Who Owns American Skies – the People or the Skyjacking Airlines? "corporatizing America’s air traffic control system is a bad deal for the flying public."
Who Owns American Skies – the People or the Skyjacking Airlines? "corporatizing America’s air traffic control system is a bad deal for the flying public."
MARCH 14, 2016
Who Owns American Skies – the People or the Skyjacking Airlines?
by RALPH NADER
That’s a question currently being asked by legislators in the halls of Congress. Without a muscular pushback from the public, the big airlines could claim the American airspace as their own to tax and regulate, without any significant compensation to the American taxpayer and no oversight from elected officials. Talk about getting skyjacked!
An amendment in the 273-page FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) reauthorization bill― H.R. 4441 ―currently moving through Congress means to remove air traffic control from the authority of the FAA and hand it over to a private, not-for-profit corporation. This new corporate-controlled body would be responsible for the over 50,000 flights that take off each day without any input from Congress or the American people. The Washington Post reports: “The House bill to create the federally chartered corporation would transfer about 38,000 federal workers, including 14,000 controllers who now work for the Federal Aviation Administration.” This amounts to a staggering nearly 80 percent of the FAA’s workforce. It would also giveaway billions of dollars’ worth of air traffic controller equipment to this private body.
Spearheading the charge for air traffic control privatization is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) who states that his bill, called the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization [AIRR] Act, will lead to the “transformational improvements we need in order to modernize our nation’s aviation system.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Rep. Shuster is the top recipient in the House of Representatives of airline industry contributions, and has even admitted to being involved “personally” with a top lobbyist from Airlines for America, a trade association representing most of the major airlines, which is a leading advocate for air traffic control privatization.
This old song and dance routine might sound familiar to those who have paid attention over the years to the corporate-funded propaganda campaign that aims to convince the public that corporations can manage and deliver services more efficiently and at less cost than democratically-controlled governments.
One chief criticism against the current air traffic control system is a $40 billion FAA modernization program known as “NextGen” that is behind schedule. However, implementing a seismic shift in airspace authority is choosing to solve a problem that isn’t causing any major issues for travelers – the air transportation system – as it is not fundamentally broken, and the United States has the safest air travel in the world, which is remarkable when you consider that it is also the most active and most complex system in the world. Under this new plan, air traffic control navigation would shift from a ground-based radar system to a new, satellite-based method.
“Running a science experiment with the most complex airspace in the world comes with a lot of risk, including the uncertain futures of thousands of workers at FAA,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) at a House Transportation Committee panel on Thursday. (The airline-industry dominated panel approved the bill on a 32-26 vote and it will move on to the House floor.)
Most of the major airlines are, not surprisingly, in support of this new measure with one notable holdout―Delta Airlines. Delta released a study that found that “Travelers could have to cover 20-29 percent higher costs if the U.S. moves to a private ATC [air traffic control] organization.” Advocates for privatization often cite the privatized air traffic control systems of Canada and the United Kingdom as models to aspire to. According to Delta’s study however, during the first six years of implementation of the private model, “Canada saw an additional 59 percent increase on ATC-related fees. In the United Kingdom, ATC fees rose 30 percent.”
With potential higher costs to travelers, not to mention the risk of transitioning to a new un-tried and untested satellite system, what exactly is the American flying public gaining from this deal?
In an op-ed in USA Today, Captain Steve Dickson, senior vice president of flight operations for Delta Airlines, writes: “It just doesn’t make sense to remove the system responsible for the safe operation of our skies from the safety oversight of the FAA. The FAA is the gold standard against which every other nation’s airspace is measured. Do we have more work to do to improve the efficiency of our nation’s airspace? Yes. Is privatizing the answer? No.”
With a March 31st deadline looming to reauthorize funding for the FAA, Congress must either pass a new bill or extend the current legislation. This must-act scenario is like blood in the water to the privatization sharks that see an opportunity to reap even greater profits out of America’s skies.
Call (202-224-3121) and write your member of Congress and let them know that corporatizing America’s air traffic control system is a bad deal for the flying public.
For more information see stopairtrafficprivatization.com.
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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!
RWU Resolution in Support of Railroad Worker Whistleblowers
Railroad Workers United
Solidarity – Unity - Democracy: The Rank and File in Action!
railroadworkersunited.org firstname.lastname@example.org (206) 736-0417 PO Box 1053, Salem, IL 62881
6 - RWU Resolution in Support of Railroad Worker Whistleblowers
Whereas, the current union strategy of relying on the government to police the railroad corporations and defend those disciplined and fired for reporting on-the-job injuries and workplace hazards has been shown to be a failure; and
Whereas, this failure is best exemplified by the fact that 7 of the top 10 worst whistleblower law breakers in the U.S. are now rail carriers; and
Whereas, the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower law is only available to a worker after the Department of Labor decides a case has merit, representing only a tiny percentage of the actual violations by the rail carriers; and
Whereas, workers are forced to file and conduct their cases as isolated individuals, lack information about the law, have no access to the case as it is developed by OSHA, and have no right to representation by legal counsel in the appeals process; and
Whereas, the organizations that represent railroad workers - unions – have been completely excluded from the process; and
Whereas, the rail carriers have appealed each and every time that a worker has won a whistleblower case, denying the worker the OSHA award and job reinstatement, prolonging the process for years to come; and
Whereas, the rail carriers - at any time during the appeals process - are allowed the option to effectively buy off whistleblowers with cash settlements and thereby eliminate any reference to the original OSHA finding of carrier guilt as part of the settlement; and
Whereas, the OSHA whistleblower punitive damage cap that can be levied against a rail carrier is set by law at $250, 000, not nearly enough to dissuade the railroads from violating the law; and
Whereas, the law has no provision to mandate a change in corporate policy and has no provision that the carriers educate their employees about the whistleblower law; and
Whereas, no individual managers or corporate boards have ever been disciplined – and apparently will not be -- under the whistleblower law;
Therefore, Be it Resolved that RWU believes that the defense of railroad worker whistleblowers must be taken up by workers and their unions, not lawyers and politicians; and
Be it Further Resolved that RWU urge the unions to use the collective bargaining process to codify whistleblower rights and safety provisions in labor contracts; and
Be it Further Resolved that RWU urges the rail unions to negotiate specific language that would ensure that a worker who has a legal whistleblower case pending will remain on the job, pending final outcome of his/her case; and
Be it Further Resolved that RWU encourage unions to fight for contract language that allows workers the right to strike in response to unsafe policies by the rail corporations; and
Be it Further Resolved that RWU urge unions to fight for the disciplining and firing of company managers guilty of enforcing anti-safety policies; and
Be it Finally Resolved that RWU encourage all whistleblowers to form a “Railroad Whistleblowers Network” (RWN) to not only aid and assist one another throughout the whistleblower process, but to work towards realization of the above- mentioned goals.
To be presented to the delegates at the 5th RWU Biennial Convention
This Resolution comes with a recommendation of Adoption from the RWU Steering Committee
3/28 SF Meeting: Solidarity With Korean Workers And Korean People Fighting For Labor, Human Rights And Democracy
3/28 SF Meeting: Solidarity With Korean Workers And Korean People Fighting For Labor, Human Rights And Democracy
Solidarity With Korean Workers And Korean People Fighting For Labor, Human Rights And Democracy
Sunday March 28, 2016 1:00 PM
518 Valencia St./16th Street near 16th St. BART Station
San Francisco, CA
Join Two leaders of the KCTU will be in the bay area at the end of the March for a few days. Ho-Joon Song is a former railway worker leader with the Korea Railway Workers Union KRWU and is now president of Seoul Confederation of Trade Unions KCTU. Park, Young Chan is the vice president of KCTU Seoul and is from the Korean Construction Union which represents construction workers in Korea.
They will be discussing the struggle to defend their unions and the massive attack on labor and human rights including privatization, deregulation of labor and also attacks on civil and human rights. Many Korean union leaders including their leaders have been jailed for organizing against privatization and for democratic rights for their members. The deregulation which is also pushed through the IMF and US Obama administration along with past US governments has led to more than 50% of workers becoming temporary workers and there is a massive outsourcing and privatization of public services. It has also led to dangerous lack of health and safety and corruption of public agencies that directly led to the Sewol disaster and the loss of the lives of hundreds of children, passengers and crew of the ferry boat. The government has also violently attacked the parents and families who want an independent investigation on how this maritime accident took place.
The KCTU has also opposed the Korea US Free Trade Agreement KORUS and also the Trans Pacifica Partnership TPP which would further privatize and deregulate their economy hurting workers and farmers in Korea and the US while benefiting US multi-nationals.
At the same time Korea education workers and teachers have been prohibited from forming unions and lobbying for labor rights and against growing nationalist war revision of textbooks in Korea falsifying history. Korean Teacher Union leaders have also been jailed for fighting for their democratic labor rights. Journalists have also been jailed for writing about the systemic corruption of the US supported South Korean President Park Geun-hye government. The government also made an agreement with the Japanese government to end any further education about the "comfort women" issue without consulting the comfort women. Park Geun-hye and Japanese prime minster Abe's families were personally involved in supporting the 2ndWW and also US supported military governments after the war. Their drive for militarization and repression of labor and human rights has a long history.
They will report on their efforts to defend public services, fight for full time jobs and for health and safety protection of workers and the public. Also they will discuss the growing militarization including Jeju and war in Asia.
For information and to endorse call (415)282-1908
The Chicago Transit Authority Is Unfair To ATU Transit Workers And Riders
The Chicago Transit Authority Is Unfair To Workers And Riders
The campaign to get fired CTA bus driver Erek Slater back to work continued on March 9, 2016 outside the headquarters of Chicago Transit Authority in downtown Chicago. His defense campaign has grown, getting support from unions as far away as Korea and Australia. And support has expanded among Chicago unionists and community activists. Slater had taken seriously his duties as shop steward and defended a fellow worker whose rights were being abused by management, and for that management has targeted him.
Slater's firing is a symptom of a much larger problem. Ayo Matt, a paratransit activist, said that disabled riders "face unsafe worker conditions which affect us...because we have an unelected CTA Board that does not understand the issues that are being brought forth here today...We will not tolerate them firing Erek Slater for speaking out...The riders of paratransit are faced with over-worked drivers...We know that all of this is corrupt, it's illegal, and disabled people will not be silenced."
"What does it look like when 90% of the ATU are underpaid, over-worked poor Black families," asked, Johnae Strong of BYP 100. "What does it mean when they have spaces where they cannot air grievances, where they cannot have paid sick days, where they have to fight to support their families? And when they do they are reprimanded or, worse, they are off the job." Strong emphasized that BYP 100 is "dedicated to fight for racial justice as it connects to economic justice because we know that those two things are extremely tied together."
Howard Ehrman, an occupational medicine physician, suggested: "What has to happen in this city is a grand alliance, like the postal workers are doing, among all the public worker unions, the CTU brothers and sisters here, and everybody who uses the schools, the post offices, public transit. CTU wrote a great paper called The Schools That Our Children Deserve. What we need to do is the same thing with public transit." Video length is 13:58
CTU bus routes and schedules put drivers and riders under intolerable pressure. Photo: Labor BeatTags: CTAATU 241
One Dead and Two Missing After Tugboat Hits Barge Near NY Tappan Zee Bridge
By ASHLEY SOUTHALL
MARCH 12, 2016
Rescuers searching the Hudson River near the Tappan Zee Bridge for two people who were missing after a tugboat hit a barge on Saturday. CreditGregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
A tugboat with three crew members aboard struck a construction barge moored beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge and sank into the Hudson River before dawn on Saturday, killing one crew member and leaving the other two missing, officials said.
The crew of a boat named the Specialist tried to move away from the stationary barge after realizing they were approaching too close to it, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said at a news conference on Saturday afternoon on the Rockland County side of the bridge. But the boat crashed into the corner of the barge and quickly sank.
“It’s a tragic accident,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We’re hoping for a miracle, but if we don’t have a miracle, three lives would have been lost.”
One of the missing crew members was a 29-year-old man whose family met with Mr. Cuomo on Saturday. The man had been set to return home but agreed to work a few extra days on the boat, the governor said.
Investigators were still trying to figure out what led to the crash that killed his crew mate, Paul Amon, 62, of Bayville, N.J. Mr. Amon was pulled from the river and pronounced dead, which occurred around 5:18 a.m., said Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, at a news conference after the governor’s appearance.
James E. Mercante, the maritime lawyer for the owner of the Specialist, said Mr. Amon was the ship’s captain, and had been at the wheel steering the tugboat next to the barge. The mate and the deckhand were still missing. Mr. Mercante said the authorities were trying to locate the deckhand’s mother to notify her that he was missing.
“It was a horrific accident,” Mr. Mercante said. “It was a crew of experienced mariners and loyal employees, and the owner is sorrowful about this tragedy.”
As Mr. Astorino spoke on Saturday, divers, who had been unable to enter the river because of strong currents, were preparing to begin underwater searches of the vessel and for the missing crew. They were part of a search-and-rescue effort involving dozens of agencies from New York State, New York City, and Rockland and Westchester Counties, as well as the United States Coast Guard.
As day turned into night without a sign of the men, officials signaled they were prepared for the worst, but holding out hope for a positive outcome. The Coast Guard said Saturday night that it had suspended the search at sunset “pending further developments.”
“The dive teams are going to look around the entire sunken vessel and do whatever is necessary to find and recover bodies, if they are there,” Mr. Astorino said.
Petty Officer Sabrina Laberdesque, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard’s New York sector, said the search had not switched from a rescue mission to a recovery effort.
The Specialist was one of three tugboats that left the Albany area on Friday night escorting a barge carrying a tower crane down the Hudson River to a terminal in Jersey City, Mr. Astorino said at a news conference. The Specialist was on the starboard, or right, side of the moving barge.
As it passed under the central span of the bridge, the tugboat slammed into the stationary barge, according to Mr. Astorino. That barge was also loaded with a tower crane that was working on a replacement bridge being erected adjacent to the older span, he said.
After the collision, the Specialist took on water and sank within minutes, falling 40 feet to the bottom of the river, Mr. Astorino said. The Coast Guard said it was notified that the vessel had sunk at 5:20 a.m.
The crews on the other tugboats, the Trevor to the left of the moving barge and the Realist to the rear of it, tried to help the Specialist’s crew members but were unable to reach them, he said.
The United States Coast Guard and the Westchester County police were investigating the collision. Mr. Astorino said investigators were exploring factors including speed, visibility and the crew’s familiarity with the area of the river near the bridge.
George N. Longworth, the Westchester County public safety commissioner, said investigators had not determined how fast the Specialist was moving, and were still interviewing witnesses.
Still underwater on Saturday night, the Specialist was leaking some of its 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the river, officials said. A private contractor lowered booms into the river to collect the oil and was working with the State Environmental Conservation Department to clean and contain the spill, according to Mr. Cuomo.
For most of the day, the search for the missing mariners was limited to the boats and aviation units scanning the surface of the water. Divers used sonar equipment to figure out if the position of the boat made it safe to approach.
The Specialist, an 84-foot steel-hulled vessel, was built in 1954, according to documents on file with the Coast Guard. Mr. Mercante said that in addition to the search and cleanup, the company was also trying to figure out how to raise the Specialist, which was partially lodged under the stationary barge.
Thirteen workers were aboard the stationary barge at the time of the accident, and they were not injured, Mr. Cuomo said. The barge was illuminated, he said, and officials believed that the light had allowed those workers to see the tugboat — which appeared to be coming too close — and move to safety.
The company that owns the stationary barge, Tappan Zee Constructors, said it was aware of the accident and was cooperating with investigators.
The Tappan Zee Bridge is about 20 miles north of the Bronx and connects two counties: Rockland to the west, and Westchester to the east. Construction on a replacement bridge began in 2013, with a budget of $3.9 billion and an expected completion date in 2018.
In 2013, a woman and her fiancé’s best man were killed near the building site, when a boat they were aboard struck a Tappan Zee construction barge. The boat’s driver had been drunk, prosecutors said, and after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter as part of a plea agreement, he was sentenced to two years in prison in 2014.
The victims’ families filed lawsuits against several companies involved with the bridge project, saying that poor lighting at the site had been a factor in the crash. The status of those suits could not be determined on Saturday.
Correction: March 13, 2016
Because of information provided by the authorities, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the age of Paul Amon, one of the crew members who was killed. Mr. Amon was 62, not 52.
Inside the secret talks that settled a threatened NJ Transit strike
Gary Dellaverson, left, the NJ Transit special labor counsel, during talks to divert a possible strike by 11 rail unions working for NJ Transit. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
on March 13, 2016 at 7:45 AM, updated March 13, 2016 at 11:13 PM
NEWARK — With the clock running out to avoid a strike set for a minute after midnight Sunday, there wasn't much hope Friday afternoon among the 20 or so negotiators in a Newark conference room that a deal could be reached.
NJ Transit — the third largest commuter railroad in the country — was about to begin shutting down its system, throwing hundreds of thousands of commuters and the metropolitan region into disarray, with visions of 20-mile plus backups leading to the Hudson River crossings of Manhattan on Monday morning.
Somehow, though, negotiators finally emerged Friday evening at the Gateway Hilton to declare a feared strike by NJ Transit's 4,200 rail workers had been averted. In interviews Saturday, insiders said the settlement came together quickly despite their uneasy feelings Friday after lunch. In fact, they said, there was no clear path to a deal as late as 3 p.m., even after a day of behind-closed-door talks that had taken on the air of a military operation.
NJ Transit special labor counsel Gary Dellaverson's optimistic proclamation earlier in the morning to reporters that "Today is the day" seemed more of a plaintive hope than a prediction, some recounted, as negotiators on Friday moved from the spacious ballroom where they had camped during the week to the smaller quarters of the conference rooms in the Newark Hilton.
The only breaks in the negotiations came when proposals were being reviewed by one side or the other, and for lunch, which included trips to a Portuguese restaurant in the Ironbound and around the nearby Prudential Center arena.
Threatened rail strike averted
A threatened strike that would have stranded commuters across the state has been averted with a tentative agreement announced between rail unions and NJ Transit.
Most of the talking was being done by Dellaverson and Joel Parker, a national union representative who had the task of negotiating simultaneously for 11 rail unions representing very diverse employees, from conductors to machinists, to engineers to people who maintain tracks.
Hours later, both sides announced a deal that is remarkable for how little anybody outside that small closed circle knows about its terms.
Gov. Chris Christie, who announced the deal Friday night, said he would not disclose what the state agreed to until the union has a chance to explain it to its rank-and-file, with the first meeting scheduled for Tuesday. Legislative leaders on Saturday said they have not been briefed. Union rank and file members said they had not seen the proposal on Saturday. And union officials will not publicly comment.
No NJ Transit rail strike, Christie announces
Governor Christie announced on March 11, 2016 that NJ Transit has come to a tentative agreement with the coalition comprised of all 11 unions, representing over 4,200 New Jersey Transit employees - averting a railway strike. (Source: Gov. Christie)
All that is publicly known abut the contract deal is that it extends to 2019, and that there will be no immediate fare increase to pay for it — a fact that has raised speculation that some of the salary increases in the agreement may be back-end loaded, so that they take effect in the later years of the contract.
NJ Transit officials, who held meetings yesterday on demobilizing their strike contingency plans for Monday, would not talk about the settlement.
However David Peter Alan, chairman of the Lackawanna Commuter Coalition, said he believed it was a tough contract to hammer out.
"This was probably the hardest labor negotiations since 1983 when NJ Transit rail was formed and they had to negotiate new agreements from the predecessor railroads," he said. "I know they went right down to the wire and I thought we likely were not going to have trains on Sunday."
TOO MANY UNIONS
In interviews with officials in the negotiations, the diverse nature of the unions involved in the contract talks was problematic from the start.
Christie himself acknowledged that with the announcement of a settlement.
"Negotiating is hard with 11 unions. There is not always going to be unanimity, nor should there be," he said.
In fact, this was the first time a large number of rail unions were represented by one group at the table.
"We had shied away from coalition bargaining, but it was evident that none of the unions were getting anywhere on their own," said Daniel O'Connell, N.J. State Legislative Director for SMART Transportation, which represents NJ Transit's trainmen and yardmasters.
Parker, though, he said, "did a masterful job and earned the trust of coalition partners."
The union negotiator's style was more "velvet glove, rather than being in your face," O'Connell said, adding that Parker also didn't try to be the "smartest guy in the room," even though he had to explain how the changes in proposals affected each of the 11 coalition members.
"We had some serious issues that could have derailed things, (but) he kept it going forward," O'Connell said.
Negotiators had to pick through numerous proposals and counter proposals, including some made in the final week of talks by NJ Transit.
"There were more (counter proposals) than I care to count, but that's the nuts and bolts of bargaining," O'Connell said. "I noticed that Thursday, (that) things started moving."
Christie, meanwhile, personally praised Dellaverson for being a credible voice, and said his evaluation of the situation meant the governor didn't have to get involved.
"I could have stormed in the room and put on a show. ... I never had a conversation with the unions," said the governor, although he did cut his vacation short to return to the state.
A SPEED BUMP
Talks seemed to hit a speed bump Thursday evening, when the coalition announced NJ Transit issued a notice telling union workers that they would be suspended and lose health insurance coverage if they struck.
NJ Transit officials said they were required to give that notice by federal regulations, but some, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), questioned whether the notice had been prematurely issued.
"The suspension notice didn't help (talks), it was like a shot across the bow," O'Connell said.
However, he acknowledged the threat of a 12:01 a.m., March 13 deadline was the motivator and Dellaverson echoed that feeling on Friday morning, saying that there was no reason to wait until Saturday night to hammer out a contract and that all the information both sides needed was on the table.
Still, an agreement was elusive into mid-afternoon Friday. At that point, there was still a chance that Christie himself might have gotten personally involved, O'Connell said.
The governor, through, was not far away.
Steve Burkert, spokesman for the transit workers union coalition, announces that an agreement has been made averting a possible strike by 11 rail unions working for NJ Transit. Friday March 11, 2016. Newark, NJ, USA (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media, for NJ.com
Dellaverson could be seen shuttling back and forth with legal pad in hand between the hotel conference room—flanked by the restaurants and stores in the passageway between Penn Station and the Gateway One office building—to the governor's Newark office in the Gateway office complex. Around 6:30 p.m., Dellaverson was seen bringing negotiators into a conference room.
That marked the turning point. He and NJ Transit's team left for the agency's headquarters across the street, and shortly afterward, Stephen Burkert, a former NJ Transit conductor turned union official who served as the coalitions spokesman, gave the first word that a settlement had been reached.
"You can all smile now," Burkert said to the union negotiators as they gathered around a podium. "We're going home to our families."
O'Connell, who had left the negotiations early to attend to a family matter, received a terse text message not long afterward: "Tentative agreement with NJ Transit," it said.
"I had to sit down, I was over the moon," he said.
While he hasn't seen the terms of the settlement, O'Connell said he has confidence in his fellow negotiators.
"We feel we got the best deal we could," O'Connell said. "I have enough respect for the people in the room, if they endorsed it, it is good for the workers. I hope we ratify it."
NJ Advance Media staff writer Ted Sherman contributed to this report.
Larry Higgs may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.Tags: SMARTNew Jersey Transit Workers
A Current Longshore Battle Shows that the NLRB Is Not a Friend of Organized Labor
FRIDAY, MAR 11, 2016, 4:15 PM
A Current Longshore Battle Shows that the NLRB Is Not a Friend of Organized Labor
BY JOE BURNS
Every so often, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announces a new “pro-worker” ruling to great fanfare in the labor press. Initiatives like protecting workers who tape record in a non-union shop or administratively shortening union elections all are welcome developments (although anti-labor federal judges will likely not let them stand).
Such initiatives can give the impression that the NLRB is a benign but ineffective institution. This is not true. The NLRB is a key part of the system of labor control which hamstrings labor and prevents effective trade unionism in this country.
To truly understand the role of the NLRB, we should be looking at its war against the kind of solidarity unionism practiced by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Unlike the partial pro-worker measures which negligibly impact labor’s prospect, the NLRB’s vigorous prosecution of the ILWU has the potential to cripple one of labor’s best unions.
In a recent ruling, the NLRB upheld an Administrative Law Judge’s decision that the ILWU violated the National Labor Relations Act by engaging in work slowdowns against their employer ICTSI. While the case is somewhat complicated, in a nutshell, the National Labor Relations Board is attempting to financially cripple the ILWU for trying to uphold the “work jurisdiction” clause of their coast-wide agreement.
Even worse, the NLRB is claiming that by pressuring the contractor which is running the port to give them work that they and the employer group the Pacific Maritime Association both believe belong to the ILWU, they are violating the secondary boycott provisions of Taft Hartley.
Before going into detail of the concerns about this case, it is important to discuss the special role of the ILWU. The ILWU was one of the 11 left-led unions expelled from the CIO in the wake of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act. True to its roots, much like the United Electrical Workers similarly expelled, the ILWU has served as a beacon of solidarity for the entire labor movement for decades.
ILWU members have shut down the ports over the loading of good to South Africa and displayed a militancy and solidarity desperately lacking in today’s labor movement. Unlike other unions which have been forced to abandon industrywide bargaining, the ILWU maintains a single agreement covering all ports on the West Coast, an essential element in successful trade unionism.
In 2010, the Port of Portland privatized the operation of a terminal to a Philippines-based corporation ICTSI. ICTSI operates terminals primarily in the Global South and has come under fire for brutally suppressing longshore workers in Honduras. The ILWU asserted jurisdiction over all of the work on the terminal including a handful of jobs plugging in refrigeration units, which the record indicates does not require skilled work and is done by ILWU members at most other ports. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members had apparently performed the work plugging in refrigeration units for the port prior to privatization and sought to retain the work. The contractor, ICTSI, has agreed to abide by the coastwide agreement. The union and the coastwide employer association, the PMA, agreed these jobs should be done by ILWU members by virtue of the terms of th ecoastwide agreement.
The ICTSI refused to give the work to the ILWU and subsequently filed charges with the NLRB alleging that the ILWU undertook a series of job actions and slowdowns to force their employer ICTSI to comply with the port-wide agreement. The ILWU denies such a slowdown took place—and in any event, the matter should have been treated as a contract dispute under the collective bargaining agreement.
But here’s why this case is so important: The NLRB is saying that ICTSI is somehow not to be considered the primary employer but is a neutral employer, making the ILWU’s actions illegal secondary activity.
Seem complicated? That’s because the whole case is based on legal fictions which defy common sense.
What is at stake may appear to be squabbling between unions over a handful of jobs. As I have argued previously, however, the issues at stake involve the ILWU’s ability to maintain the integrity of a coast-wide agreement, which is absolutely essential to the survival of unionism in this sector. The ILWU is fighting a multi-front battle to maintain effective, industry-wide unionism, which has been wiped out in most other industries.
This gets to the crux of the issue: the NLRB’s special role in defeating solidarity and preventing effective trade unionism. The anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act outlaws solidarity activity which it deems as secondary pressure. While many think of the Taft-Hartley provisions as only outlawing secondary strike and boycott provisions, they actually can tie a union’s hands from even filing a grievance or lawsuit against an allegedly neutral employer. De-unionization in the United States was accomplished more by the shams that grew out of this provision such as sub-contracting, independent contractors, successor employer doctrines, runaway shops and other factors than straight up strike-breaking.
Here, the ICTSI filed charges with the NLRB alleging that by fighting to uphold work under the coast wide agreement, the union was engaging in secondary (solidarity) actions illegal under the anti-labor Taft-Hartley. The NLRB is saying that ITSCI is somehow a neutral employer. All of this is of a piece with a truly horrible 2012 decision in which an NLRB Administrative Law Judge found against the ILWU, arguing they had engaged in secondary activity by trying to defend their coast wide agreement.
All these cases are part of a broader legal regime in which, under Taft Hartley, the NLRB is give a special role in suppressing labor rights, including prioritizing attacks against instances of unions using effective solidarity. Those who think the NLRB based on their token efforts in support of workers are labor’s friends should study this case closely. These provisions highlights the problems with not just an individual decision or two but with the underlying structure of labor law—a structure that unions need to start questioning.
First, sanctions against employers for violating the NLRA are typically mere slaps on the wrist, such as posting a notice or sometimes paying minimum back pay (which is mitigated by any earnings the worker earns before being reinstated). In contrast, unions who stray beyond the bound of labor law are subject to injunctions and damage suits which potentially could cripple a union’s treasury. This is the case with the ILWU case in which the company is seeking damages which could amount to millions of dollars. The NLRB is required to prioritize and seek injunctions against unions for engaging in solidarity actions.
We have a system of labor control which offers minimal protections to worker and negligible penalties against employer violations. This system drastically restricts effective trade unionism and harshly punishes any attempt of a union to break from this system. From this perspective, the NRLB mainly functions as a repressive apparatus to discipline labor while offering some protections to maintain legitimacy. (Of course it is hard to inveigh too much against the NLRB officials when the labor officialdom has largely accepted the system of labor control as legitimate and has raised nary a peep against the repression against the ILWU.)
Second, a disturbing factor in this case is the zeal with which the NLRB is going after the ILWU. The Administrative Law Judges decision drips with contempt against the union. While this could be chalked up to a bad Administrative Law Judge, the appointed members of the NLRB upheld the decision. Republican appointees on the NLRB for decades have bent over backwards to find ways to uphold employers’ interests and undermine worker protections. In fact, the NLRB decision in this case directly contradicts how the labor board treated the case in an advice memo on the East Coast with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), saying of course the carriers and operators controlled the work.
Many of the judicial decisions against solidarity came not from conservative Supreme Court justices in the 1980s but from the liberal Supreme Court in the 1960s. As I argue in Reviving the Strike, these liberals are more comfortable with upholding rights within an employer (such as tape recording conversations) than embracing the militant, solidaristic form of unionism employed by the ILWU.
By claiming it is still the Port of Portland which is the employer rather than private company (ICTSI) actually running the terminal, the NLRB portrays the ILWU as illegitimate and engaging in illegal secondary activity. But if one uses some common sense, it is clear that longshore workers have a legitimate dispute with their employer over the scope of work. This is not the ILWU picketing some unrelated employer miles away but rather attempting to deal with an issue on their docks.
The ILWU represents members at ports along the West Coast and zealously safeguards their jurisdiction as any union should do. After the operations at the Port of Portland were privatized, the private employer signed a port wide agreement but refuses to abide by certain terms even though the employer association, which it voluntarily joined, agreed with the ILWU. To the NLRB, none of this matters.
If this decision is allowed to stand—this legal fiction that the port still controls work on a terminal they privatized—than that logic can be expanded to other areas of ILWU jurisdiction. Work can be spun off by ports and, even worse, the union’s hands would be tied in fighting because the action would be considered secondary activity outlawed by Taft-Hartley. As in many other industries, the use of the corporate form and legal fictions would destroy unionism in this industry.
This represents an occasion to question the Taft-Hartley framework and to have a discussion about what effective trade unionism looks like. Taft-Hartley was passed to render unionism ineffective, as were the decades of court and NLRB decisions which followed. If employers are allowed to defy the coast-wide agreement—an agreement that is essential to ILWU power—then effective trade unionism in this vital sector of the economy will be crippled.
Sure, workers may be able to record conversations at work. But the words on tape will likely be employers gloating about how effective unionism has finally been extinguished.Tags: ilwunlrbTaft-Hartley