Police will be taking soil core samples at a home in Roseville on Friday in search of the remains of missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, whose 1975 disappearance sparked one of the 20th century’s biggest mysteries.
“We received information from an individual who saw something,” Roseville Police Chief James Berlin told the Free Press. “The information seemed credible, so we decided to follow up on it.”
Berlin wouldn’t say who provided the tip — one of hundreds authorities have pursued in the years since Hoffa vanished from a restaurant parking lot in Oakland County.
But he said the state’s Department of Environmental Quality used ground scanning radar last Friday to check out a spot under the driveway and found “an anomaly” that prompted authorities to make plans to return to the site Friday to take a soil sample.
Berlin said it would be sent to a forensic anthropologist at Michigan State University to check for human remains.
“We do not know if this is Jimmy,” Berlin said.
The tipster told police Hoffa’s body may have been buried under the driveway of the home in the 18700 block of Florida, a residential neighborhood northwest of 12 Mile and Gratiot.
Berlin said the informant “thought it was Jimmy because the same time this happened was the same time Jimmy disappeared,” Berlin said.
Berlin said he planned to contact the FBI, which has spearheaded the three-decades-old murder investigation.
“We believe he saw something,” Berlin said of the informant. “Whatever he saw was suspicious.”
Hoffa, 62, disappeared on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of what then was the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township.
He had gone there for a reconciliation meeting with Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a mob-connected New Jersey Teamster official, and Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a Detroit mafia captain.
The FBI theorized that Provenzano and Giacalone had Hoffa killed to prevent him from regaining the Teamsters presidency and ending the mob’s influence over the union and easy access to Teamster pension funds.
Hoffa had run the union from 1957-71.
At the time of his disappearance, Hoffa had served nearly five years of an 8- to 13-year prison sentence for fraud, conspiracy and jury tampering. Then-President Richard Nixon had commuted Hoffa’s sentence in late 1971 on condition that he stay out of union activities until 1980. Hoffa was in the process of challenging the condition.
The FBI theorized that Hoffa climbed into a car driven by Hoffa’s long-time protégé, Charles (Chuckie) O’Brien, and was driven a short distance where he was killed. Authorities believed Hoffa’s body was shredded or incinerated.
Despite thousands of tips, authorities never found Hoffa’s body, and no one has been charged in his disappearance.
A woman who answered the phone at the Roseville home says she is “fully aware of what’s going on,” but she said she didn’t want to be interviewed at this point. She referred questions to the Roseville Police department.
Police said the homeowner, who has owned the house for 10 to 15 years, has been helpful and cooperative.
Daughter not hopeful
Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, a retired St. Louis administrative judge, said she doesn’t hold out much hope the search will produce her father’s body or solve the mystery of his disappearance.
“I don’t put much credence into it,” she said this afternoon. “I don’t think the case will ever be solved. Too many people are dead and gone. I believe there are people out there who know what happened, but they’re not talking.”
“After so many false turns, I’ll be surprised if anything comes of it. But as his daughter, I would like to have a body to bury.”
Dan Moldea, a Washington, D.C., author who wrote a 1978 book — “The Hoffa Wars” — about Hoffa’s disappearance, said he’s crossing his fingers.
“After all these years, I have come to believe that the final solution to this case will come very suddenly out of left field from someone who has had no connection to the actual murder. For that reason, I always treat these tipsters with respect. One of these days, one of them might be right."
The Teamsters union in Washington, D.C., said it would have no comment.
The Detroit FBI field office had no comment.
Reporters and TV live trucks have been congregating at the house, lining Kelly near Florida, as word got out of the Hoffa search. Two police cars also are guarding the area.
Some neighbors are outside talking about the news, describing their reactions as surprise.
“When I heard that, I couldn’t believe it,” said Sue Fero-Hutton, 66. “After all these years.”
She said she doesn’t think there’s any truth to it and has lived in her home near the area in question since 1994.
Fero-Hutton said her father knew Hoffa personally because her father was a union representative.
“When I heard the rumor about Jimmy Hoffa, I said I wish my dad was alive so I could talk to him about it,” she said.
Other neighbors said they’ll wait and see what is found.
“Every couple of years, they seem to look for him. I’m sure his family probably wants the mystery solved,” said Cindy Kacir, 52, who lives across the street from the home.
The Chicago Teachers Union has done the seemingly impossible. At a time when teachers are pilloried in the press and attacked by Democrats and Republicans alike, Chicago teachers walked out for seven days in a strike that challenged every tenet of the corporate agenda for overhauling education.
Though on paper the strike was about teacher evaluations, in fact the battle was waged over conflicting visions of public education.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his corporate cronies seek to privatize public education into oblivion, creating profit-making opportunities as new charters are opened and new curricula and tests are adopted. Pushing high-stakes testing is key, as student test results supply a justification for shuttering schools as well as firing veteran teachers en masse.
CTU, on the other hand, says public schools are necessary community institutions. Class sizes should be small; students should study a rich curriculum with more art and music than standardized tests; social workers, nurses, and counselors should help students beat back the effects of poverty on their chances of academic success.
Teachers should be respected as professionals, fairly compensated, and given the supplies and the breathing room they need to do their jobs.
Teachers believed so strongly in this vision of education for all that they risked legal sanctions and financial hardship to brave further vilification.
“They’re my heroes,” said Kerry Motoviloff, president of the Madison, Wisconsin, teachers union. “Because of what they’ve done, they’ve taken control of the debate. They are saying that teachers have ideas on what real reform looks like—you are just not funding them.”
The new contract gains ground.
Teachers kept the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that will be based on student test scores to 30 percent, the legal limit after the Illinois legislature passed an anti-teacher law last year. The board had sought 45 percent. The union also earned the first-time ever right for teachers to appeal a rating.
The union forced merit pay off the table and maintained almost all the traditional salary structure, with raises for experience and advanced degrees.
Teachers made major gains on recall rights, previously nonexistent.
Seniority had existed only at the school level.
Now, if a school closes, teachers will have the right to “follow their students” if a position opens up at the school where students are sent. Laid-off teachers will have 10 months of recall if their old position is reinstated. And at least half of all new openings must now be filled with laid-off teachers.
Six hundred teachers will be hired in art, music, and phys ed.
The union won break time for nursing mothers and a $250 reimbursement when teachers buy supplies. Students are guaranteed to get their books on the first day of school.
The new deal is by no means perfect.
Teachers won a new evaluation system they think will be more objective. But despite the flaws in principals’ rankings, low-rated teachers will not have seniority protection when layoffs take place.
Laid-off teachers will now get paid for just six months, down from 12.
The contract does little to address class size—which state law forbids only Chicago teachers to bargain over—preserving toothless policies that have allowed classrooms to balloon to 40 or 50 kids despite caps of 35. Still, the status quo is a minor win given that the board wanted to gut it. A panel to monitor class size will get more funding and must now include a parent.
The board agreed to hire more social workers, counselors, and school nurses, but only if new sources of revenue are found. Emanuel is pushing for a Chicago casino to bring in tax money, which Governor Pat Quinn has vetoed, but it likely will eventually be approved.
Teachers nationwide were elated to see someone resisting the tide of corporate-backed concessions teachers have accepted in recent years, often at the prodding of national Teachers (AFT) officials.
The national AFT played a small role in Chicago. A senior staffer sat in on negotiations, but AFT otherwise deferred to the local, lending money and staffers to help with strike logistics.
Once the strike started, AFT President Randi Weingarten “didn’t really have much choice,” said Debby Pope, a strike coordinator.
Merit pay and evaluations based on student test scores were two national trends that Chicago teachers bucked.
Teachers in Pittsburgh took a deal in 2010 that introduced merit pay for new hires and raised the number of years to gain tenure.
When Baltimore members nixed a merit-based contract, AFT top brass swooped in to pressure members to change their votes. Weingarten touted the agreement, but earlier this year, an unprecedented majority of Baltimore teachers received unsatisfactory mid-year evaluations, in what teachers say was a deliberate attempt to avoid merit raises.
In the face of these defeats, CTU’s electrifying stand could spark resistance. Los Angeles teachers are now in negotiations over incorporating student test scores into evaluations. Union board member Joe Zeccola said, “One thing is for sure: it emboldened us in negotiations and we’re sticking to our guns more than we were.”
After a favorable court decision, Madison teachers are seeking to reopen bargaining immediately. “Boy, is the shoe on the other foot now,” Motoviloff said.
The strike didn't come out of nowhere: Chicago teachers, energized by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, have been organizing for years.
“To watch the change in the national discourse just in the course of this week, it shows what the power of, first, a small number of people in our caucus and then a large number of people in our union could accomplish,” said Xian Barrett, a history and law teacher.
They also built strong parent connections fighting school closures.
To cement relationships from school closure fights, the CTU developed a community board composed of neighborhood organizations. During the strike, these partners responded.
Albany Park Neighborhood Council organized busloads to attend a 35,000-person rally on the strike’s first day, turned out members to picket lines across the neighborhood, and held a forum on the strike issues.
A city-wide youth project organized a protest against high-stakes testing, highlighting how standardized tests misrepresent and punish students and teachers alike.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association organized a “freedom camp” for out-of-school kids. A week of lessons on Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. capped off with parents and students demonstrating in support. Waving handmade signs, the kids performed the civil rights classic “We Shall Not Be Moved” for beaming teachers.
Ofelia Sanchez, mother of five, said she knows from her experience as a classroom volunteer that “you can’t teach a class of 40 students. It’s impossible. Students learn at their own pace.”
She said she backed the strike because she didn’t want to see her children’s teachers beg for help from parents.
Lauren Mikol, a Madison teacher, says other unions would do well to take a page from CTU’s community engagement playbook.
“They’re showing the way,” she said. “We have to do the same thing—convince everyone that public schools have to be stood up for.”
In Chicago, that fight will soon relaunch. By December the district is expected to announce 80-120 more school closures.
“We lit a fire under parents and community groups,” Cavallero said, “and with our support, they can take on that struggle to fight for their neighborhood schools. People realize that this is just the beginning.”
A Wisconsin judge on Friday struck down the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled Friday that the law violates the state and U.S. constitutions and is null and void.
The law took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most workers and has been in effect for more than a year.
Colas' ruling comes after a lawsuit brought by the Madison teachers union and a union for Milwaukee city employees.
For city, county and school workers, the ruling returns the law to its previous status, before it was changed in March 2011, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. However, Walker's law remains largely in force for state workers, it reported.
Walker's law prohibited state and local governments from bargaining over anything except cost of living adjustments to salaries. Haggling over issues such as health benefits, pensions and workplace safety was barred.
Gov. Walker said in a statement Friday that he expected the ruling will be overturned on appeal.
"The people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5th," he said in the statement posted on his Facebook page. "Now, they are ready to move on. Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process."
"We believe the law is constitutional," said Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck.
The proposal was introduced shortly after Walker took office in February last year. It sparked a firestorm of opposition and huge protests at the state Capitol that lasted for weeks. All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois for three weeks in an ultimately failed attempt to stop the law's passage by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The law's passage led to a mass movement to recall Walker from office, but he survived the recall election, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to do so.
A letter from Change to Win's Strategic Organizing Center:
Warehouse workers in Southern California went on strike this morning, following months of high tension, high temperatures and extreme pressure in a major Walmart-contracted warehouse. These courageous workers walked off the job to protest retaliation by their warehouse employers.
Their plight is not uncommon in Walmart-contracted warehouses, which I learned from firsthand experience. After five years of lifting heavy boxes every day in the warehouse, my body aches. I am 31. Walking is difficult, lifting my son is nearly impossible, and I frequently have very painful back spasms. I finally left my job at the warehouse after I seriously hurt my back.
But I had to fight for medical attention. The managers of the warehouse didn't care about my health or safety. They tried to prevent me from seeing a doctor. I fought and I won medical care, but I have seen a lot of my coworkers fired for similar injuries. They leave the warehouse hurt, with no job and no healthcare.
We move goods for Walmart, but we are treated like we are disposable. To this day it makes me angry. That's why I am joining with other workers and people who support us to end these inhumane working conditions.
Together, we can improve the lives of the thousands of people who live with these conditions on a daily basis. Support warehouse workers and sign our letter to Walmart. We will deliver it to Walmart executives when we arrive in Los Angeles at the end of our march.
Click here to sign on to the letter!
Thank you for your support,
San Bernardino, California
UPDATED September 18, 2012: Chicago teachers are returning to the classroom after staging a united strike to protect teachers' jobs and improve education for Chicago's children. The union's 800-member council of delegates debated the tentative agreement and voted today to suspend the strike. The 29,000 members will vote on the contract at a later date.
A news update is available here.
UPDATED September 17, 2012: Delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to continue their strike yesterday. They will reconvene on Tuesday afternoon, after they've had a chance to head back to the picket lines and discuss the situation with the union membership.
Click here to read the official press release.
September 12, 2012: 30,000 Chicago Teachers walked off the job on Monday in the largest strike of 2012.
They are striking primarily over better education for kids, including smaller class sizes. They are also striking to protect job security: the mayor wants to be able to fire teachers based on test scores, which reflect a lot more than the skill of the teacher, especially in poor areas. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is claiming the strike is all about salaries, but union president Karen Lewis says the sides are actually close to agreement on salaries.
The union has worked for months to build support from the community and parents. Apparently it has paid off, as a poll published yesterday by the Chicago Sun Times showed that more Chicagoans support the teachers' union than support the mayor.
Teamsters are offering support and solidarity. Chicago Teamsters Local 705 has loaned space in "Teamster City" for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to use as their strike headquarters. One CTU striker captured this photo of a UPSer who jumped off his truck and onto the megaphone to voice his support.
The picket lines are very well staffed and active, with support from students, parents, community members, unions, and other allies who show their solidarity by joining the picket lines, or by "buying a teacher a lunch," running online blogs with pictures and statements of support, and holding solidarity rallies in cities around the country. See more on solidarity here.
To stay up with the latest information on the strike, click here to visit CTU's "Strike Central."
For background on the Chicago Teachers click here.
August 31, 2012: Happy Labor Day, from your brothers and sisters in Teamsters for a Democratic Union. It's a day off to enjoy family and friends, and maybe attend a Labor Day Parade or other event to show solidarity and remember that the labor movement has brought us many benefits we take for granted too often.
TDU is training, educating, uniting and developing leaders who are a strong force for change and building an expanding, democratic union.
We've gotten this far because we've stuck to this bedrock.
This Labor Day, while you're enjoying time with friends and family, think about the ways we can move our union in the right direction.
TDU members are gearing up for our 2012 Convention in Chicago from October 26-28. There will be contract action meetings for members across the country fighting for stronger contracts, and educational workshops taught by experts like Attorney Robert Schwartz and Teamster Local 805 President Sandy Pope.
Click here to register for the 2012 TDU Convention today.
Happy Labor Day weekend and we'll see you in Chicago!
During President Barack Obama's first year in office, the number of workers killed on the job increased by 3.1%, an alarming rise that has workplace safety advocates demanding broader changes to OSHA. The Center for Progressive Reform has issued a report entitled "The Next OSHA: Progressive Reforms to Empower a New OSHA", which outlines the various ways in which OSHA should be reformed.
The report calls for legislation that would dramatically increase the fees and jail time for employers who willfully break a safety law that winds up killing a worker. Currently, the maximum penalty for killing a worker on a job as a result of a willful safety violation is a mere six months in jail. In comparison, the penalty for chasing a wild burro onto federal land is a felony with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
The center also wants OSHA to be able to issue administrative compliance orders, which would force employers to make safety changes immediately or face shut down of their sites. Currently, OSHA inspectors must often go through a myriad of court procedures before their safety provisions come into effect. Workplace safety advocates argue that a workplace should be shut down as soon as a safety hazard is recognized, not after a worker gets killed on the job.
The report also calls for streamlining the rule-making process at OSHA. As a result of a Reagan-Era law, OSHA must perform a high level of cost-benefit and scientific analyses that aren't required of many other agencies, which dramatically slows the time it takes for OSHA to issue a rule. A GAO report released in April found that it took OSHA 50 percent longer than it takes the EPA to issue new rules, nearly twice as long as it takes the Department of Transportation and nearly five times as long as it takes the SEC. The report also noted that 25% of OSHA rules took more than 10 years to be issued.
The Center for Progressive Reform hopes that by starting to put pressure on Obama now they may be able to make some long-term changes to OSHA.
"I think once Obama wins this election, it will be time for progressives to put a great deal of pressure on Obama to do things progressively," says Thomas McGarity, one of the report's authors and a professor at the University of Texas Law School. "I don't think he will be able to ignore us if he wins this election. If he wants a legacy, his administration needs to do more."
However, McGarity believes Obama could be doing more right now to improve how OSHA enforces workplace safety rules. He says OSHA and the Department of Justice, in prosecuting cases of workplace accidents, should start applying the responsible corporate officer doctrine. That doctrine holds that, even if they were unaware of the violation at the time it occurred, corporate officers are liable for criminal actions by their position at the top of the corporation. Currently, the EPA and FDA apply the doctrine, but OSHA has not done so in the small number of prosecutions of workplace safety.
"You make an example of a few scofflaw employers," says McGarity. "You would go after not just the the corporation, but the corporate official and you would put him in jail. The reason they are not doing it now is that it would generate an awful lot of political heat coming from the right. I don't think that's a legitimate reason not to do it. They would storm up a hornet's nest on Fox News, but they would get the attention of employers all across the country."
McGarity also thinks OSHA should include the families of workers killed in workplace accidents when negotiating settlements with companies and allow them to object to any part of a purposed settlement. Including the families in the process could make the settlement talks more high profile and publicly shame the companies. Family members also may be able to push OSHA to be tougher on companies.
In the current environment of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, reforming OSHA for the better is a nearly impossible task. But McGarity wants the Center for Progressive Reform's agenda on the table when improvements to workplace safety do become politically possible.
"I think it hasn't been part of the conversations because of the conservative echo chamber that would not allow that topic to become a matter of discussion except as a beating on OSHA," says McGarity. "[But] if we have another big disaster then suddenly workplace safety is part of the conversation again. I can promise you it's going to happen."
The nation’s two dock worker unions may take the lead in forming a maritime labor alliance to protect their jurisdiction against encroachment by non-maritime unions or non-union employers.
The presidents of the International Longshoremen’s Association on the East and Gulf coasts and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast have already discussed such an alliance that would presumably include other maritime unions.
“We would form a maritime alliance to do what the AFL-CIO is afraid to do,” said ILA President Harold Daggett, in an address Wednesday to the 35th conference of the ILWU in Coronado, Calif.
Both dock worker unions have had disagreements with employers that attempted either to sign contracts with other unions or shifted their operations to non-union terminals.
Last year the ILWU organized a series of protests, and its president and members were arrested in the process, as they successfully prevented the International Union of Operating Engineers from securing jurisdiction at the new EGT grain terminal in Longview, Wash.
The ILA had similar problems last year when Fresh Del Monte shifted its Philadelphia operations formerly handled by the longshore union to a non-union terminal.
Daggett asked his ILWU brothers what value do maritime unions realize from their membership in the AFL-CIO when the national labor organization does not help to protect the jurisdiction of its member unions.
He expressed special bitterness toward other unions that attempt to poach traditional ILA or ILWU jobs. “What happened to union solidarity?” he asked.
Daggett said he and Bob McEllrath, president of the ILWU, have already discussed the feasibility of leading other maritime unions in formation of a national alliance. He noted that during his long career as an ILA member and officer, the ILA and ILWU have helped each other when the chips were down.
He noted that during a 1977 ILA strike, the ILWU president at the time, Jimmy Herman, invited the ILA to send pickets to the West Coast and he promised that the ILWU would honor the picket lines.
“We stopped 15 ships,” Daggett said. East Coast employers quickly agreed to a contract that gave the ILA everything it wanted, he said.
A series of one-day sympathy strikes by Teamsters in five cities helped convince the giant waste-hauler Republic Services to back off a six-week lockout of its workers in Evansville, Indiana. The lockout was Republic’s attempt to convince the workers to gut their pensions. In May and June workers in California, Michigan, and Illinois honored picket lines set up by locked-out Indiana workers.
Republic is the second-largest waste-hauler in the country, after Waste Management, and made profits of $589 million last year. The agreement reached last week suspends both the lockout and the picketing for 30 days, while the parties negotiate whether the company will continue to participate in the jointly run Central States Pension Plan. The plan, which is in bad financial shape, includes Teamsters in 22 states.
Managers had said they had workers’ interests at heart with their demand to end the defined-benefit pension and replace it with a 401k. They showed their affection May 8 by locking out 80 Teamsters.
Twenty-two-year employee Scott Williams carried a picket sign in Long Beach, California, the Bay Area, and Champaign, Illinois. The Teamsters adopted the slogan used by striking Memphis sanitation workers in 1968 when they were joined on the line by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Am a Man,” or “Soy Hombre” in Spanish, the language of many Republic workers in California.
Williams says that when he and fellow Indiana workers arrived at an out-of-town location, they visited the worksite with a local union official, to let workers know what Republic was trying to pull and what their rights were.
They returned the next day—perhaps just two workers—with their picket placards. Everyone stayed out for the day.
Assistant steward Charlie Ackman of Local 350 in Milpitas, California, says he prepared fellow workers in advance and not one crossed the line, not even Ironworkers and Electrical Workers (IBEW) who were constructing a new recycling center.
Many Teamster contracts, including Local 215’s in Evansville, include the right not to work behind a picket line. It’s one of the clauses Republic still wants to remove. The international union coordinated information about which Republic locals had these rights and which had expiring contracts.
Recognizing Republic’s threat to pensions nationwide, a June 13 meeting of locals representing Republic workers voted unanimously to keep up the pressure and to alert municipal customers that sympathy strikes could come to their area.
“The company knew people were getting together and it wasn't just Central States locals,” said Local 215 President Chuck Whobrey. “The company understood the International was very serious about supporting the locals on this and weren’t going to stand by and let us get picked off one by one.”
The Teamsters represent 9,000 of the company’s 30,000 full-time employees in North America.
PENSION VS. 401K
Whobrey has costed out Republic’s initial pension proposal. The company has paid $107 per week into workers’ pension fund, but under the 401k proposal it would pay nothing unless the employee put money in.
With the lowest-paid workers earning $18.78 an hour, Whobrey feared only a small fraction of his members would agree to deductions. In a 401k, just half the workforce normally participates. “A generation from now, people have absolutely nothing,” he said.
“Even if you assume 75 percent participated at the maximum level, which is 5 percent of your pay,” Whobrey said, “the company would save $5 million over three years just in Evansville.”
Williams said he and his union brothers picketed a transfer station where trash is put on larger trucks bound for a landfill, a truck shop, and a recycling center in the Bay Area, with 300-350 workers staying off the job.
Although Republic is well aware which locations have the right to honor picket lines, and where the union seemed to be preparing, it still had difficulty reacting. Faced with a strike at the garbageman’s starting time of 1 a.m., managers scrambled to bring in the “Blue Crew,” supervisors and non-union workers from other locations.
The Teamsters said the crew didn’t usually arrive in time to be effective. “The garbage waits,” said Local 350 President Bob Morales. “In the meantime, we’re hoping residents are calling to the company and complaining,” Williams said.
In Milpitas, Ackman said, management added more overtime to workers’ usual 10-11 hours per day to get the garbage picked up later that week.
He said it didn’t faze members: “Whenever a union member of any union sees a picket line, it’s his fight.”
In Evansville, where the Blue Crew was doing locked-out members’ work, the city council had formally asked Republic to end the lockout.
Scott Williams said members had mixed feelings about returning to work and that he is “not so happy to be back to work without a contract.” Reached yesterday, his first day back, he said the international’s intervention and “the fact that after five weeks we didn’t say yes to the contract” led to the company’s decision to pull back.
REPEAT ROLLING STRIKES
Sympathy strikes have worked at Republic before. Workers in Mobile, Alabama, struck in March when the company tried to renege on a contract offer. They spread the strike to Buffalo, New York, Columbus, Ohio, and the Seattle area, and ended up reducing their portion of health insurance costs from 30-40 percent down to 25 percent.
But workers are worried about Republic’s long-term aim at their pensions. Marty Frates, president of Bay Area Local 70, says that if Republic can pull out of the Central States Pension Fund, which includes Evansville, it will come after Teamsters in other funds next.
Teamsters attended Republic’s May 17 shareholders meeting to oppose a management proposal that the CEO’s heirs get $23 million if he dies in office. They won 41 percent of the vote—despite the fact that Bill Gates owns 17 percent of the shares.
“I appealed to the shareholders,” Morales said. “How can you in one hand vote more benefits for this guy who makes a multimillion-dollar salary, and tell your poor workers ‘we want to get rid of your pension plan, and give it to this bastard’?”
The National Labor Relations Board today made public a webpage that describes the rights of employees to act together for their mutual aid and protection, even if they are not in a union.
The page, at www.nlrb.gov/concerted-activity, tells the stories of more than a dozen recent cases involving protected concerted activity, which can be viewed by clicking points on a map. Among the cases: A construction crew fired after refusing to work in the rain near exposed electrical wires; a customer service representative who lost her job after discussing her wages with a coworker; an engineer at a vegetable packing plant fired after reporting safety concerns affecting other employees; a paramedic fired after posting work-related grievances on Facebook; and poultry workers fired after discussing their grievances with a newspaper reporter.
Some cases were quickly settled after charges were filed, while others progressed to a Board decision or to federal appellate courts. They were selected to show a variety of situations, but they have in common a finding at some point in the NLRB process that the activity that the employees undertook was protected under federal labor law.
The right to engage in certain types of concerted activity was written into the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act’s Section 7, which states that: “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities.”
That right has been upheld in numerous decisions by appellate courts and by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years. Non-union concerted activity accounts for more than 5% of the agency’s recent caseload.
“A right only has value when people know it exists,” said NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce. “We think the right to engage in protected concerted activity is one of the best kept secrets of the National Labor Relations Act, and more important than ever in these difficult economic times. Our hope is that other workers will see themselves in the cases we’ve selected and understand that they do have strength in numbers.”