Friday, December 19, 2008

Labor Beat Videos of Republic Windows Occupation






Read more...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Republic windows workers win entitlements – Establish foundation to fund reopening the plant

Chris Latham

Late Wednesday evening, workers at Republic Windows unanimously voted to accept an agreement that had been negotiated between the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and representatives of Republic Windows, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. JPMorgan Chase had entered negotiations on Wednesday morning, offering to make $400, 000 available to help fund the payment of Republic Windows’ obligations to the occupying workers. Chase Capital Corp, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, had leant $12 million in early 2007 to help keek Republic Windows continue to operate.


The final settlement, valued at $1.75 million will provide workers with:

  • eight weeks of pay they are owed under the federal WARN Act;
  • two months of continued health coverage, and;
  • pay for all accrued and unused vacation.

BoA will fund $1.35 million with JPMorgan Chase funding the remaining $400, 000. According to UE, while the money will be loaned to Republic Windows, it will go directly into a third party fund whose sole purpose is paying workers what is owed to them.

Following the march, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley addressed the workers, describing the outcome of the occupation as “a win for all working men and women who face uncertainty, unfairness and job loss in a troubled economy.”

Kingsley also announced the formation of a new “Window of Opportunity Foundation”, which will be dedicated to reopening the plant. The foundation is to be initiated with seed money provided from UE national union funds and from donations which had been made to the UE Local 1110 solidarity fund. The fund will continue to be open to receive donations from supports of the Republic Windows Workers.



Read more...

Rio Tinto announces it will sack 14 000 workers globally

Lisbeth Latham

Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies announced on December 10 that it would shed 14, 000 jobs from its global workforce as part of an effort to reduce its $38.9 billion debt by $10 Billion by the end of 2009. This move reflects the impact of the global economic downturn on the mining industry, which faces not only declining demand but also falling commodity prices. As a consequence miners who in the last year have looked to expand their production capacity are now lowering output.


Under the plan 5,500 of Rio Tinto's of 97, 000 core workers will be sacked along 8, 500 of the comapny's 15, 000 contractors. Rio’s projected future savings also includes a rapid acceleration in the outsourcing and off-shoring of the company’s IT and procurement during 2009 it likely that there will be more shifts in the structure of its workforce. Rio Tinto expects to make an annual saving from the current round of job cuts of $1.2 billion annually. Their total payout to redundant workers is estimated at $400 million.



In addition to the job cuts Rio Tinto is other cost cutting mechanisms. These include:

  • Reductions in operating costs by $1.3 billion per annum in addition to the savings made from shedding job;
  • A reduction its capital expenditure in 2009 from $9 billion to $4 billion resulting in the company cancelling or delaying projects;
  • Holding the dividend payment at the 2007 level of 136 US cents and stopping the 20% increase in 2008 or 2009;
  • Selling off some of the companies assets

A significant factor in the difficulties facing has been the rapid decline in the Chinese economy. Australian Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens on December 9 said “China’s economy has slowed much more quickly than anyone had forecast. Our own estimates suggest that Chinese industrial production probably declined over the four months to October”. While Stevens, acknowledged that some of the weakness could be attributable to the Olympics, “more than that seems to have been occurring. I am not sure that many economic forecasters have fully appreciated this yet. There is every chance that the rate of growth of China’s GDP is currently noticeably below the 8 per cent pace that is embodied in various forecasts for 2009”.

During November, China’s imports and exports had fallen from the previous months figures 17.9 and 2.2 percent respectively, compared with analysts estimates of growth of 12 and 15 percent. In October, China’s imports had grown 15.6% while exports had grown 19.2% over the previous 12 months.

On December 10, The Times reported that Rio Tinto’s senior management is predicting that the Chinese government will be able to stimulate its economy sufficiently next year to allow the demand for raw materials to rebound in the second half of last year. Stevens, also argued that as a consequence of the Chinese government, who had been previously attempting to cool the Chinese economy, have begun to implement expansionary policies, “so there is a good chance that China’s economy will be looking stronger in a year’s time than it does today”. Whether any improvement in the Chinese will sufficiently boost the commodities market to boost Rio Tinto’s financial situation remains to be seen.

Not all of Rio Tinto’s problems are a consequence of the global economic downturn. While all mining companies will be looking to reduce production which may include not just reducing the output at individual mines, but the closure and mothballing of entire mines – particularly those with poor grade quality, which were only viable while commodity prices were at their highest. However a substantial component of Rio Tinto’s debts are the consequence of its attempts to re-position itself within the commodities market through its acquisition in late 2007 of Canadian Aluminum producer ALCAN for $38 billion while the market was at its highest. It is the ensuring high debt levels, some of which are due for repayment by late 2009, that have forced the current round of job shedding.

It is unclear how these job losses will be spread across the company’s global work force, ABC News reported on December 11, that the specifics of the cuts are expected in the New Year. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which covers workers at Rio Tinto's hugely profitable Coal and Iron Ore mines, has indicated that it will fight job losses in Australia. CFMEU Mining Division President Tony Maher, telling the Sydney Morning Herald, "There's no justification of cutting back the workforce, it shows the folly of taking on tens of billions of debt”.




Read more...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Occupying Workers Win Support

Lisbeth Latham

The ongoing occupation of Republic Windows and Doors, which began Friday morning, has caught the attention of people around the globe. The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America’s (UE) website reported that by Monday Google News had nearly 1500 story mentions and a facebook solidarity group had grown from 800 members at noon on Sunday to 2, 400 by midnight. Both these figures have expanded significantly, there are now 3, 984 stories on Google News, and the Facebook group is up to 7,717. The occupation has become a rallying point for labor activists with officials and rank-and-file members from a range of unions visiting the workers.


The occupation has also attracted support of an increasing number of politicians. On Sunday, “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right”, Obama said “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

Then on Monday the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich ordered state agenicies to stop doing business with Bank of America. The same day 15 alderman of the City of Chicago announced that they would be pushing for the city to do the same. The workers have also been visited by Democract member of Congress Luis Gutierrez Illinois, who has sort to broker meetings between the workers, Republic Windows and BoA.


The support and interests of labour and social movement activists is easily understood, as is the support demonstrated politicians and the generally very positive coverage in the media. As UE points out on its solidarity page “working people, caught in the turmoil of the current economic crisis have found new hope in the actions of these UE members. And, that's not gone unnoticed”.
The media coverage has treated the occupation as an oddity. However once the coverage began it tapped a significant amount of anger in working class communities, communities that had opposed the bail out when it was first proposed, and now the US’s second largest bank, received $25 billion in as part of that bail out was now forcing the closure of a company and putting people out of work (although it may not be quite that simple, as Lee Suster reported in Socialist Worker, Republic Windows’ management appears to have intended to reopen the factory with non-union labour in Iowa).



While some of the support from Democratic Party Politicians may be genuine, its clear that they also want this dispute to go away. The longer the dispute continues the more support and publicity it will generate. Increasing the possibility that more of the thousands of US workers, who themselves are facing the redundancy, might consider occupying their own workplace to be a good idea. The increasing pressure on both BoA and Republic is to get them to settle and give the workers their entitlements. Such a strategy has its own dangers of course. A victory for the workers at Republic Windows could set the example that by fighting they can win.


Read more...

No Final Agreement Reached; Bargaining Continues Wednesday

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
No final agreement was reached in bargaining on Tuesday involving UE Local 1110 members who have occupied their workplace, the Republic Windows plant, since Friday. Another negotiating session has been set for Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. (CST).


A statement issued late Tuesday night by the UE negotiating committee said, "Negotiations will resume tomorrow as the parties continue to work towards an agreement. Progress was made, and the bank and the Union are bargaining in good faith."

The statement adds, "There are still important details to be worked out before the parties can reach an agreement."

The statement also noted that, in the case of a tentative agreement, UE Local 1110 members will meet, discuss and vote before details can be released.

The announcement was made at about 11:00 p.m. following the session which had begin ten hours earlier.

Representing the union during the meeting were UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles, Vice President Melvin Maclin, Steward Vicente Rangel, UE Western Region President Carl Rosen and UE International Representative Mark Meinster.

Wednesday's Chicago rally will be held as scheduled.

Read more...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A rallying point for labor

Lee Sustar reports from Chicago on how the struggle at Republic Windows & Doors took shape.
December 8, 2008
Socialist Worker
A FACTORY occupation in Chicago that began as a show of defiance by 250 workers has been transformed into a focus of national and international labor solidarity.

Grassroots activists, rank-and-file union members, labor leaders, members of Congress and Rev. Jesse Jackson have all come to Republic Windows & Doors factory just north and west of the city's downtown to show their support for the overwhelmingly Latino workforce.


In a matter of a few days, news of this fight has spread far and wide--even gaining the attention of President-elect Barack Obama, who declared that the workers' struggle was just.

The occupation of the Republic factory began December 5 when workers on the afternoon shift voted to stay in the plant rather than accept a shutdown on just three days' notice--and without the vacation pay or severance money mandated under federal and state law.

The workers, members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, were prepared to be arrested to make a statement about the Republic owners' violation of the law--and about the refusal of the company's main creditor, Bank of America (BoA), either to extend credit to the company to keep it operating or to make good on management's obligations to workers.

As a result, workers said, the decision to occupy was an easy one--whatever the consequences. Suddenly, an American factory occupation--something usually relegated to dusty labor history books about the 1930s and nostalgic speeches at union conventions--was a reality.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
IF PUBLIC'S owners considered calling the cops to evict the workers, they perhaps thought the better of it given their own obvious violation of the law.

Within a few hours, said UE International Representative Mark Meinster, the company reached an "understanding" with the union: Workers would keep the plant clean and safe, and a handful of company security guards would stay away from the cafeteria where the workers have set themselves up.

Workers have another very practical reason for guarding the plant--to make sure that management would no longer be able to move out critical equipment. In recent weeks, important and expensive gear had disappeared--including brand new presses that showed up on the loading dock one day, but were never installed.

"They said we were cross-docking," said Local 1110 Vice President Melvin Maclin, referring to the practice of taking delivery of items and shipping it out the same day. "In more than 20 years, they've never cross-docked." Maclin and other workers suspect that the owners are either selling off equipment or preparing to restart production in a separate, nonunion company--a practice perfected in the trucking industry in the late 1980s and adopted by other employers since.

Republic workers were determined it would not happen this time--not without a fight.

Hours into the occupation on Friday evening, local labor and immigrant rights activists began turning up at the plant's entrance with bags of takeout fried chicken, coffee and soda. Others who rushed over without stopping for food dug into their wallets instead, handing cash to union organizers to get more supplies. Meanwhile, more than a half-dozen TV news vans crowded the street outside as reporters prepared to do live broadcasts.

E-mail alerts, text messages and reports from the mainstream and independent media circulated around Chicago to promote a vigil to be held at Noon the next day. At the appointed hour, there were more than 300 union members and supporters on hand, as prayers gave way to an exuberant solidarity rally and fundraiser.

Rev. C.J. Hawking of the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice committee led prayers--and revved up the crowd with her fiery pro-worker message. Several Republic workers spoke, explaining to the crowd why they decided to draw the line.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who had tried to broker a meeting between Republic management, BoA and the union--the owners didn't show--was the featured speaker.

"Somebody said to me, 'Those windows don't belong to them. What do you mean they're staying with them?'" Gutierrez told the crowd. "It seems to me that it was [the workers'] labor that put together those windows. It was their creativity, it was their work, their commitment to quality that made this company successful...Those windows belong to the workers until they are paid for."

Veterans of other labor struggles spoke--such as Rich Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743, who took office earlier this year after a long fight for democracy in a union notorious for corruption. Other speakers included James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, and Jesse Sharkey, a delegate in the Chicago Teachers Union and member of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), a union reform group. UE Western Region President Carl Rosen closed out the rally.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BY THAT afternoon, the Republic occupation was international news. The mainstream media, usually clueless where labor issues are concerned, got the essentials across: BoA has $25 billion of taxpayer money but it wants to cut off credit to a viable company and toss more than 250 workers on the streets.

Sunday morning saw Jesse Jackson bring 200 turkeys to workers as UE staff set up a food distribution system. "These workers deserve their wages, deserve fair notice, deserve health security," Jackson said at a press conference. "This may be the beginning of [a] long struggle of worker resistance, finally." U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky also arrived to tour the plant and pledge her support.

Barack Obama felt compelled to address the Republic struggle at his own press conference. "The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned," Obama said. "I think they're absolutely right, and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."

While the political figures have dominated the media's attention, the crowded foyer of the plant has become a rolling solidarity meeting involving union members, social movement activists and students.

On Sunday, a young Chicago bus driver and union activist was there to show support--and make activists aware of the Chicago Transit Authority's attempts to eliminate mechanics' jobs.
Rich De Vries, business agent for Teamsters Local 705, visited the plant, as did Gerald Colby, president of the National Writers Union, who came as part of a delegation from the U.S. Labor Against the War national leadership meeting, held just outside Chicago over the weekend. "This struggle shows that working people are not going to be pushed around--that they are going to stand up for their rights--and that they have rights at the point of production," Colby said.
James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice made a similar point. "This is the end of an era in which corporate greed is the rule," he said. "This is the start of something new."

Read more...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Barak Obama Sides with UE Members in Chicago

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, 7 December

President-elect Barak Obama has placed himself on the side of UE members occupying their workplace in Chicago, according to a report published by the Chicago Sun-Times on its website, Sunday.

The Sun-Times quotes Obama as saying, “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right ... what's happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy." (View the full story at Sun-Times website).


Schakowsky: 'Require Banks to Use Taxpayers' Money to Benefit Workers'
Meanwhile, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was at the plant Sunday afternoon to show her support for the UE Local 1110 members' demands that the company and its chief creditor, Bank of America, meet their obligations to company's 300 workers.

In a press release issued earlier in the day, Schakowsky indicated she supports the efforts of Congressman Luis Gutierrez to negotiate a suitable agreement.

Schakowsky added that she will work with him and other members of the delegation to get the Treasury Department to require that banks such as Bank of America that have received taxpayer financing use these funds to benefit America's workers.

Jackson: Food, Support and Encouragement
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was also at the plant this morning, delivering food to the workers. He addressed the UE members and their supportes offering his support and encouragement.

Members of UE Local 1110 who work at Republic Windows and Doors have been occupying the plant since Friday evening. All 260 members of the local were laid off Friday in a sudden plant closing, brought on by a decision made by Bank of America to cut off operating credit to the company. The bank reportedly even refused to authorize the release of money Republic needed to pay workers their earned vacation pay, and compensation they are owed under the federal WARN Act because they were not given the legally-required notice that the plant was about to close.

'Safeguarding Assets' — and Perhaps Their Future
"The bank has the money in this situation," said UE International Representative Mark Meinster, "and we are demanding that Bank of American release the money owed to workers who have earned it and are entitled to it"

"We're occupying the plant to guard its assets and keep everything safe," said Meinster. The workers have vowed to stay inside at least until they are paid — and to push for possibility of keeping the plant open.

Bank of America, the country's second largest bank, has received $25 billion in taxpayer money as part of the $700 billion government bailout of the financial industry. The public was told that this bailout was necessary in order to keep credit flowing and prevent the loss of jobs. Yet the bank, by cutting its line of credit to Republic, forced the closing of a plant where workers were, at least up until Friday, producing energy-efficient doors and windows.

Jobs with Justice Campaign
Jobs with Justice, the national worker rights coalition, is asking people to sign an online letter to Bank of America, demanding that they provide the needed credit to keep Republic Windows and Doors open – or at a minimum, that they pay workers the money they are owed. Please go to this link to support this important struggle.

UE Local 1110 members, along with community supporters, picketed and rallied in front of Bank of America’s main Chicago branch on Wednesday, December 3. They chanted, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!” Local 1110 President Armando Robles told the news media, “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions, and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

Read more...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More video on the United Electrical Workers' occupation of Republic Windows factory

This video is from Associated Press has been getting significant airplay including in the December 7 evening news bulleting of the Australian Special Broadcasting Service.


Read more...

Chicago Workers Occupy Factory

Lisbeth Latham

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago began an occupation of the factory after the Bank of America refused new loans that would have allowed the manufacturer of energy efficient doors and windows to keep operating. The workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, began their occupation at 10 am on Friday December 5, when the factory was scheduled to close with the last shift. According to UE all 260 workers at the factory are participating in the weekend long occupation, demanding that the company pay their full obligation to the workers.




The workers had been told three days prior that the factory would be closing due to Bank of America’s was cutting off operating credit to the company. The decision followed a decline in Republic’s sales from $4 million per month to $2.9 million during November. The Local responded to this decision with a picket outside Bank of America’s main Chicago branch December 3 chanting, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!”

Local 1110’s President Armando Robles told the media “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions, and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

Vincente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110, told Socialist Worker’s Lee Sustar “The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle".

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business--and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Workers’ anger was increased when they learned that Bank of America had instructed Republic’s managers to not pay workers’ their accrued vacation pay or the severance pay that they were entitled to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, as the company had failed to give the workers the legally required 60 days notice of closure. In a statement issued on December 6, the Bank of America has stated that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s obligations to its workers. “Republic the Bank is controlling all expenditure”, UE organiser Leah Fried told the Chicago Tribune but “was not allowing it”.

Fried continued “This is a company that's been around for 48 years. They've been through quite a few ups and downs in the housing market and they probably could have gotten through this, but Bank of America decided to cut off the financing despite the bailout they received (from the government) and now these people are out on the street."

Bail Out for Capital While Workers Pay the Price
Bank of America, the second largest bank in the US, received $25 billion as part of the US government’s $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act which bailed out of the finance sector. The public justification of bailout was that it was necessary in order to keep credit flowing and prevent the loss of jobs. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had argued that the package was central to securing the “viability of businesses both small and large, and the very health’ of the US economy. Yet as UE notes in a December 4 statement “the very-well-paid executives at Bank of America have actually cut off credit and forced the closing of Republic where workers were, at least up until Friday, producing energy-efficient doors and windows”.

The workers at Republic are not alone in feeling the brunt of the economic slowdown. According to the US Department of Labor, 533, 000 workers lost their jobs during November. More job losses are likely as a consequence of the crisis in US auto industry. Within this context the occupation has generated considerable support, with union and other social movement activists in Chicago visiting the occupying workers.

The Chicago Tribune on December 6 carried the views of a range of Union Officials.

Richard Berg, President of Teamsters Local 743, said "across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame“. Berg continued “if this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country".

Larry Spivack, Regional Director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 was reported as saying, "the history of workers is built on issues like this here today”.



Republic workers, many of them now facing the loss of their homes, are determined to win the fight.

Blanca Funes, a 13 year veteran at Republic, told the Chicago Tribune “we're going to stay here until we win justice”.

To support the members of Local 1110 in their courageous fight, send checks payable to the UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, to: UE, 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to leahfried@gmail.com. For more information, call the UE Chicago office at 312-829-8300.

For more info visit UE’s website and Jobs with Justice.



Read more...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Struggle for union democracy as SEIU dissidents attacked

Lisbeth Latham

On November 17, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that it would be holding an advisory ballot of members in California to determine the future of the United Healthcare Workers–West (UHW-W), which with 150,000 members is the SEIU’s third largest local.


The leadership of UHW-W, particularly its president Sal Rosselli, has been at the forefront of a campaign within the SEIU against the increasing centralisation of power within the union — a process which it argues will rob rank-and-file members of a say in the contracts that govern their employment.

The announcement of the ballot followed six days of hearings to determine if there was grounds for the SEIU to place the UHW-W in trusteeship, thus allowing the SEIU to replace the UHW-W’s leadership with one loyal to the SEIU’s tops.

The UHW-W and other critics of the SEIU argue that the latter is determined to silence its critics by any means, and is simply seeking to legitimise the removal of the UHW-W leadership.

The UHW-W has responded with ongoing mobilisations by members in defence of union democracy.

The UHW-W’s opposition to the direction of the SEIU emerged from a range of differences over how best to organise workers, moves to break up the UHW-W and changes in the SEIU rules that the UHW-W argue would result in a significant concentration of power in the hands of the SEIU leadership.

In 2007, the UHW-W accused the SEIU leadership, which has intervened into UHW-W-run bargaining, of taking too many concessions in its effort to win agreement from employers to agree to neutrality in union recognition ballots in currently unorganised sites.

This reflects SEIU President Andy Stern’s view that central to successful union organising is to demonstrate that unions can “add value” to an employer.

In his 2006 book, A Country that Works: Getting America Back on Track, Stern argued that a “class-struggle mentality was a vestige of an earlier, rough era of industrial union[ism]”, and that the new labour movement should strive for “a ‘working relationship’ that can add value to the business and help improve performance [that] will result in workers sharing fairly in their employers’ success”.

A central part of the current round of union restructuring has included the transfer of 45,000 of UHW-W’s members working in home-care to Local 6345 (United Long Term Care) in California.

While members will get to vote on this transfer, the decision is to be taken as an aggregate of the
affected members of both locals, rather than of each separately. With Local 6345 having more members in this sector, they have the capacity to over-ride the decision of UHW-W members.

In the newly formed locals the leadership, at least initially, would be appointed by the SEIU international leadership.

In the lead up to the SEIU’s convention, the international leadership proposed a series of changes in SEIU policy under the title of “Justice for All”, which was passed overwhelmingly at the convention. The changes substantially increased the powers of the national union over its locals.

The UHW-W argued that the changes would reduce the input that rank-and-file members could have in collective bargaining, particularly the final wording of contracts, and shift the handling of grievances from local stewards and onto centralised call centres.

In response, the UHW-W issued a “Platform for Change” at the convention, that called for allowing rank and file members to elect representatives to the bargaining committees, and to vote on contract proposals and “any agreement” that affects working conditions.

The proposals also sought to limit forced mergers of locals as well as change elections for international officers by convention delegates to direct election by the membership.

Allegations against UHW-W
On August 25, Stern announced that a trusteeship hearing would be held into the UHW-W. The key allegation has been that the leadership of UHW-W had misappropriated union funds by using US$3 million of the locals fund to create a non-profit Patient Education Fund (PEF), in May 2007 to fund public education campaigns.

The SEIU leadership alleges that the fund was established to assist the UHW-W leadership to resist attempts to put it into trusteeship. On April 24, the UHW-W voted to close down the PEF.
On March 24, Stern had written to all 150,000 UHW-W members about a series of allegations. The letter was widely seen as the beginnings of a move to put the UHW-W into receivership.

On May 1, 101 pro-union writers, authors, and educators signed an open letter to Stern that was published as a half-page ad in the New York Times, expressing “deep concern” over the threat of placing UHW-W into trusteeship.

The letter stated such a move “would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU”. Stern and other local and international leaders of the SEIU have argued that there was no intention to put UHW-W into receivership.

On June 5, SEIU leader Bill Ragen sent an email to other officials that discussed possible options to intervene into the UHW-W. The email raised the possibility of trusteeship, but suggested such a move was problematic — “like Iraq, easy to get in and then a slog” .

The preferred option outlined in the email would be the local’s implosion, via the stripping away of members, luring away of senior staff, legal suits around the PEF and encouraging dissatisfaction among the UHW-W membership.

The charges against the UHW-W’s leadership mirror those in a court case that was brought against the UHW-W by the SEIU on June 20. In the case, the SEIU argued that 10 members of the UHW-W’s executive had, in establishing the PEF, breached their duty to use the union’s funds for the interests of the union and had breached the SEIU’s constitution and bylaws.

The SEIU’s case was subsequently dismissed on July 22 without a formal hearing.

Corruption in the SEIU
In August, a growing corruption scandal erupted surrounding three of Stern’s hand-picked officials within SEIU locals in California and Michigan.

In a series of articles, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Stern-appointed presidents of three SEIU locals, including the president of Local 6345 where 45,000 UHW-W members were to be transferred, and an executive vice-president of the SEIU, are accused of misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars of members money to enrich themselves and their families.

All three have been stood down from their positions.

In response to the scandal, Stern announced on September 3 the creation of an ethics commission and the establishment of an ethics code for the union.

Stern also announced that the board would be asked to examine the actions of the leadership of UHW-W.

The leadership of the UHW-W argued that the pursuit of the local reflects both an attempt to shift attention away from the corruption of SEIU officials close to Stern and to advance his goal of breaking up the UHW-W.

On September 10, Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy, pointed out on his Union Democracy blog that,“unlike Stern’s own appointees, Rosselli has never been charged with trying to enrich himself or friends. The attack on Rosselli derives from his political opposition to Stern.”

A witch-hunt
The launching of the trusteeship process has to be taken in the context of the corruption crisis. The crisis makes it unlikely that the SEIU will be able to successfully transfer members from the UHW-W to local 6345.

The hearing process itself has been constructed to help give further cover to the SEIU.

Throughout the attacks on the local, the UHW-W has sought to mobilise its members to win new agreements and organise workplaces, as well as fight against the trusteeship process.

UHW-W members have mobilised in their thousands across California, including at the trusteeship hearings.

More than 5000 UHW-W members participated in rallies outside of the hearings on September 26 and 27. During the second series of trusteeship hearings held on November 12 and 13, UHW-W held “Keeping it Real” rallies both outside trusteeship hearing in San Jose, as well as outside of SEIU offices in Los Angeles and Oakland.

At the latter protests, they attempted to deliver a petition signed by 80,000 members calling on the SEIU to end the trusteeship hearings and enter into mediation with the UHW-W.

In Sacramento members protested outside the headquarters of Sutter Health, which has been delaying negotiating with UHW-W, to demand the company immediately negotiate with the local.

However, their efforts have been made difficult as companies seek to delay bargaining in the hope that the UHW-W will be put under trusteeship and the company will be able to bargain with a more pliant SIEU-controlled union.

Despite the SEIU’s control of the hearing process, it was unable to prove the allegations of misconduct against the UHW-W. Faced with the UHW-W memberships’ determination to maintain control of their union, the SEIU has established a new voting process that could be used to legitimise action against the local.

The ballot, which will close on December 11, asks all SEIU members in California whether the 65,000 homecare and nursing home workers wish to join a statewide long-term care union with leaders appointed by Stern, or whether the UHW-W should be dissolved and a new statewide healthcare workers union created with leaders appointed by Stern.

The UHW-W have raised a number of concerns with the ballot process.

Firstly, the vote is only advisory, so the SEIU can ignore the result if they wish. Secondly, as it is a ballot of all SEIU members in California, the votes of UHW-W members may be blunted if their vote is swamped by the remainder of SEIU members in the state. Thirdly, UHW-W were only informed of the ballot when it was mailed to members, while other Californian locals were informed prior to its mailing so they could begin campaigning support of the proposals.

As such, the UHW-W has decided to boycott the vote, encouraging members to instead send postcards protesting the ballot.

[For more information on the UHW-W and the campaign against it, visit http://www.seiuvoice.org/.]

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #777

Read more...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Machinists win new contract with Boeing

Lisbeth Latham

Machinists, represented by the Industrial Association of Machinists (IAM), at Boeing plants in the US voted on November 1 to end a 57-day strike and accept a new contract offer.

The strike cost Boeing an estimated US$1.4 billion. Boeing’s offer, accepted by 74% of the IAM’s 27,000 members, provided a number of improvements on the company’s original offer. These include improvements in job security for the next four years; removal of reductions in healthcare provisions for workers and their families; increases in Boeing’s pension contributions; and a 4% improvement in the guaranteed wage increase as well as improved job classifications. Supporters of a “no” vote on the new contract argued that while the new contract was an improvement on the original offer, it was not as good as it could be considering Boeing is experiencing record profits and currently has a backlog $346 billion in sales, equivalent to eight years’ production.

They argued that many of the improvements were included by simply adding a fourth year to the contract. The original guaranteed wage increase was 11% over three years, the new offer is for 15% over four, with the additional increase in the final year of the contract. Pension contributions will be increased by $13 in the final year of the contract, while the improvement in the contribution between the two offers is just $1 in the first three years of the contract.

Opponents of the new contract offer also argued that it failed to address other issues that had been at the centre of the strike, such as reducing the differentials between old and new hires that had been introduced in previous agreements.

Also, workers wanted guarantees in the contract to stop outsourcing for the building of 787s and any future aircraft designs manufactured by Boeing.

Originally posted in Green Left Weekly #774

Read more...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pilbara Train Drivers Escalate Campaign

Chris Latham

Train drivers working in Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore division escalated their campaign for a union collective agreement by holding two consecutive 12-hour stoppages starting at midday on October 22.

The stoppages followed a strike on October 11, the first industrial action Rio Tinto has experienced in the Pilbara for 16 years.


The train drivers are demanding that Rio Tinto negotiate with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) for a union agreement to replace the Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA — individual contracts) that workers are currently employed under.

The CFMEU has been attempting to negotiate with Rio Tinto since July, when it sent the company a draft agreement. The company responded that it will not negotiate with the union and “prefers to directly engage with its employees”.

On October 22, CFMEU mining division national president Tony Maher said: “Rio Tinto’s response is extraordinarily hypocritical. For two decades they’ve said that the secret to the company’s success is its direct relationship with employees, that employees are valued and listened to. Well, these employees have a view and have expressed it, but the company isn’t listening.”

CFMEU mining division WA state secretary Gary Wood said the number of drivers participating in any further industrial action will increase as the AWAs they were forced to sign expire.

“Those employed in the last 16 years haven’t had a choice; signing an AWA was a condition of employment”, Wood explained. “Now, as the contracts expire, they’re voicing their disapproval. The solution is in Rio Tinto’s hands. They just need to sit down and talk with their workforce and their representatives.”

The train drivers have received messages of solidarity from the Australian Workers Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the construction division of the CFMEU. To send a message of solidarity email cfmeuka@tpg.com.au.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #772



Read more...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CFMEU Conducts First Strike on Rio Tinto's Pilbara Operations in 16 Years

Lisbeth Latham

Train drivers employed by Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore operations in transporting iron ore in the Pilbara struck on October 11 and will stage a 24-hour stoppage on October 22 .

The strike action, the first industrial action on a Rio Tinto project in the Pilbara for 16 years, is aimed at winning a union collective agreement between Rio Tinto and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), rather than the non-union agreement that Rio Tinto is pushing to replace the current Australian Workplace Agreement. Currently 39 of 315 train drivers are eligible to strike, however the CFMEU expects more to join in as their AWAs expire. Central to the dispute is Rio Tinto’s plan to implement automated train operations (ATOs).


The CFMEU’s draft agreement put forward in July includes three clauses on ATOs:


  • The establishment of a consultative committee with equal numbers of management and employee representatives to review all aspects of the ATO implementation;
  • No forced redundancies of existing rail employees as a result of ATOs;
  • That ATO locomotives be set up by a qualified driver and accompanied on their route by a driver qualified to operate the route.

Additional clauses include:

  • That the workers receive a minimum salary increase of no less than the wage price index for WA that year;
  • That the market allowance of $20,000, which Rio Tinto had paid to help retain workers, be absorbed into the base salary;
  • That changes in the roster can only be done by agreement with workers;
  • Any changes in the roster require seven days notice.

Rio Tinto has refused to negotiate with unions. The company has attempted to defend this, by portraying the train drivers as greedy and threatening the future of Australia, in an attempt to undermine public support for the workers. Sam Walsh, chief executive of Iron Ore operations, told the October 10 Australian that these were the highest paid workers in the Pilbara on $160,000-$210,000, yet “they are seeking guaranteed wage increases of between 4.9per cent to 5.7per cent, which we wouldn’t agree to”.

Tony Maher, CFMEU mining division national president, said on October 14: “What the dispute in the Pilbara is really about is the right of all Australians to bargain collectively … the right to bargain collectively is a basic democratic right of all Australians, why should the train drivers in the Pilbara be any different?”

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #771





Read more...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Australian Construction Workers Fight For Democratic Rights

Lisbeth Latham

Australian construction unions have launched a new campaign demanding that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) government of Kevin Rudd abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Despite being elected on widespread working class anger against anti-union laws, the Rudd government have pledged to keep the ABCC in place at least until 2010, with the possibility it role be shifted to another government agency.


The ABCC was formed in 2005 following the passing of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act. Much of the legislation contained in the BCIIA had been recommendations of the 2001-2003 Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry (Royal Commissions are the highest level of public inquiry in Australia). It was established to investigate the “extent of unlawful activity in the construction industry”. Commissioner Terrance Cole found 392 incidents that might constitute of unlawful behavior in the industry over a seven year period. The vast majority of these were instances of unions holding on site union meetings, attempts to ensure all workers on sites were union members and work stoppages over unsafe working conditions. Thirty of the incidents were associated with employer behaviour, these were largely instances of employers paying strike pay. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission did not include examining unsafe work practices pursued by employers or the use of shelf companies which are closed down robbing workers of their entitlements.

REDUCING THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
The BCIIA undermine the industrial effectiveness of Australia’s construction unions. In doing this it made illegal a wide range of previously legal industrial activity including:


  • Banning collective agreements from including retrospective pay rises;
  • Banning pattern bargaining, where unions seek common pay deals across hundreds of different employers;
  • Increasing penalties for industrial action occurring outside bargaining periods to $110,000 Aud for unions and up to $22,000 for individuals;
  • Requiring unions to hold secret ballots of their members before taking protected industrial action, including on urgent health and safety issues;
  • Introducing a mandatory 21-day cooling off period after two weeks of protected industrial action;

In order to enforce the BCIIA, the ABCC was given extra-ordinary powers to investigate and prosecute workers. If the ABCC believes on reasonable grounds that a person has information or documents relevant to an investigation, or is capable of giving evidence relevant to investigation it can require a person to give the information, or documents or attend an interview. At an interview the ABCC can require a person to:

  • Reveal all their phone and email records, whether of a business or personal nature;
  • Report not only on their own activities, but those of their fellow workers;
  • Reveal their membership of an organisation, such as a union;
  • Report on discussions in private union meetings or other meetings of workers;
  • The penalty for failing to hand over documents or answer all questions asked is six months imprisonment.

A TOUGH COP FOR A TOUGH INDUSTRY?
The Howard government, and now the Rudd government have justified the need for the ABCC, on the basis that the construction industry has a “culture of lawlessness”. However there is growing evidence that the ABCC focuses overwhelmingly on policing construction workers and their unions. Federal Court Justice Jeffrey Spender on October 8, said that the ABCC’s prosecution of the Queensland Plumbing Division of the Communication, Electrical and Plumbing Union and its state secretary Brad O’Carroll, was “misconceived and completely without merit”, and if the “Commission was even handed in discharging its tasks of ensuring industrial harmony and lawfulness in the building and construction industry proceedings” would have launched against the company that the CEPU had been in dispute with.

TARGETING ORDINARY WORKERS
These laws have been impacting on ordinary construction workers across Australia. The largest case was the charging of 107 members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, following a strike by 400 CFMEU members of the in Western Australia following the sacking of the Health and Safety Officer on their work site. Of these workers, 87 of the workers were given fines of between $8,400 Aud and $10,000, Aud the ABCC had sort the maximum penalty of $22, 600 Aud.

A CFMEU vice president charged with coercing crane operators into negotiations faces six months jail time in December for refusing to appear before the commission.
The Australian trade union's say similar investigations have been little more than excuses for union-bashing politicians to seek publicity.


In September, police in Victoria state withdrew charges against a building worker after two years of investigation. The union member was fingered by the commission, which claimed he threatened to kill inspectors when they visited his worksite.


“They besmirched the name of an innocent man in a desperate attempt to portray construction unions as bullies and thugs,” said Dave Noonan, national secretary of the CFMEU. “It is a disgrace, an abuse of power and corruption of the political process.”

[For more information on the ABCC and the campaign against it visit http://www.rightsonsite.org.au/.]

This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the November issue o f Labor Notes this version has been submitted to Union Syndicale Solidaires International the Journal of French Union Federation Union Syndicale Solidaires.





Read more...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boeing workers strike

Lisbeth Latham

More than 26,000 members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) working at Boeing commercial plants in the US began strike action on September 6. The strike, which was supported by 87% of IAM members, followed Boeing’s insistence that a new contract include significant contract concessions. Boeing offered only an 11% wage over three years increase to workers; Boeing’s lowest paid workers receive just US$10 an hour.

At the same time, Boeing has been making massive profits. In 2007, Boeing posted a $4.1 billion profit, an increase of more than 300% over the past three years. Boeing profits have been driven by growing demand for its newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft, with $275 million in backorders.

Financial analysts estimate that Boeing is losing $100 million in revenue for each day of the strike. The IAM are using the strike to push for the reversal of outsourcing of parts production that has occurred since 2002. In September the Society of Professional Employees in Aerospace joined the IAM in pushing for Boeing to bring back jobs outsourced during early production of the Boeing’s new 787. SPEEA’s contract, covering 21,000 Boeing engineers, expires in December.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #770


Read more...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

New Dispute Looms As Actors’ Contracts Expire

Lisbeth Latham

On June 30, the collective agreements covering actors in the US television industry expired.

The negotiations for a new agreement, which started in mid-April, have grown increasingly heated. The tensions are not only between the large media conglomerates — represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), on the one hand, and the unions representing actors, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts (AFTRA), on the other — but between the unions themselves.


The central point that has emerged, as in the writers’ strike ealier this year, has been what the artists’ share of revenues (residuals) from “new media”, such as the internet, should be. The AFTRA have reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP for work on primetime television shows and have began balloting its 70,000 members on June 17, with results expected on July 8.

However, the SAG leadership argue that the AFTRA-endorsed agreement is inadequate as it allows non-union new media production. It also fails to increase the income of working actors from current projects; does not increase pension/health contributions enough; provides no increases in residuals from DVDs; eliminates most residuals for reruns of productions made for new media.

SAG’s leadership also argues that the AFTRA agreement will undercut the bargaining position of the SAG and have launched a campaign urging the 44,000 members of SAG who are dual members of the AFTRA to vote against the tentative agreement.

Both unions have involved prominent actors campaigning for their position in the ballot. Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin have publicly campaigned for a “yes” vote, while Jack Nicholson, Ben Stiller, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and Viggo Mortensen have actively supported the SAG’s “no” campaign.

On July 2, the AMPTP made what it has referred to as a final offer to the SAG. The SAG negotiating team have requested until July 7 to review the offer.

The AMPTP have made a number of statements that the industry is facing a de facto actors’ strike. On June 29, SAG president Alan Rosenberg told the Associated Press: “We have taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote by the members of Screen Actors Guild.” He continued, “any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction”.

A strike authorisation would require 75% majority vote of SAG’s 122,000 members. SAG has informed its members that they should continue to work and that this work will be continued under the conditions of the expired contract.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #757


Read more...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Left-wing labour conference attacked

Lisbeth Latham

Union members and labour activists attending the Labor Notes Conference dinner on April 12 were attacked by bus loads of staff and members of the Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) — wearing purple SEIU t-shirts — who forced their way into the conference venue in Dearborn, Michigan. In the ensuing melee a number of people were injured.


Labor Notes is a labour movement magazine that seeks to build union militancy, rank-and-file solidarity and has acted as a networking tool between reform groups in the US union movement. Since 1981, bi-annual conferences have been held to bring union activists together.

The 2008 conference, aimed at examining approaches to “Rebuild Labor’s Power”, attracted more than 1000 people from 21 countries, the largest conference since 1997.

The SEIU’s attack is a consequence of the growing bitter dispute between the SEIU and the California Nurses Association (CNA), and its affiliate the National Nurses Organising Committee, over the organisation of nurses in Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) in Ohio.

The SEIU had negotiated for the CHP to approach the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union recognition ballot for registered nurses at nine of its hospitals in March. The SEIU was to be the only choice on the ballot.

Such a ballot would ordinarily be precipitated by a union membership card check to indicate that the union had support among the workforce. Such a check did not occurr. In response the CNA, which has also sought to organise nurses at the CHP, launched a campaign for nurses to be given a genuine choice in the union they join.

On March 12, days before the scheduled ballot, the SEIU announced that the ballot had been cancelled and launched a public attack on the CNA, accusing it of union-busting.

The attack on the Labor Notes Conference was aimed at disrupting the speech by CNA director Rose Anne DeMoro during the conference dinner. As there had been rumours of an attack on the conference, DeMoro cancelled her speech.

DeMoro had been invited to speak on CNA’s work to achieve the establishment of single-payer health insurance (where the government or a separate sub-contracting agency provides a universal system of health insurance) and successful campaign to win improved nurse-patient staffing ratios in California, which are the best in the US.

Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes said “Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line. Violence within the labour movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”

[For information on Labor Notes and the conference visit http://labornotes.org.]

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #747



Read more...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Writers’ strike holds strong

Lisbeth Latham Latham

After starting contract negotiations on January 12, the Directors’ Guild of America reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on January 17. It was expected that the DGA and AMPTP would come to an agreement, but the swiftness of the deal was a surprise, especially because there were six months remaining on the existing contract.


The AMPTP, the corporate media and sections of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) argue that the DGA’s new contract resolves many of the differences that are outstanding in the WGA contract, and that the main blockage in those negotiations has been the WGA leadership’s intransigence. There is, however, considerable doubt about whether the writers’ demands have been addressed, and their strike continues.

The only information about the directors’ agreement that has been made publicly available was that contained in a brief DGA media release on January 17, and the WGA is waiting for more information about the AMPTP’s offer before making a formal assessment.

On January 29, Doug Allen, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) executive director and chief negotiator, and Allen Rosenberg, SAG president, wrote to SAG members criticising the DGA agreement. The SAG’s contract expires on June 30 and it is expected to make similar demands to those of the writers’ guild. In their letter to members, Allen and Rosenburg state: “Some have rushed to anoint their [the DGA] deal as the ‘solution’ for the entertainment industry. We believe that assessment is premature.”

A number of problems with the DGA contract are immediately apparent. The first is that many of the issues that are important to writers and other workers in the film and television industry — notably residuals (royalties) — are not as important to many DGA members, such as assistant directors, because they are not entitled to them.

Second, the offer made to the DGA around residuals is only 12.5% of the WGA’s claim. Third, many of the concessions made by the AMPTP contain large loopholes that make them virtually meaningless. For example, the deal offers the DGA jurisdiction over internet productions, yet the high minimum budget threshold excludes the majority of shows produced for the internet.

Despite these failings, the deal indicates the AMPTP’s willingness to begin to negotiate around issues of concern to writers, a shift that former WGA president John Wells and the SAG leadership attribute to the pressure created by the strike.

Nevertheless, there is also pressure on the WGA and its members to be “reasonable” and accept the studios’ offer, and the WGA on January 22 dropped its demand for automatic coverage for writers employed in reality TV and animation shows. Instead, the WGA will look for alternative avenues to unionise these workers.

The writers continue to hold strong, maintaining daily pickets outside the studios with support from other unions within and outside the industry. On January 28, more than 1000 people, including 500 SAG members, joined a Unity Day rally outside Fox Studios.

The big media conglomerates that make up the AMPTP are under a lot of pressure as their losses mount and new financial deadlines appear. The strike is estimated to have already cost the Los Angeles economy US$1.5 billion.

Although the WGA have agreed to not picket the Grammy Awards, no such agreement has been made for the Oscars on February 24. With the SAG and many individual actors, such as Viggio Mortensen and Daniel Day-Lewis, pledging not to cross WGA picket lines, the award ceremony looks likely to flop, potentially costing the American Broadcasting Company US$100 million.

Those award ceremonies that have gone ahead, such as the Screen Writers’ Guild Award, have become platforms for actors to pledge their support for the striking writers. In her award acceptance speech, Julie Christie said, “It’s lovely to receive an award from your own union, especially at a time when they’re being so forcefully reminded how important unions are”. Christie told Variety, “Without unions, we would not have anyone to represent us over injustices”.

Josh Brolin, in his acceptance speech, said: “It’s a risky movie, and it’s nice to have risky movies now, especially this year, which is a cornucopia of change … The studio system is backfiring and it’s fun for us actors.”

The AMPTP agreed on January 24 to begin informal discussions about reinitiating negotiations with the WGA. If the strike continues to the end of February, TV networks will face losing seasons of shows and the huge advertising revenue that comes with them.

While some producers have raised hopes that writers might return to work under an interim deal to allow the next TV season to be salvaged, this seems unlikely unless the AMPTP makes considerable concessions.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #738



Read more...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writers continue strike as directors negotiate contract

Lisbeth Latham

As Hollywood enters its award season, the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) continue their strike that has shut down the majority of the US film and television industry since November 5. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) has also begun to renegotiate its contract.


Despite the size of the strike, the large media conglomerates that make up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have been resolute in their refusal to meet the demands by the WGA around writers’ receipt of residuals (royalties) from online distribution of their work. At present writers receive no residuals for the money generated from online distribution. The WGA is demanding that writers receive 2.5% of all revenue from online distribution.

In response, the AMPTP have offered writers nothing from online streaming and 0.3% for downloads, claiming that they make no money from internet distribution. This claim can be attributed to creative accounting, as according to United Hollywood blog, media conglomerates have told shareholders that they expect to generate in the next two years US$1 billion from downloads and $2 billion from streaming.

The determination of the WGA to win a share of residuals for internet transmission is based on writers experience of the bargaining in the 1980s over residuals from home video. The WGA accepted a low percentage only to see the market explode to the point where DVD sales are worth more than the combined revenue from the box office, TV syndication and international broadcasting rights. Peter Grosz, a writer for The Colbert Report, told Labor Notes in November that “we learned the lesson on DVDs. Producers won the battle 20 years … but we want to win the war.”

Wider significance
While the immediate consequence of the dispute is the income of writers, any gains made will flow on to all workers in the film and television industry. This is of particular importance for film crews, who are not entitled to an individual share of residuals, but whose collective share helps to fund health and other benefits. As a result it is expected that for each cent that writers win as a residual, the companies will pay out 12 cents. It is this knowledge that is driving the AMPTP to bargain hard.

Since the strike began WGA members and supporters have been demonstrating their collective strength. This has included staffing picket lines outside studios, and demonstrations including the mass rally of 4000 outside Fox studios on November 9. Members of other unions in the industry have supported the strike.

The Golden Globes award night on January 13 was scaled down to a press conference after plans by writers to picket the event caused high profile actors, such as Cate Blanchet, George Clooney and Johnny Depp, to stay away rather than cross picket lines. Similar actions are being threatened against the Academy Awards scheduled for February.

Employer Response
AMPTP have attempted to break the confidence of the striking workers, including by launching a negative PR campaign. The most significant attempt to break the strike has been the attempt to keep new shows being produced in order to maintain revenue. This has included a large increase in the number of reality TV shows, however the bulk of the flagship late night talk shows returned on January 2. The majority came back without writers, and largely without stars who have refused to be booked on shows until the writers return. This has reduced the shows to booking each others hosts and such quality entertainment as host Conan O’Brien seeing how long he could make his wedding ring spin.

There were two exceptions — Jay Leno and David Letterman.

Leno, a WGA member, breached the terms of the WGA contract by writing his own material. Letterman, on the other hand, returned with writers after reaching his own agreement with the WGA. Letterman had also continued to pay the shows employees, except the writers, throughout the strike.

There is mounting pressure for a settlement to the dispute. There have now been four side contract deals in addition to that with Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Company. These allow for the development and re-writing of scripts for the production of new films while other companies and studios wait for the strike to be settled. These side arrangements will be superseded by any new contact between the WGA and the AMPTP.

Directors’ Contract
The contract negotiations between the DGA and the AMPTP is seen by media pundits as a significant element in the strike. A quick settlement without an online residuals deal is seen as a potential way in which the position of the WGA could be undermined. The DGA is not seen as being as militant as the WGA, and also residuals are not seen as important to directors.

This is because many of the big name directors sign contracts where the up-front payments are so large residuals are insignificant. These directors are thought to be willing to pass up residuals in favour of larger up-front fee payments, an option the AMPTP would prefer as it would not have the same flow on effect as residual payments. In addition, assistant directors, who make up 40% of the DGA’s membership, have no entitlement to residuals.

While the outcome of DGA contract negotiations will impact on the writers confidence, Grosz told Labor Notes: “This strike is for the future. The internet is too big, too important to buckle on this. What we are asking for is so simple and so fair. If they get paid, we get paid.”

[For more information on the strike visit http://www.unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/ and the WGA’s website.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #736



Read more...

About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP  

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.