg points out, how the privatization schemes Emanuel announced Friday will save money.

“I think he wants to put unions on the defensive,” Bayer tells Moberg. (Moberg himself comments that, rather than working on real fixes for the city’s problems, “Emanuel seems more interested in bashing workers.”)

It may be working. “If you stop someone on the street and ask them what’s the cause of the city’s budget crisis, they’re liable to say it’s that work rules are unreasonable and unions refuse to negotiate,” Lindall said. Which simply isn’t true.

But it’s working as a p.r. campaign. It’s doing very little to solve the city’s problems. And it’s setting up a confrontation with unions which are inclined to collaborate, and which are in a position to help.

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve started to suspect that Emanuel views the city’s crisis as an grand opportunity to weaken our unions.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hotel workers strike at the Park Hyatt Chicago

From Unite Here Local 1:

After nearly two years of negotiations, more Hyatt workers in downtown Chicago are going on strike. Hyatt, a company with more cash on hand than most of its major competitors combined, wants to outsource work and impose dangerous working conditions on housekeepers. Now housekeepers and other hotel workers are standing up and speaking out. Thursday’s action at the Park Hyatt coincides with housekeeper protests of Hyatt in nine cities across the U.S.

Hotel housekeepers are the invisible backbone of the hotel industry. The grittier aspects of their jobs—the work of scrubbing toilets, changing sheets, and encountering guests alone behind closed doors—are the hidden foundation on which an atmosphere of luxury and comfort are built. Through UNITE HERE, the union representing hotel and other hospitality workers across North America, housekeepers are stepping forward and breaking the silence on the many dangers they face at work.

Nationwide, Hyatt has caused controversy for its abuse of housekeepers and for replacing long-term employees with workers from temporary agencies at far lower rates of pay. Thursday’s actions represent the latest escalation of the labor dispute with Hyatt. Just last month on June 20, 2011, Hyatt Regency Chicago workers went on strike. Similar actions were carried out last year, when last September Hyatt O’Hare workers carried out a day-long strike and last May when hundreds of housekeepers walked off the job, in protest of worsening working conditions in housekeeping.

Grappling with cuts when Democrats are in charge » peoplesworld

Grappling with cuts when Democrats are in charge » peoplesworld

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Warning: Beach closings on the rise » peoplesworld

Warning: Beach closings on the rise » peoplesworld

Angela Davis: Spare the life of Troy Davis!

Statement by Angela Davis regarding Troy Davis

I urgently appeal to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and to the members of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole - L. Gale Buckner , Robert E. Keller, James E. Donald, Albert Murray, and Terry Barnard - to spare the life of Troy Davis, a young African American citizen of your state.

I hope everyone within sight or sound of my words or my voice will likewise urgently call and fax Gov. Neal and the members of the Board. Under Georgia law, only they can stop the execution of Troy Davis.

First of all, there is very compelling evidence that Troy Davis may be innocent of the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1989 in Savannah. The case against Davis has all but collapsed: seven of nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony and said that they were pressured by police to lie; and nine other witnesses have implicated one of the remaining two as the actual killer. No weapon or physical evidence linking Davis to the murder was ever found. No jury has ever heard this new information, and four of the jurors who originally found him guilty have signed statements in support of Mr. Davis.

More importantly, the planned execution of a likely innocent young Black man in the state of Georgia has become a terrible blot on the status of the United States in the international community of nations. All modern industrial and democratic nations and 16 states within the United States have abolished capital punishment. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the men and women on death rows across the country are Black and other people of color, and are universally poor, severely undermines our country’s standing in the eyes of the people of the world.

Most importantly, the execution of Troy Davis will contribute to an atmosphere of violence and racism and a devaluation of life itself within our country. If we can execute anyone, especially a man who may be innocent of any crime, it fosters disrespect for the law and life itself. This exacerbates every social problem at a time when the people of our country face some of the most difficult challenges regarding our economic security and future.

I urge everyone to join with me in urging Governor Neal and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to stay the execution of Troy Davis and commute his death sentence. Give this young man a life, and an opportunity to prove his innocence.

Please, call or fax today. Stop the execution of Troy Davis!

Gov. Nathan Deal

Tel: (404)651-1776

Fax: (404)657-7332


Web contact form: web:

Georgia Board of Parsons and Parole

L. Gale Buckner

Robert E. Keller

James E. Donald

Albert Murray

Terry Barnard

Tel: (404) 656-5651

Fax: (404) 651-8502

Angela Y. Davis

July 14, 2011


Arbitrator: Quinn pay freeze violates collective bargaining agreement, wage schedule must be restored

From AFSCME Council 31:

An independent arbitrator has ruled that Governor Pat Quinn’s decision to impose a unilateral pay freeze on nearly 30,000 employees in 14 state agencies is a violation of the master contract and related agreements between the State of Illinois and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn has ordered the state to restore the contractually obligated pay schedule and make whole employees for the 2% increase due July 1.

“Frontline state employees are out there every day doing the real work of state government and the Quinn Administration, as their employer, should keep its commitments to them,” AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said.

“We have always said what’s at stake here is much more than a pay increase. This is a question of whether the fundamental right of working people to bargain collectively will be upheld in Illinois,” Bayer said. “We welcome this ruling because it makes clear that the governor cannot simply break a contract at will. We call on the governor to keep his word and accept the arbitrator’s clear ruling to avoid further costly litigation.”

Arbitrator Benn’s key finding:

Under the mandatory, clear and simple terms of the negotiated language, the State must pay the 2% wage increase effective July 1, 2011. As a matter of contract, the State has no choice.

The remedy ordered by Benn:

In the exercise of my remedial discretion and to restore the status quo ante and make the adversely impacted employees whole for the State’s clear violation of the Agreement and the Cost Savings Agreements, the State is directed to pay the 2% increase to all bargaining unit classifications and steps and continue to pay that increase and, within 30 days from the date of this award, to make whole those employees who did not receive those increases effective July 1, 2011.

The arbitrator noted the significant efforts by AFSCME-represented state employees to help the state address its budget shortfall:

Recognizing the serious financial circumstances facing the State and in order to avoid layoffs of potentially thousands of employees, the Union responded to the State’s fiscal problems and agreed to concessions from the 2008-2012 Agreement — one of which was to defer 2% of a 4% increase due July 1, 2011. The total concessions agreed to by the Union were in the vicinity of $400,000,000.

Making clear that Governor Quinn’s action strikes at the very foundation of the right to collective bargaining, Benn wrote:

If the State is correct that economic provisions of multi-year collective bargaining agreements are not enforceable or are contingent upon subsequent appropriations for the out years of the agreements, then the collective bargaining process will be, to say the least, severely undermined. If the State is correct, the result will be most chaotic and costly …. If the State is correct in its statutory and Constitutional arguments, the multi-year collective bargaining agreement is, for all purposes, probably dead.

From Benn’s conclusion:

In sum, and notwithstanding all of the arguments presented, this is a very simple case with a very simple bottom line. … [W]hen the State did not pay the increase

effective July 1, 2011 for all bargaining unit classifications and steps (i.e., to the employees in the 14 departments, boards, authorities and commissions), the State did not keep its promise. The State must now keep its promise.