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Service Unions Agree on Labor-Owned Bank (Read More…)

July 27, 2010

The Service Employees International Union and Unite Here, the main American union for hotel and restaurant workers, announced on Monday night that they had settled a bitter 18-month dispute in which each occasionally undermined the other’s union organizing drives, Steven Greenhouse writes in The New York Times.

As part of the settlement, ownership of Amalgamated Bank, the nation’s only labor-owned bank, will be transferred to the service employees’ union, if federal regulators approve.

The bank had been previously owned by Unite, an apparel workers union, which merged with the hotel workers union in 2004, but then sought a divorce, beginning an unusual internal labor war and a fight over ownership of the bank. When the apparel workers union split from Unite Here, it renamed itself Workers United and merged into the far larger service employees union.

The settlement calls for Unite Here to retain ownership of the apparel workers’ former headquarters on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan’s garment district. It also calls for letting Unite Here retain about $75 million in challenged assets that the service employees had sought to control, arguing that those assets rightfully belonged to the apparel workers union, according to an individual familiar with the settlement who did not want to be identified because the terms were confidential.

The two sides declined to disclose the exact amount of money involved, but the settlement would end federal litigation over which union would control the bank and the financial assets.

The bank was founded in 1923 by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and has $4.5 billion in assets. The apparel workers’ former headquarters are estimated to be worth about $70 million.
The dispute had become an embarrassment to the labor movement because the two unions had flouted basic notions of labor solidarity and spent considerable sums disparaging each other and raiding each other’s memberships.

In a statement, John W. Wilhelm, Unite Here’s president, said he was proud that the agreement called for his union to retain its exclusive jurisdiction in the hotel and gambling industries. Both unions are to retain some jurisdiction in the food service industry.

Mary Kay Henry, the service employees’ new president, said, “The reason we reached this settlement is we agreed that we want to return both our organizations to focus on organizing nonunion workers and fighting the income stagnation that is hurting so many working people in this country.”

Under the agreement, Unite Here will have jurisdiction to unionize food-service workers at stadiums, convention centers, businesses, airports and airline caterers. The service employees will have jurisdiction to organize food-service workers at health-care facilities, prisons and government buildings.

The agreement will allow both unions to unionize workers at universities as well as elementary and secondary schools.

Mr. Wilhelm said that as a result of the settlement, “Unite Here is in a strong position to represent our members effectively and to bring hope to nonunion workers in our industries.”
In recent years, the two unions, like most other unions, have had difficulties unionizing workers in the private sector, often because of intense employer opposition.

Bruce S. Raynor, the former president of Unite, the apparel workers’ union, and now an executive vice president of the service employees, praised the settlement. “This has been a bitter divorce,” he said. “I’m looking forward to putting this bad chapter, this bad merger behind us.”

The agreement calls for an arbitrator to determine which of the two unions that several thousand members of the breakaway Workers United union should belong to. The two sides are disputing which unions those workers have chosen to be in.

For more than a year, Mr. Wilhelm and Andrew Stern, the service employees’ recently retired president, had unsuccessfully negotiated to settle their intra-union feud.

Posted by Admin on 07/27 at 04:11 PM

Labor Spat Stalls Air Safety Bill (Read More…)

July 26, 2010

In the 17 months since a commuter plane crashed into a suburban house outside Buffalo, N.Y., killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground, Kevin Kuwik has visited Washington 32 times to push for more-stringent training and rest time for pilots.

Mr. Kuwik, whose 30-year-old girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, died in the crash, has buttonholed lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in district offices as far away as Minnesota, passing out a business card emblazoned with Ms. Maurer’s photo. But though his cause has won sympathy and support, the proposals he backs have become just one of many air-safety initiatives stymied by a struggle over union organizing.

The union struggle has stalled action on a wide-ranging bill whose main purpose is to fund the Federal Aviation Administration through 2012, but which also includes pilot-safety provisions and money to modernize air-traffic control.

The Senate could vote on the latest version in coming days. But passage remains uncertain given several major unresolved issues, many having little to do with airline safety. Congress has roughly five weeks left in the legislative calendar this year, and supporters fear the bill’s chances will diminish with time.

“This entire process has just been torture,” said Mr. Kuwik, who is on the coaching staff of Ohio State University’s men’s basketball team, after emerging from a meeting last week with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.).

The scene of the Colgan Air plane crash in 2009.
.A federal probe into the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air Inc. flight 3407, operating for Continental Airlines Inc., portrayed the two pilots of the flight from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo as distracted and ill-equipped and brought attention to the issue of pilot fatigue. Mr. Kuwik and families of the victims want, among other things, rules mandating that pilots have 1,500 flight hours of training before they may operate a commercial flight and requiring longer periods between shifts to allow more rest.

The FAA is drafting its own proposals to set more-stringent pilot-training standards and modify work conditions, including rest time, based on scientific research, a spokeswoman said.

The labor issue involves a provision that would make it easier for workers to unionize at FedEx Corp. That initiative is backed by House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D., Minn.) and unions, including the Teamsters, which represents employees at FedEx rival United Parcel Service Inc.

FedEx has lobbied against the provision. A draft Senate version of the FAA bill circulated earlier this month excludes the provision that would affect FedEx.

FedEX says the unionization proposal would improperly place the company under a labor law that isn’t intended for the kind of integrated ground and air network it employs. FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said the bill is an effort to reduce the company’s reliability by allowing work disruptions, such as strikes, in key locations of its network.

Jim Berard, a spokesman for Mr. Oberstar, said the FAA legislation is a “comprehensive bill.” He added that the legislation “is the proper vehicle for any change in regulation.”

The Obama administration hasn’t taken a stance on the FedEx provision or the full bill.

Ken Hall, vice president and package-division director of the Teamsters, which is pushing for the FedEx provision, which would allow employees to unionize locally instead of just on the national level, said the provision would address a serious issue. “We’re talking about disenfranchising the rights of 100,000 employees in this country,” he said.

Rep. Christopher Lee (R., N.Y.), who took office weeks before the Colgan crash and lives about three miles from the site, has worked with victims’ families on the safety issue.

“The frustrating part for me,” he said, “is that there’s issues like labor positions and unionization of workers—not even pilots, but drivers—that have nothing to do with safety on airlines, and this is what’s holding up the matter.”

Posted by Admin on 07/26 at 08:27 AM