A DISCLAIMER REQUESTED BY THE BUSINESS MANAGER

"The views and opinions in this Blogspot are expressed by me in my capacity as an individual member and not in my capacity as a Union Officer. Likewise, comments by the other members on the Blogspot are individual expressions of their views. The views stated herein are not necessarily a reflection of Local 602. The Local has not seen or adopted my comments or the comments of others prior to posting. The Blogspot includes no expenditures of Union Funds."



Sunday, October 24, 2010

WHY I AM AGAINST THIS PROPOSAL

1) It is a 3-year contract. The MCA rejected our proposal for a 1-year contract. They insisted on a 3-year proposal. The middle ground is a 2-year contract. Good faith bargaining should have found this middle ground before we received this proposal.

2) Minimum contract language changes were agreed upon. We got tangled up over wage rates and stopped negotiating over necessary issues. A number of issues proposed by our Brothers and Sisters were cast aside early in negotiations. Chief among those is time and a half pay for our wage and benefit package. If we accept this contract we can not revisit this issue until 2013. As we struggle to meet future funding levels for our pension and medical benefits this issue will haunt us.

3) The MCA wanted arbitration. The body rejected arbitration. The Local Union does not need to surrender their right to collectively bargaining and neither does the MCA. Why would either side admit that they are so inept that they can not find further common ground? We have agreed to a 1st year wage rate. What prevented us from agreeing to a 2nd and if necessary, a 3rd year wage rate? It is time for the MCA to stop pouting about the 2007 negotiations. My advice to both sides is simple, put this proposal away and settle the wage differences. Man up and agree that we can reach a reasonable and equitable solution for the remaining years.

4) Arbitration means that strangers will settle our contract. Those that would argue that the IRC is a jury of our peers ignore several major points. The Union and contractor representatives on the IRC don’t live or shop in our metropolitan area. Our cost of living is different than theirs. We are a Union of Steamfitters. Their world is one where the plumbers and fitters are combined. Further, none of them pay the servicemen the same rate as the plumber or fitter. They pay their servicemen at a lower rate. Our servicemen will be taking a huge step backwards to a bygone era.

5) June 1st deadline for arbitration is an artificial date that only benefits the MCA. This is an open invite for the MCA to drag their feet as they did this year. I have not found anyone who can tell me when we ever concluded negotiations two months prior to the end of a contract. This unrealistic date is a guarantee that the next two years will be settled through arbitration. Go to our Union website and look where we were on June 29, 2010. It will shock you how far apart we were at that time. Worse yet it allows the contractors to cause dissension in our Union just prior to our elections on June 6, 2011 and June 4, 2012. If there were a complete turnover of our full time officers in 2012, we would have rookies leading us into arbitration. Think about it. Don’t be na├»ve and think that they would not turn their heads and let a dissident group do their dirty work on company time. It has happened in the past. It is happening right now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Apples and Orangutans

I have spent this evening trying desperately to understand the Union members that would sit in judgement if we go to arbitration under the IRC. There is only so much that you can find out about them and their Local Unions on the Internet. Only one of the four had locals with public web pages that gave me any insight. In search of secondary resources on the web, the picture of our potential judges doesn’t fill me with any confidence that we would be judged by a jury of our peers. None of their locals compare well to ours. They are either plumbers’ unions or combined locals that have split scales. Servicemen suffer under their “organizations”. At best, they suckle on a hind teat.

Our history includes a period when there was a Steamfitters Local Union 602 and a Local Union 602A. We were once a split Union with separate officers and separate pay scales. Local Union 602 A represented the servicemen. They were limited in their overtime pay to time and a half when the other half received double time. They were also paid at a lower pay scale.

Our nonsense ended in the 50’s at an International Convention when the Canadian Unions protested the seating of the delegation from Washington D.C. The Canadians objected to the fact that no representatives from the service side were present. When the gavel came down to settle their protest we were made whole. From that day forward there was only one Union in Washington, D.C., Steamfitters Local Union 602, which was charged with fully representing construction, service, and metal tradesmen. Thank God for the Canadians.

The fact that the practice of split Unions and split scales continues to exist in our industry is a problem that the UA must grapple with. If they had followed our lead and insisted that their locals developed their service industry as we have, our International would be a greater presence in the market.

We are unique in more than one way from all of the Local Unions whose experience and traditions could cloud their judgements on our contract. In most instances all of us would likely argue that there must be “apples and apples” compared. Hell, at this late date, some of us would accept “apples and oranges”. However, “Apples and Orangutans” is unacceptable. I will vote against any contract that contains this particular from of arbitration.

Friday, October 15, 2010

WHY PICK JUNE AS A DEADLINE FOR NEGOTIATIONS?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Selecting June 1st as the deadline for instigating arbitration is not accidental; neither is it incidental or lacking of political consequence. The UA Constitution obligates us to hold our General Election of Officers once every three years. Our Union elections are presently scheduled for the first Monday in June. We have a National Convention Delegate election scheduled for Monday, June 6, 2011. We have a General Election of Officers scheduled for Monday, June 4, 2012.

I shot a flare into the air about the MCA 2009 Strategic Plan in a blog post on May 27, 2009. I believed then that the contractors were sneaking into the back door of our 2009 election with ill intent. This is what was posted then on the MCA website:

B. Through management’s legal counsel, we will clarify "management rights" during negotiations and union elections:

1. What can we communicate to workers during contract ratifications?
2. Can contractors give incentives to union employees to encourage them to vote in an election?
3. What can contractors do to encourage participation in union elections?

C. During 2008 –2009… At the end of the June 2009 election, suggest that the newly elected officers of 602 go to dinner with the 2009 Board of Directors and invite Local 5 officers to attend.


By the way, your officers were never invited to sit down and break bread. Maybe the MCA didn’t get what they wanted in 2009. However, to their credit, they have kept on target and now have the CAUSE to achieve their desired AFFECT. Maybe they will get what they want in 2011 and 2012. What would be more pleasing for their side than to have a new set of officers elected to pull together our case for arbitration? Green, unseasoned, how good of an arbitration case could they make?

Mark my words. There is little incentive for the contractors to reach an agreement with our Local Union prior to June 1st. When have they ever done that in the past?

Brothers and Sisters if you accept the proposed contract you will likely surrender your right to ratify a contract in year two and year three. Further you will politicize our negotiations beyond anything we ever found acceptable in the past. And further you could assist in presenting the weakest arguments in front of the arbitrators.

This is a train wreck in the making and you have your hand on the switch-gear. I suggest that you might want to put this proposal on a sidetrack.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On the Question of Agitation

My recent blog and Facebook posts have been applauded by some and called into question by others. I am embarrassed by both sentiments because they are based on the wish that my views should agree with those of the reader.

My goal over the past several months has been to cause those that would read my posts to consider a subject of controversy, our stalled negotiations, in a critical manner. I hoped to provoke further debate and cause a change in course through dissent and political agitation.

I have stated from the first offer of a 10% paycut to the last offer that the contractors’ proposals were ridiculous. By the use of the word I signaled that their offers were to be the subject of ridicule. I employed words, essays, songs, and political cartoons to make that point over and over again. I am satisfied with my endeavor.

For those that believe that I or any member that posted should have been more restrained I would suggest that you review your American history. Quiet diplomacy rarely has succeeded in causing change in our country.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
Frederick Douglass (Abolitionist, Lecturer, Author and Slave 1817-1895)

To the contrary, our political and social progress has always been propelled by political essays, editorials, cartoons, satire, song and direct action. Our freedom was not secured, our slaves were not freed, and a myriad of social causes were not achieved through polite political discourse.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.” Frederick Douglass (American Abolitionist, Lecturer, Author and Slave 1817-1895)

Both sides moved forward tonight. A tentative agreement was reached and a strike was averted. The members of the Union must still ratify the terms of the agreement. There is still much to be debated.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On The Question of Retroactive Pay

We have worked for nearly 10 weeks at last year’s wages. A just and fair settlement has to take retroactive pay under consideration. As this point is debated we need to make clear to our members that negotiations have been interrupted twice for weeks at a time at the request of the MCA. On one of those occasions, the request was made so one of the negotiators could go to Hawaii for several weeks to check on his properties.

We have members that are barely able to maintain rent payments or make their mortgage payments on the only home that they may ever own. I personally will have a difficult time asking any member of Local 602 to ratify a final agreement that does not include retroactive pay.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A LESSON IN THE MAKING

In an earlier post I thanked the individual members of the MCA negotiating team for radicalizing the current generation of Steamfitters. They have one more opportunity to change their course but I fear that they won’t. They seem hell bent on making the same mistake that the MCA did when I was a much younger man.

We have not had a strike since 1975. Thirty-five years is a long time. Those of us that were directly affected by the strike vowed to never forget the strike and the impact that it had on our lives. We have not. We are now in the process of teaching our younger members what we learned back then.

I sympathize with the members who are confused and frightened about the prospect of a looming strike. Many of them have not experienced hard times by any traditional measure of the term. Some have never been out of work since they joined the Union.

Pay raises have come to be expected as a natural consequence of just showing up day in and day out. The Union took care of the rest year by year. That is exactly what we thought back in 1975.

Let the first lesson learned in this conflict be that there are no guarantees in life inside or outside of the Union. We are all challenged spiritually and financially when unforeseen complications enter our life. We should always be prepared for the future, but few ever are. We did not expect the 1975 strike. We were caught off guard when negotiations took the wierd turn that it did this year.

I was a first year apprentice working for Carrier in 1975. My salary was better than what I had been paid as a public school teacher but I was still living pay check by pay check. I had no savings. I was unprepared to pay a portion of my salary into a strike fund. That was no one’s fault by my own. I was raised better than that.

My father was a Local 602 Steamfitter. He and my mom raised seven kids. My parents didn’t have credit cards. In fact there was no credit of any kind for construction workers. They had to pay cash for food, clothing, and shelter. The closest thing to credit was “lay away”. You could buy something by placing a down payment and making monthly payments. You got to take home what you had purchased only after making all of the payments.

They taught us all well but we soon forgot the lesson. The one-dollar an hour payment into the strike fund taxed me. It was probably 20% of my salary as a first year apprentice. But I survived and so can you.

No matter what transpires this week let’s go forward with a commitment from this encounter with reality. There are no guarantees in life. We need a strike fund inside of our Union. We need another personal strike or emergency fund outside of our Union.

FROM OUR NEGOTIATING TEAM

October 8, 2010

RE: Update on Negotiations

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Now that a strike is becoming more and more likely, I wanted to share with you how we got to this point and what it will take to avoid a strike.

The employers opened up negotiations four months ago with proposals to cut wages by more than $5.50 an hour and freezing wages at that level for three years. There has been much jockeying back and forth and posturing by the MCA but the employers were steadfast on two points. They wanted a three or four year contract. They also refused to budge from a package of $1.50 over two years. Initially, they offered $.55for year one followed by a $.95 cent increase. Later, they flipped those numbers to offer $.95 for year one and $.55 for year two. The MCA has never made a specific offer for the third year of the contract.

The employers have justified their position by pointing to the distressed economy and their fear for the future. The Local has countered by saying that the Washington Metropolitan Area has fared better than any other construction market. We also pointed out that the Steamfitters have weathered the economic down turn better than any other craft in the area. The hours for Local 602 have been essentially flat and unemployment has been relatively low. By comparison, other crafts have experienced unemployment levels as high as thirty per cent. Local 602’s success and the success of ur contractors is no accident. Local 602 has become the premier service local in the country, and Local 602 contractors have successfully maintained their hold in the construction sector. The industry has benefited by a superb training program, which is expanding into Virginia. Local 602 has also aggressively engaged in organizing, signing new contractors, marketing the industry and recruiting new members. As a consequence, Local 602 has been one of the fastest growing locals in the country. To be fair, this success has not been ours alone. We have benefited by contractors willing to rise to the challenge and grow the market. Our membership and signatory contractors have prospered together.

The contractors are mired in negativity. They also appeared to be anchored in the past in their determination to tie us in with the Plumbers. They have been fixated in keeping Local 602 to the same 2-year package that they secured from the Plumbers. We are reluctant to criticize the Plumbers in any way. They are our UA brothers and we wish them well. However, it would be wrong to overlook the fact that the Plumbers package for $1.50 over 2 years was not the result of robust bargaining. Rather, from all reports, the Plumbers got exactly what they asked for. The Steamfitters are situated differently and we deserve to be treated differently. It is no secret that the Plumbers had unemployment spike to as high as 30% over the past year. It is also common knowledge, as admitted by the MCA negotiators, that for various reasons the profit margins on plumbing jobs are razor slim. But we are not Plumbers. Far from it. The fixation by the MCA to join us at the hip with the Plumbers is folly and represents a fundamental obstacle to a new agreement.

The Pipefitters in other cities with straight line Locals separate fitter and plumbing locals in a locality) have been awarded higher wages. This is not the result of jealousy or one upmanship. Rather, this reflects the inescapable reality that fitters generate more income and their contractors have a greater market share than their Plumber counterparts.

Local 602 has shown forbearance in the face of the employer’s intransigence. We allowed the contract to expire without a general strike and patiently continued good faith negotiations. We filed election petitions with the NLRB to demonstrate our continued support and won each election overwhelmingly. We instituted one-day spot strikes to try to get the MCA to realize the seriousness of the situation.

We went further. Faced with continual carping from the employers that prior contracts had been turned down by the membership, the Local took the unprecedented step to pre‐ratify a 3 year agreement providing for $1.25 in year one, $1.50 in year 2, and a mechanism whereby the third year increase would be calculated by reference to the increase negotiated by the four Crafts with the highest total economic package in the area. We have presented this pre‐ratified proposal to the MCA to demonstrate that we have a proposal that has been thoroughly debated and then approved by the membership. This pre-ratified proposal was also sent out to all contractors on an individual basis as an interim agreement, inviting all that would sign to do so in order to insulate themselves from any strike that might ensue.

Lest the Local’s continued efforts to secure a contract be confused with weakness, the Local has taken parallel steps to demonstrate its fortitude and willingness to engage in a General strike if the employers respond to bargaining efforts. These steps have included:

1. Obtaining authorization for the membership to engage in a strike.

2. The cancellation of the Cause Agreement, which contained a no, strike clause.

3. The transfer of $500,000.00 from the general fund to a strike fund.

4. The passage of an assessment to commence October 13, 2010 of $2.00 for every straight time hour worked and $4.00 an hour for every overtime hour worked so that those who continue to work for employers who are not struck because they are subject to a PLA, or a UA National Agreement, an Interim Agreement or that are not struck because of a strategic judgment of the Local will contribute to the effort. This will allow the Local to replenish the strike fund and share the burden of a strike.

Where do we go from here and how can a strike be avoided? The answer lies with the MCA. They can accept our pre‐ratified offer, which is the quickest, surest and best avenue to secure labor peace. Or, in the alternative they can make a serious counter‐offer that beaks the unwise pattern bargaining approach adopted by the MCA and offers an agreement that is fair to both sides and capable of ratification. We have reached a critical juncture, a defining moment. We have agreed to meet with the MCA on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 and will be prepared to negotiate as long as it takes, all day and into the night, to reach an acceptable agreement. If such an agreement is reached, a strike will not be called pending further ratification if necessary.

One more thing. Expect dirty tricks, intimidation, threats and every ploy imaginable by the contractors to try to break your resolve. They cannot help themselves. We are fighting the good fight. I know that the membership will stand united, will not flinch and will prevail.

Fraternally,

Joseph C. Savia, Sr. Business Manager/Financial Secretary/Treasurer
Daniel W. Loveless Assistant Business Manager
William Durkin Organizer/Business Representative
Kevin Sullivan Business Agent