Labor Notes #389, August 2011

By defeating only two of the six Republican state senators up for recall, Democrats fell one vote shy of a majority in the Senate. Out-of-state money spent on radio and TV ads made the elections some of the most expensive ever.

Jokes about the U.S. becoming “Europe’s Mexico” are commonplace, but now high-priced consultants are pushing the notion in all seriousness. As Chinese wages rise and U.S. wages fall, manufacturing costs in the two countries are converging fast.

The emergency manager of the troubled Detroit school district is using his near-dictatorial powers to cancel contracts, imposing a 10 percent wage cut on 10,000 employees and upping their health care costs.

How did New York City plan to prevent time theft by city workers? By hiring contractors who would, it turns out, steal $600 million. One of their crimes, prosecutors allege, was to file bogus timesheets.

When Connecticut state employees voted down concessions in June, they touched off a firestorm. Lawmakers painted the vote as selfish union members holding tight to outsized benefits. The truth, of course, is more complicated.

A seemingly minor issue sparked a mass grievance by workers at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development more than 10 years ago, in one state building in downtown Madison. The issue was resolved in months, but the cross-union stewards committee that formed out of that fight proved to have lasting value.

Union organizers are welcoming rule changes proposed by the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board. But after spending 40 years in the labor movement, I know these changes will not substantially improve the chances of workers trying to organize through the NLRB process.

For nine years the Government Employees union campaigned for airport screeners’ loyalty by representing them on the job, unsure whether it would ever be able to offer them official representation. AFGE’s strategy—walk like a union, talk like a union—paid off June 21.

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