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."



Saturday, August 28, 2010

In Support of a Strike Fund

Surely we can pledge to avoid strikes but I will never recommend that we give up our right to call a strike. In the same regard, I stand against any suggestion of arbitration to end our current impasse. To do so would reward the contractors for their outrageous proposals and their subsequent foot dragging.

Some would have you believe that strikes are archaic, an ancient practice of Unions that is outdated. Perhaps general strikes, where everyone walks off the job, are but a whisper from our past, but targeted, strategic strike actions are the new arrows in Labor Unions’ quiver. Rest assured we will take certain aim and use them wisely.

We did not win our War of Independence by marching in rank and file against the British following classical tactics and rules of war. In fact, we lost every battle when that was our strategy. We beat the Brits with unorthodox methods employed by rebel leaders that honed their military skills on the frontier. Ambush, hit and then run, employ snipers, take out the scouts, guides and then officers in that order, conserve resources, execute a planned retreat, and regroup to fight another day…this is how we won before and it is how we will win once again.

We can not call a general strike because we are bound by national contracts. We can not let food spoil. We can not let health facilities fail. We are committed to support our national defense facilities. The list of exceptions is longer but none of this means that we are powerless in an exercise of a selective strike. We can, as the Patriots did, employ hit and run tactics, conserve resources, execute a planned retreat, and regroup to fight another day. But keep in mind, all of this will require discipline and Solidarity.

Our Local Union stands to be divided because of national contracts and all of the exceptions every time we face a breakdown in negotiations. If we plan a strike action, some would continue to work 40 hours and limit their overtime. Some would be asked to walk the picket lines. Some would continue to support the Pension, Medical, and Apprentice Funds while those that are idle would not. Some would receive a regular paycheck and some would face uncertainty.

The contractors know all of this and are planning their strategy accordingly. We must adjust our strategy and plan accordingly. They want to involve us in their chess game. I’m sorry but I think it wise that we respectfully reject their invite. We are going to continue to play checkers.

How can the membership, in the spirit of Solidarity, fairly and equally share in the burdens placed upon the Union during a strike? One of the simple answers is that we can establish and maintain a Strike Fund, as an ongoing account, held within our General Fund.

There were preliminary discussions at this week’s Executive Board meeting and at the meeting of the Officers of the Local Union on establishing a Local Union Strike Fund. I expect a resolution vote to be offered to the members in attendance at Monday’s Special Called Meeting of the Local Union to affirm a call for a Strike Fund. If affirmed, I will call for a Special Order of Business to be considered at our Regular Meeting of the Local Union on September 7th to help formalize this fund.

Keep this in mind when you vote, no matter which side of the national contractor divide you are now on. Where do you think that you will be a year from now, one contract from now, ten years from now, multiple contracts from now? Life offers very few guarantees except that there will be change. I’ve been on both sides of the divide through the years and I expect that you may find yourselves trading sides at times during your career.

Keep the faith. Keep your powder dry. Maintain discipline and act when called to do so. As long as we act in Solidarity we will remain a Union that is so much stronger than anyone of us. The lyrics of the Union hymn are old but well worth repeating…

“The boss don't listen when one guy squawks, but he's gotta listen when the Union talks.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

VOTING ON OUR CONTRACT

Our Local Union Bylaws, the U.A. Constitution, and National Labor Law govern all of our official actions. In regards to our current situation, we need to be aware that any proposed contract must be ratified by the membership before it can signed by our representatives. The pertinent language can be found on page 7 of the Local Union Bylaws under Article III, Section 3, Paragraph (c)(3):

"The Conciliation Committee will only be able to sign an agreement between Local 602 and the Mechanical Contractor Association after they receive a majority vote from the body of the Local at a special called meeting. And prior to the special called meeting, the membership will have received a copy of any changes in the final agreement in time to read it before they vote on it."

Given the fluid nature of negotiations, I will continue to interpret that the last sentence allows for a printed copy of all changes proposed in our contract to be made available to every member in attendance at the time and place of our special called meeting. It is my opinion that any variance from this Bylaw and principle is open to challenge at the special called meeting, subject to charges, and subject to suit in court.

The next question that often comes up is who is entitled to vote on the proposed contract. The U.A. Constitution limits both debate and vote on any motion to journeyman and retired members. The U.A. Constitution (Sec. 148 b) limits the participation of apprentices in the following manner:

“…they will be entitled to attend meetings of such Local Unions but without voice or vote except where this is necessary to comply with federal, state and/or provincial laws.”

A question is often asked about whether a member who has a financial stake in one of our contractors’ businesses is entitled to vote. I can not find anything in our Bylaws or in the U.A. Constitution to prevent them from voting on a contract. However, I believe that they should think twice before they do so. I believe that the U.A. Constitution and National Labor Law restricts “owners” and “employers” from voting in a Union election. I would think it wise that they consult their attorneys about the legal impact of their voting on our contract.

The last question that must be addressed is whether a retiree is entitled to vote on a contract. The U.A. Constitution addresses the right of “members” of a Local Union. There is no distinction between active and retired members.

I would further add, God bless the retiree who would want to stay active and involved in the Local Union. They have paid their dues. They have put in their hours to build up our wages and benefits to where they are today. They probably also struck for wages that go into our paycheck each and every week. I know that my father did.

It is in my father’s spirit that I carry on, along with my brother Kevin, the business of this Local Union. I know that he would be incensed about the contractors’ call for cutting our wages and benefits. I remain confident that, if he were alive today, he would stand in Solidarity with his two sons. Yes, he would counsel us to be patient, to act rationally and with a purpose. No, he would not let us take a step backwards. I would welcome his wisdom and support his vote.

Friday, August 13, 2010

JUST A QUESTION AND A FEW COMMENTS

Since I have not changed the header on this Blog since I designed it over a year ago, what part of “AN UNOFFICIAL DISCUSSION OF MATTERS CONCERNING THE MEMBERS OF LOCAL 602” was or is confusing to any officer or member of Local 602 or for that matter, any member of the general society? I purposely chose to avoid any confusion in the design. I did not use the logo of either the Local Union or the International. I have never stated that my comments were in any way an official representation of Local 602’s view. And of course, this free blog has never impacted on the resources of the Local Union.

With that said, it is my understanding that a discussion of this Blog was part of the contract deliberation this week. I find this very disheartening. I would rather have heard that the contractor representatives would have involved themselves in serious and fruitful negotiations.

We are still stuck at a wage proposal by the contractors that would not cover the projected needs of our Pension, Medical, and Apprentice Training Funds. They are still insisting that we either cut our take home pay or take money out of our Annuity Fund. I will take the liberty to explain that our Business Manager has said publicly that we will not go backwards.

The members have rejected the wage proposal. They have authorized the Business Manager to call a strike. In a straw vote they have signaled their desire for a one year agreement with an offer of between two and three dollars an hour and have rejected a consideration of arbitration.

It is time to stop this silly dance and get back to negotiating a fair contract. That is and remains a JUST CAUSE.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A JUST CAUSE

The question of the economic costs involved with any labor strike is a legitimate concern that must be fairly weighed. If the measure is only in the short term, the results are certain. No one, not the worker or the employer will benefit.

Few modern day strikes are called for just monetary matters; for it would be unprincipled to do so. Our current situation calls for a greater understanding. Yes, we have reached this troubled position with a wage impasse in the forefront of the discussion but our concern runs much deeper than a few pennies here and a few pennies there.

The MCA negotiators, without providing economic proof of their position, proposed slashing our current wage and benefit package by $5.50/hour. Their modified proposal was just as ridiculous. They wanted us to work for the next 5 years with cuts and slight additions that would essentially equal a 0% increase in our wage and benefit package. Their final offer of an average increase of less than 1.5% per year is ludicrous and was rejected by our membership because it would not even cover the expected rise in the cost of our Funds.

It should be clearly understood that the contractors know our future financial obligations to the Pension, Medical, and Apprentice Funds. They also know that these obligations are not ours alone. They have a serious financial stake in the fiscal soundness of our Pension Fund and have committed to share in the cost of our Apprentice and Journeyman Training Programs. They also know that our Medical Fund will be directly impacted by the Federal Health Care Reforms.

Yes, the national economy continues to waver but our area remains more robust than just about any locality in the country. Yes, some of our members have worked fewer overtime hours. Yes, some of our shops avoided layoffs by working reduced hours in 2009. Yes, we have witnessed a rise in unemployment but our less than 5% rate is far below the national average.

I understand the impact of unemployment. I was laid off for several months in 2009. It was an especially difficult year for many Union households. However, it should be understood that our total man-hours have remained at or above the 2007 numbers.

Even though we have suffered through difficult times our Union has made the ongoing commitment to provide our contractors with the best-trained workforce in the nation. Our membership has continued to rise through organizing and through the Apprentice program throughout the lean years and times of plenty. It is a tribute to our organizers, officers, apprentice coordinators, and teachers that we have done so in the past and remain committed to do so in the future. We have grown by hundreds since 2007 and we have potentially added another 150 men and women with our incoming apprentice class. We expect to do so, or more, well into the future. Organizing and modern training has been the secret of our success throughout our history in the United Association.

The MCA has continually urged us to expand our Apprentice and Journeyman Training Programs. Prior to our last contract, we built a modern welding shop in Landover. Since then, they asked us to expand our training facilities into Virginia and we have done so. During this last contract we renovated and purchased a school site in Northern Virginia. The contractors have contributed approximately 5% to cover the cost of this last expansion but the lion share of all apprentice and journeyman training continues to come out of our pockets, not theirs. We now spend millions to guarantee their success and we expect that they would appreciate our ongoing commitment.

The MCA negotiators have suggested that we could pull money out of our contributions to the Annuity Fund to meet our future obligations to the Pension, Medical, Apprentice and Journeyman Training Funds. We have categorically rejected this proposal. We will continue to do so no matter where this leads. We will not borrow against our individual members’ current and future savings to give ourselves a raise.

Let me conclude this article with a lesson learned from my Steamfitter father. Any man that would take money out of your pocket would just as soon take food out all of our children’s mouths, take clothes of their backs, and deny them shelter, medicine, and a decent education. Once that is done, they will then make you a burden to your family. I believe that this sums up our position.

The Strike of 2010, if there is one, will have little to do about any one of our own personal situations. It will, however, have everything to do about our collective responsibilities to our larger Union family. An injury to one is an injury to all. We will remain united and in support of one another. We are a Union and we are in Solidarity to a just CAUSE.

Monday, August 2, 2010

CAUSE

The only mention that I find of CAUSE in our contract is on page 2 of the Communication & Productivity Trust Fund document, which explains that, the C & P Fund supports the cost of CAUSE. Every working member is TAXED four cents an hour to support the C & P Fund, which, in turn, funds CAUSE. That adds up to over a quarter million dollars a year. That's some pretty expensive rope that we've purchased and then chosen to tie ourselves up with.

Now, let’s read on further. It says that the funding of CAUSE continues for as long as “that Program remains in being”. Hmmm! I wonder how long is that? Oh, wow, look at this on page 7, of the C & P Fund tab…“This (C & P) Trust may be terminated when there is no longer in force a collective bargaining agreement requiring payments into the Fund”.

With great sadness I must announce the first casualty of the Battle of 2010. CAUSE’s sugar daddy stepped on a landmine at midnight, July 31, 2010. It is rumored that when the dust settled the Rebels yelled out their battle cry…

NO TAXATION WITHOUT PROPER NEGOTIATIONS!

An autopsy will be performed when an armistice is declared. A top to bottom financial audit should be part of the examination. We need to know how, when and where our three quarters of a million dollars TAX (collected since 2007) was used. Perhaps it would have been better spent, as Brother J. D. suggested, to stock our armory, by establishing a STRIKE FUND.