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“The Fight for $15—& a Union!”

Fight for 15 New York (The All-Nite Images)

Fight for 15 New York (The All-Nite Images FLIKR CC)

By Barbara Kestenbaum

On April 15, as I looked along 59th Street in Midtown Manhattan, there was electricity in the air. I saw thousands of union and non-union workers marching together in solidarity toward Columbus Circle, holding signs that read “Fight for $15 and a Union.” The demonstration was backed by many unions, including SEIU and the UFCW. These unions were there from the historic beginning of the Fast Food Forward movement in 2012, standing with men and women who had walked off their jobs for one day at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and other stores. I participated in this first demonstration and did so again on April 15. As I saw proud determination on the faces of the marchers, it reminded me of the line from James Sloan Gibbons’ Civil War poem about the enthusiastic response to Abraham Lincoln’s call for Union volunteers: “We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.”

Fight For $15 - Rally and March - 04/15/15 Image by Barry Solow FLIKR CC

Fight For $15 – Rally and March – 04/15/15 Image by Barry Solow FLIKR CC

As a DC37 union member (Ret.), it filled me with pride to march with my union brothers and sisters, members of the IBT, UAW, USW, CWA, CSEA and more. All were protesting the unlivable wages so many non-unionized workers are paid as they toil at backbreaking jobs in restaurants, car washes, laundries, and as home care attendants. The marchers also included adjunct professors at universities who also work long hours for shamefully low pay. People young and older were marching because they feel intensely that in this rich nation of ours, all working people should be able to afford good homes, nutritious food, adequate health care, and not be forced to work two or more jobs just to squeeze by.   I very much agree with Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU who said about the demonstration:

“Workers proved that by joining together, they can improve their lives.” She emphasized that McDonald’s deciding to raise wages at the stores it owns “is not nearly enough….The overwhelming majority of McDonald’s workers [those at franchisee-owned stores] will still be paid wages so low that they can’t afford basics like rent and groceries.” She stated that SEIU remained “more committed than ever…” to securing for “all workers…the right to join together in a union to improve the lives of all working families.”

Fight for 15 New York 2 (The All-Nite Images)

(Image byThe All-Nite Images FLIKR CC)

All Americans need to know what Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, explained about America’s profit economy in a series of landmark lectures beginning in 1970. I was fortunate to hear many of these talks, in which he provided solid evidence from history, economics, literature, and current events, showing that contempt—“the addition to self through the lessening of something else”—is at the basis of America’s economy, the profit system. Contempt includes the seeing of one’s fellow human beings in terms of how much profit can be made from their labor, while paying them as little as possible. Further, he showed that ethics, working throughout history, had culminated in the failure of profit economics. A current sign of this, among others, is that in February, 2015 McDonald’s sales fell “by a startling 4 percent in the United States and by 1.7 percent globally” (New York Times 3/9/15). And, according to a later article (NYT 5/05/15), the “sales slump”’ continues.

In recent years, as a result of our failed economy, there have been waves of fierce union-busting efforts by corporate America and some state governments, including taking away a union’s ability to sustain itself and its membership through dues.   Every dollar paid to a union worker in wages diminishes an employer’s ability to line his own pockets. In fact, I’ve learned that the one way profit economics can continue at all is by making working people poorer.   That is what’s behind the attacks on unions, and it explains the constant suffering by millions of families, including the shameful fact that one out of five children in America is not getting sufficient food.

“The Fight for $15 and a Union” movement has given a voice to millions of low-paid workers. In over 200 cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and more—they are being heard loud and clear as they say “Hell No” to poverty wages. On April 15, there were mass demonstrations and sit-ins. Many fast food restaurants were unable to serve their customers and had to shut their doors. All this sent a powerful message to corporations such as McDonald’s and Walmart that workers will fight to end the abuses they are suffering at the hands of corporate America.

The people of America, including union officials, have a right to know what Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has been describing for many years about the failure of profit economics and the importance of unions.   In a recent issue of the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, she writes with clarity and feeling about the huge meaning of the Fast Food Workers movement and how it’s been reported on by the major media. She presents four key points, three of which are quoted here:

“1) There has been an effort to indicate that the Fight for $15 movement is admirable—but to have it seen as apart from unions. In fact, the central slogan of the demonstrators is: “$15 an Hour and a Union.” But in so many media accounts, the second phrase is just left out.

“Unions—in particular the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers—have done much to have this movement exist; they, chiefly, have organized and funded it. Yet a lot of the media coverage gives the impression that low-wage workers somehow just got together in some vague grassroots way. And the reason is: if the reporting let Americans see how much unions are working to bring justice to these employees, and how much the employees know they need a union, Americans would love and value unions and want them–even more than many, many Americans now do.

“2) Then there are the persons, sometimes quoted in the media, who are blatantly against this new ‘Social-Justice Movement’: the persons who present a wage increase for fast-food workers as ruinous to business and therefore to America. They say: The demonstrations are taking place only because Big Bad unions are trying to get money into their coffers! The fast-food workers would be satisfied with their situation if unions didn’t stir them up (as slaves would have been satisfied in the 1850s, were it not for those awful abolitionists).

“4) Then, there are the media reports which admit that unions have been useful in the ‘Fight for $15’ movement—but which say that the unions are engaging in a new method: that unions have been dying off and had to come to something new to keep alive. This angle is ridiculous. Unions are doing what they have always done, what they created themselves to do: fighting for economic justice to workers; showing workers that in joining together, each person can take care of oneself by taking care that others get what they deserve. Unions have used different techniques over the years. But what they are doing in the ‘Fight for $15’ movement is utterly in keeping with their history: for instance, fighting for justice for garment workers in New York City; textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts; auto workers in Detroit, Michigan; coal miners in West Virginia; teachers in American classrooms; truck drivers on the many and long American roads. American unions are as American as our Declaration of Independence, and they stand for the same justice. ”

Ms. Reiss concludes: “Beginning as early as age 18, Eli Siegel wrote with passion and logic about the fact that economics should be based on the answer to this question: “What does a person deserve by being alive?” This is the question that must be answered if working men and women—and their families—are to get the economic and social justice that is rightfully theirs.”

Newspaper Guild of New York Represented Employees at Scholastic Unanimously Ratify Contract

The Newspaper GuildNEW YORK: The Newspaper Guild of New York, CWA Local 31003, announced today that the Guild-represented employees at Scholastic Inc. [NASDAQ: SCHL] unanimously ratified a contract that includes raises and safeguards for the 55 editors, writers, photographers, designers and other employees who create the content for the company’s educational publications.

The new agreement, which runs through May 16, 2016, followed a marathon bargaining session on Aug. 21 and 22, and three more weeks during which the parties drafted contract language. It was unanimously ratified today by the Guild’s Scholastic bargaining unit.

“Our new contract with Scholastic provides employees with much-needed raises and workplace protections that secures their jobs as more content is delivered digitally,” said New York Guild President Bill O’Meara.

Guild Unit Chair Kathy Wilmore said, “The negotiating committee and Guild staff worked countless hours to achieve a contract that protects the wages, benefits and working conditions of Scholastic employees. I am gratified at the unanimous “Yes” vote for the new contract.”

The new contract gives Guild-represented employees a 1 percent bonus, 7 percent in compounded wage increases over its life, including raises retroactive to July 1, 2013, as well as contract protection that continues regardless of changes in the way content is delivered.

“This contract ensures that we receive the raises we deserve and that our jobs are not at risk,” said negotiating committee member Eric Russ. “I was happy to vote for it along with all my colleagues.”

Negotiations between Scholastic and the Guild began in 2012.

About the Newspaper Guild of New York

The Guild, Local 31003 of the Communications Workers of America, represents more than 2800 journalists and other employees, mostly at New York area-based news organizations, including The New York Times, Thomson Reuters and Time Inc. It was launched in 1934 by a group of journalists that included crusading columnist Heywood Broun.

Long Island Railroad Workers Prepare For Upcoming Strike on July 20th

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Long Island Rail Road General Chairperson Anthony Simon has issued the following statement on the deteriorating labor situation at the commuter railroad:

“I regret to report that negotiations have collapsed with New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and all eight unions are now proceeding with strike plans for July 20. MTA rejected the counter offer we presented last Thursday (July 10). It presented no counter proposal. It continues to insist that the unions agree to a contract worth less than the value of the compromise recommendations of Presidential Emergency Boards 244 and 245.  MTA has clearly decided that provoking a strike is the course of action it intends to pursue. No further negotiations are scheduled.

Please go here to ask NY Governor Cuomo to intervene in order to prevent a strike that would be disastrous to Long Island commuters, workers and local communities.

The strike will begin at 12:01 a.m. this Sunday (July 20). Riders should be aware that service will begin winding down well before then, perhaps as early as Wednesday (July 16), as the railroad needs to secure its equipment.  The strike will be limited to Long Island Rail Road. It will not affect Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Metro-North Railroad or PATH rail operations. Joint entrances will not be picketed.

Make no mistake about it. The timing of this strike, with its devastating impact on Long Island’s summer season, is MTA’s decision. The unions repeated our offer to agree to the requests of the New York Congressional delegation, area residents and businesses to delay the strike until September. MTA would not agree.  The onus of this deadlock is solely on the MTA. Two boards of renowned and experienced arbitrators have recommended a fair compromise settlement. We are willing to accept the recommendations. MTA is not. MTA admitted to us that they know that historically, the PEB recommendations are the basis for settlement. They told us they understand that the only way they can break this historical precedent is to take a strike. That is the course that they have chosen.”
–  Anthony Simon, SMART LIRR GO 505 General Chairperson and Union Coalition spokesperson

Please go here to ask NY Governor Cuomo to intervene in order to prevent a strike that would be disastrous to Long Island commuters, workers and local communities.

IATSE Opens Talks With Metropolitan Opera: The MET Threatens Pay Cuts For Workers, Not Executives

Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Open Talks with Metropolitan Opera as Questions Continue about Executive Pay

Workers Upgrade Skills to Meet Demands of HD Broadcasts, But Are Threatened with Pay Cuts

Makeup Artist At Work (Image MBTRAMA flickr)

Makeup Artist At Work (Image MBTRAMA flickr)

NEW YORK, NY – Members of Local 798 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IA), representing makeup artists and hair stylists at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, will begin contract talks today with opera management.

Local 798 members are the third group of Met employees to begin negotiations this week.  Local 829, representing scenic artists and designers began talks on Tuesday, June 17th.  Local 751, representing treasurers and ticket sellers, began talks on Wednesday, June 18th.

Prior to the start of negotiations, the Met announced its goal of wage cuts for all of its unionized employees. Members of Local 798 and other Met unions, while willing to consider some belt-tightening, believe management’s spending is out of control.

The Met’s schedule of high-definition opera broadcasts in 1,900 theatres around the globe, says Local 798 Business Representative Daniel Dashman, has dramatically changed the jobs of makeup artists and hair stylist.

“Our members have worked tirelessly to improve their craft and upgrade their skills – at their own time and expense – to meet the technical and aesthetic demands of HD video,” said Dashman.  “And their reward it be threatened with a pay cut?”

“When that camera zooms in on a singer’s face as he or she reaches for that high note, the audience is seeing an extreme close-up of the artistry that goes into makeup and hair styling,” added Dashman.

Although they are being asked to take a pay cut, Local 798 members, like other backstage workers, have been required to adjust their craft to meet new technical requirements for the Met’s program of HD simulcasts to 1,900 movie theaters around the globe.

Across the board, opera employees are questioning why the Met is demanding pay and benefit cuts from employees while delivering raises to top management. Earlier this week, the Met’s 990 tax-reporting forms were released for 2012 (the most recent year available) showing that the opera company’s general manager, Peter Gelb received a 26 percent increase in pay and benefits. Gelb received $1.8 million that year in compensation according to the 990s. In a statement to the New York Times, the Opera’s spokesman Peter Clark said that Gelb has since taken a 10 percent cut in pay.

Joe Hartnett, the IA’s Assistant Director of Stagecraft, termed this “a rebate on an overcharge,” and noted that Gelb used a similar maneuver during the last round of labor negotiations in 2009. “Nobody’s fooled when management gives themselves a 26% raise and then takes a 10% pay cut right before negotiations,” said Hartnett. “We’ve been waiting all week for an explanation of why the same management that has driven up costs and mismanaged the revenue stream deserves a raise, while the workers who actually produce the opera are being asked to take a pay cut. We’re still waiting.”

“Our members are dedicated to their craft and to delivering the highest level of artistry for productions at the Met,” said Dashman.“We know how important this institution is to New York City and to opera lovers around the world. We’re absolutely committed to finding solutions that make the Met stronger than ever. We know that if management meets us halfway, we can get the job done.”

The IA has created a website focused on the Met negotiations at SavetheMetOpera.com

Save The Met IATSE 1Six local unions of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) represent backstage employees at the Metropolitan Opera:  Local 1 represents skilled craftsmen who are experts with carpentry, lighting, sound, props, set and building construction. Local 764 includes costume shop employees who create the costumes, along with dressers who assist the performers with their costumes..  Local 751 are the workers who most frequently interact with the public, box office employees such as Treasurers and Ticket Sellers. Local 798 are the artists responsible for hair and makeup. Local 794 represents technicians involved in the Met’s live broadcasts. USA 829  (Scenic Artists and Designers) represents scenic artists as well as the designers of sets, lighting, costumes, and sound.

NATCA Air Traffic Controllers Prepare for Super Bowl Weekend Traffic Surge

As the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks prepare for the big game this Sunday, air traffic controllers in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area are preparing as well.

 (image by NJ Star -Ledger)

(image by NJ Star -Ledger)

Air traffic controllers and other safety professionals represented by NATCA throughout the region are ready to continue a massive team effort this weekend that began earlier this week, ensuring a safe, efficient and seamless event in some of the nation’s tightest and most dense airspace.

“It’s already a very small and complex airspace, and now you have this added layer of volume,” says New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) NATCA Facility Representative Dean Iacopelli. “We’re trying to maximize the airspace and minimize the delays, and also have procedures in place to be as best prepared for this event as we can.”

NATCA LOGOThe FAA and NATCA have worked collaboratively to develop a plan for the increase of traffic, using the experiences and lessons learned from previous Super Bowl locations and factoring those in with the complexities of the New York metropolitan area airspace. They have also added extra staff to the schedules for today through Monday night (Feb. 3), however, Iacopelli explains that just because extra staff is on hand, that does not mean the number of planes handled can be increased exponentially.

“The bottom line is the [National Airspace] system can only handle so many more planes,” he says. “If we add 50 staff, we can’t add 10 times the amount of planes.”

Caldwell, Farmingdale, Islip, Morristown, Newark, Teterboro, and Westchester Towers as well as New York TRACON and New York Air Route Traffic Control Center are all expecting to be the most heavily impacted by the surge of traffic.

Controllers at New York TRACON, located in Westbury, N.Y., on Long Island, handle flights between a tower and New York Center; they facilitate departures transitioning from the airport to the Center environment and then take the aircraft from the Center environment and line them up in sequence to land at an airport. The TRACON controllers will not only be handling the air carrier flights for John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark Airports, but also flights heading to and from Philadelphia International Airport and the general aviation airports in the New York Metropolitan area, including Teterboro, Westchester County and Islip.

With MetLife Stadium only two miles south of Teterboro Airport, air traffic controllers have already started seeing an influx of traffic. The airport can accommodate up to 700 airplanes and most of the spots are already booked.

“We are staffing at full capacity; we have all controllers on duty and plan to have them work overtime. Our membership here at Teterboro Tower has been working tirelessly in preparation for the big game,” says Teterboro Tower NATCA Facility Representative Edmund Granton. “It truly has been a team effort, with a lot of collaboration among NATCA, FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We’re all working towards a common goal, and we want to make that happen as safely, as efficiently and as productively as possible.”

At Newark, controllers are expecting an increase in traffic although it will be limited due to an hourly cap. There is very limited general aviation parking and the tower expects possibly 30 to 40 extra overnight aircraft, according to Newark NATCA Facility Representative Ray Adams.

“The bigger impact on the airport will be airspace saturation,” Adams said. “Teterboro and Morristown are each located about 10 miles from Newark and share the same airspace and area of New York TRACON. Their traffic is predicted to skyrocket. The resulting saturation may cause delays at EWR.”

The FAA has increased staffing at Newark in the days leading up to the game and will do so after the game. “We are staffing our midnight shift on Sunday night with extra controllers, a traffic management coordinator and a supervisor.”

Farmingdale Tower NATCA Facility Representative Mark Abbey says the tower is normally staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but for the Super Bowl there will be staff working a midnight shift Sunday into Monday morning.

“We also worked out some new procedures with New York TRACON to expedite handling of instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic,” he says. “It is being handled as professionally as it could be, and it’s quite the collaborative effort.”

Teamsters: On the Ground, Cleaning Up After Sandy

Unions are about standing together and taking care of each other – and since Hurricane Sandy took aim at the Eastern Seaboard two weeks ago, that’s exactly what the Teamsters have been doing, 24/7.  You can read about their hard work on their blog.  Here are some of the highlights:

Monday, October 29th: “Department of Sanitation Teamsters battened down New York City before the storm hit, driving convoys of trucks to staging areas around the city and emptying and turning over garbage bins. They continued to collect trash and recycling during the storm today, and they’ll be on 12-hour shifts tomorrow to clean up debris.”

Tuesday, October 30th: “New York City Sanitation Department Teamsters from Local 831 are working long hours today removing trees from roadways, breaking apart limbs and cleaning streets as Hurricane Sandy moves on.  The monster storm crippled the city, flooding the subways and the Wall Street District and downing power lines. Hundreds of thousands of people have no power.”

Area residents started saying “thanks” on the Local’s Facebook page: “God bless all the people who are working to make our lives better after such a horrible storm.”

Wednesday, October 31st: “Parts of the Northeast are returning to normal today as Teamsters clear trees, repair rail tracks, clean up after flood damage, ship supplies and deliver those all-important iPhones.”

Fires were still burning; entire neighborhoods were buried under sand and seawater; millions were without power; and then 29 inches of snow fell.  “None of that stopped our brothers and sisters from getting ‘er done at departments of public works and sanitation, the railroads and UPS.”

Sunday, November 4th:  The Teamsters’ blog asks members across the nation for help.

“You can make a donation to the Red Cross by texting ‘redcross’ to 90999 and you will make a $10 donation.   Tom Petillo, president of Teamsters Local 125 in Trenton, NJ, is working with the IBT, Joint Council 73 and other New Jersey unions to coordinate rescue and relief efforts. He asks members to donate food, water and clothing.”

From a Teamsters member in Rockaway, Queens: “Bring shovels, gloves and give us a hand.  Don’t matter which block, just walk up and help.”

Monday, November 5th: “Teamsters sanitation and DPW members are working long, exhausting hours to get the New York region back on its feet. Many lost their homes, some lost children and a few are in the hospital with injuries. And yet they’re clearing away debris, handing out food and removing downed trees.”

“Department of Sanitation New York supervisor texted that sanitation workers are sleeping in the garages:  ‘Everyone seems better than one would expect. Some have lost everything.   Hot food has been scarce, and the workers are being fed military MREs.  Brother Michael Lewery’s home on Staten Island was damaged, but he went to work anyway. He ended up in the hospital after he was electrocuted.’ ”

Thursday, November 8th : “We delivered a truck of water and clothing donated by our members to storm-damaged Long Beach.   We went to the Martin Luther King center that, in normal times, serves as a community center and day care facility. The director of the center told us that no agency at all had been there to see them or help them yet.   This center is now serving as an emergency shelter for the community and they were in dire need of assistance. With a nor’easter coming in, they have no heat and the building had drafts and leaks that needed attention. We saw the genuine gratitude from these folks, who truly needed help. It was a proud day to be a Teamster.”

Friday, November 9th:  “The call just went out: The Red Cross desperately needs 400 drivers tonight, tomorrow and Sunday to bring relief supplies to hurricane victims in the New York region.”

Saturday, November 10th: “Teamsters are answering the Red Cross’s call to help distribute clean-up kits and supplies to victims of Hurricane Sandy. We’re getting photos of Teamsters packing and loading supplies in New Jersey warehouses. They’re also driving trucks and forklifts and shuttling volunteers all over the New York region.  This is a 24/7 operation. UPS Teamsters were out in force, doing what they do best: Delivering!”

“Brother Roy Gillespie tells us the Teamsters are renting buses from Teamster employer Jofaz Busing, and Teamsters from Local 854 are driving them to help with the bulk distribution. At noon today, a convoy of 12 trucks driven by Teamsters drove from the warehouse to hard-hit Rockaway. Another convoy of five trucks driven by Teamsters carried supplies to Staten Island.”

Sandy 11.10.12Sunday, November 11th:  “Red Cross warehouses, staging areas and distribution hubs are alive with more than 300 Teamsters and their families today. They’re all pitching in to get desperately needed supplies to victims of Superstorm Sandy in the New York region.”

“The news media is ignoring the extent of the damage, but it’s bad. At least 40,000 people in New York alone are homeless.  In Jersey City Teamsters are helping bag, load and deliver clean-up kits: Large mesh bags that each contain a blanket, work gloves, garden-size trash bags, flashlight and batteries, baby wipes, hand sanitizer and hand and toe warmers.”

“Some Teamsters spent the night in the warehouse. Some brought their spouses and children. The Teamsters rented buses to help move volunteers to staging areas and Teamsters are driving them. We’ve been hearing our experience in logistics (not to mention hard work) has been invaluable. Props to members from the New York City locals, and 210, 804, 707, 177, 282, 812, 817, 854, 730 and 177 who are helping out in the warehouse.”

“And let’s not forget our sanitation brothers from Local 831. They’re still working 12-hour shifts moving mountains of debris.”

Monday, November 12th: “Dozens of Teamsters and their families were already at the Red Cross’s Jersey City warehouse at 7:30 this morning and more were on the way to pack, load and drive supplies to Superstorm Sandy victims.  About 100,000 families suffered losses from the hurricane and the needs are staggering. Brother Roy tells us this is a long-term effort. Hundreds of volunteers will be needed 24/7 for the next two weeks to deliver supplies in the ruined communities. Chris Jordan, who handles Red Cross logistics, is asking for families to come help over the Thanksgiving weekend.”

The Red Cross put together a great Flickr gallery here that gives you an idea of the scope of the operation.

You can help the Teamsters help the storm’s victims.  Read more about their Disaster Relief Fund here.

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