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Union, Dominion Sign Tentative AgreementAssociated Press – August 15, 2002
RICHMOND -- Union officials signed a tentative agreement today with Dominion Virginia Power on a new contract offer, and will submit the offer to its members for a vote, officials said in a statement. Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said the agreement was signed by both parties at about 5:45 p.m. on Thursday. He said he anticipated the first of the 3,700 electrical workers now on strike to return to their jobs Friday night.
The majority of the workers who walked out on their jobs Aug. 2 would return to work Monday, Genest said.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50 said in a statement that workers would return to their jobs while the voting is taking place.
``The leadership of Local 50 is making no recommendation on ratification to the members,'' the union's statement read. ``This proposal protects our core benefits and contains some significant improvements, but this entire process has been one where the workers are running just to stay in place.''
Pension and benefits reductions sought by the company had been the biggest obstacles in contract talks all along, according to the union.
The proposal that Dominion offered Wednesday included guaranteed annual pay raises that would total nearly 15 percent over the life of the contract, bringing the average base wage to more than $51,000 before overtime, shift differentials and supplements.
The company had previously offered a 16.5 percent wage increase over five years. The difference would be used to fund an enhanced early retirement supplement under which employees who retire between 55 and 62 with at least 30 years of service would receive an additional $600 a month until they became eligible for Social Security.
The union held a press conference at 6 p.m. Thursday to announce the decision. Officials from Local 50 and Dominion had been in talks for much of the past two days fine-tuning the agreement.
``This is good news for the union, good news for the company, good news for our customers,'' Genest said shortly after the agreement was signed.
Contract talks with the union began in January. The 3,700 power plant operators, maintenance personnel, linemen, meter readers and other workers went on strike earlier this month after seven months of negotiations failed to produce a contract.
The union's previous contract was a three-year deal from 1995 that was twice extended for two years.
This was the first strike against Dominion, formerly known as Virginia Electric & Power Co. and then Virginia Power, since 1964.
The union represents workers at Dominion Virginia Power and Dominion North Carolina Power, which deliver energy to more than 2 million customers, and at Dominion Energy's power stations in Virginia and Mount Storm, W.Va.
Dominion Makes Union an OfferThe Virginian-Pilot – by Michael Davis – August 15, 2002
With the strike by Dominion Virginia Power workers nearing the two-week mark, the company and its largest union on Wednesday continued to bargain over retirement and health-care benefits.
The company made a settlement proposal to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50, offering a five-year deal with lower pay raises -- but a healthier early retirement supplement -- than its previous offer.
Union officials said they would weigh the offer and get back in touch with Dominion in a few days. No further talks are scheduled.
Striking employees, meanwhile, are walking picket lines and watching the negotiation progress closely.
``Everybody's upbeat and in the spirit of things,'' said Wayne Gentry of Kempsville, a lineman with 30 years of experience at Dominion. ``We just want to get this settled.''
Power company employees -- including electricians, meter readers and power plant workers -- walked off the job Aug. 2 after talks on a new contract broke down. Negotiations started in late January.
The main dispute continues to focus on retirement and health-care benefits. Those are key issues, according to IBEW leaders, for a labor force with an average age of about 50, in a physically grueling industry.
Gentry, for instance, suffers from arthritis in his hands, a bad back, and other aches and pains. He hopes to retire in six years, at age 55.
``I'm pretty worn out now,'' he said.
Last week, the most recent IBEW proposal called for a handful of concessions by the company, including:
Dominion countered Wednesday with a proposal of nearly 15 percent in wage increases over the life of the contract, off from about 16.5 percent in their last offer.
The difference, managers said, would go into an enhanced early retirement supplement that would yield veteran employees who retire as early as age 55 up to $50,000 more in retirement pay.
Base wages would still average more than $51,000 a year before overtime and other supplemental pay under the offer, according to the company.
Additionally, Dominion would shift workers' annual incentive bonuses, which were eliminated in the prior company offer, into the retirement package. Employees would receive a $500 signing bonus.
The incentive bonuses amounted to several hundred dollars last year, according to workers.
``We have heard from many members of the union recently that the strike is not about pay increases, but about retirement benefits,'' said Thomas F. Farrell II, chief executive of Dominion Energy, the generation subsidiary of Dominion Virginia Power corporate parent Dominion Resources Inc. ``We believe this offer addresses the workers' concerns while still providing for adequate pay raises.''
The IBEW represents about 3,700 Dominion employees in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia, including about 1,000 workers in Hampton Roads.
It is the first strike against Richmond-based Dominion -- Virginia's biggest utility -- since 1964. That walkout lasted five days.
A union rally at the state Capitol in Richmond on Wednesday morning drew an estimated 400 striking workers and supporters, who chanted, ``What do we want? Retirement.''
The company has told consumers that it will keep operating using managers, nonunion workers and temporary help.
Dominion has reported no serious outages since violent thunderstorms moved across Northern Virginia two weekends ago.
A blown transformer in downtown Norfolk on Wednesday morning cut power to the city's jail and other governmental buildings, sending some workers home early.
Dominion repaired the malfunctioning equipment and restored power by Wednesday evening.
Regrowing a SpineCBS.MarketWatch.com – by Chris Pummer – August 15, 2002
(8/14/02) - SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) -- What with their crushed 401(k)s, deteriorating job benefits and rampant corporate corruption, American workers should be fighting mad right about now.
After all, every rapid expansion since the 1890s spurred similar corporate crimes that produced wrenching social change and progressive gains for workers -- from anti-child labor laws to workplace-safety protections.
Yet here the bubble has burst on the most prosperous economy in U.S. history, reports of corporate scandal surface almost daily, and we just grimace and bear it.
There's no getting around it: U.S. workers see evil, hear evil and speak evil, but we've become too gutless to utter even a modest demand to our employers. "Please sir, can I have a third week of vacation?" For the freest society on the planet, our capitulation is troubling.
The stock market's bull run since 1982 enriched some of us, but the last 20 years has been one of the worst periods for workers overall in the nation's history. We're only now waking up to how painful the losses have been and continue to be. For instance:
The myth of rising prosperity
Inflation-adjusted wages have increased marginally in the last quarter century, but the gain has been more than wiped out by contributions to health insurance coverage and 401(k)s -- a non-existent expense in the days of fixed pensions.
But for a privileged few, prosperity is largely attainable today only for two-income households. Now that the divorce rate runs 50 percent, millions have the added burden of financing two households.
"CEO incomes going through the roof is not news to people doing the real work in America," said Jonathan Holloway, a labor and social history professor at Yale University. "But these corporate scandals are lifting the cover a little, and we're seeing how dirty everyone's hands are in this, the politicians as well as corporate executives."
The other taketh away
American business provides the worst employee benefits of major industrialized countries and those we do have are being continuously scaled back, including our levels of medical coverage.
Most dental plans haven't raised their $1,000 to $1,500 annual coverage cap for 25 years, even though dental costs have risen more than 400 percent over that period. And Americans are losing ground even on the scant time off we get -- we receive one less vacation day a year on average than in 1979, said Heather Boushey, an economist with the union-supported Economic Policy Institute in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, "The State of Working America."
"More and more people are concerned about vacation and sick time and mandatory overtime," Boushey said. "Americans work more hours than people in any other developed country."
The 401(k) shell game
The 401(k) was billed as business giving workers the "freedom" to invest their retirement savings as they choose, when its real aim was for Corporate America to escape funding traditional pensions and the contractual obligation to pay them.
Millions handed a complicated investing task they were ill-prepared to handle have discovered the true cost of that freedom in decimated retirement funds. Millions more simply can't afford to contribute, creating a huge, future class of impoverished elders whom a strained Social Security system will be unable to support.
"Giving that responsibility back to individuals has been very bloody," said John Challenger, president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which regularly surveys workplace trends and worker attitudes. "There are many people who feel wronged by what happened and feel it is time for changes to occur."
Turning the mirror on ourselves
Of course, we have only ourselves to blame for our plight. We turned away from the union bosses and found no one else to stand up for us. Even most Democratic Party candidates, seeing organized labor's funding running down, are now beholden to business as a source for more than half their campaign contributions.
Yet almost every workplace right and benefit we enjoy owes to the pressure unions brought to bear throughout the 20th century. Now that they represent only 9 percent of the private-sector workforce, they lack muscle to throw the lead punch for the rest of us.
"Unions set the standards up until the late 1970s and they've lost the ability to do that," said Jeff Keefe, a professor of labor and employment relations and director of the Labor Education Center at Rutgers University.
"It's a well-established fact that unions raise wages 10 to 15 percent and improve the value of benefits by a third," Keefe said. "Their decline significantly affects how non-management and non-college-grad employees can gain a middle-class life. Less than half of the non-union workforce has any type of pension now, including a 401(k)."
The decline in unions also stems from the rise in job-hopping -- our defensive response to the dawning of mass layoffs in the early 1980s.
Where once we had a job for life, we sensed our employers didn't have our interests at heart. And rather than complain to a co-worker about ill-treatment -- a whisper that by growing force of agreement might have led to a union vote and kept a bad employer honest -- we just quit, often so frustrated we care not where we land.
Rosie the Riveter returns
So if unions no longer pick up the gauntlet, who will lead American workers? How's this for a surprising protagonist - women.
Women entering the labor force en masse in the last two decades have succeeded in boosting their earnings at a far faster pace than men - up 23 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1979, compared to 1.3 percent for men. See full story.
Since they've come into the workforce largely since unions went into retreat in the early 1980s, they don't share the broken spirit that haunts blue-collar men, like the once-prosperous steelworkers forced to man McDonald's counters in the 1981-82 recession.
There's gumption growing in all those customer-service call centers out there. And a single mom fighting to support her children is far more a force to be reckoned with than a beefy Teamster.
And it's women who've sought greater support from unions over the last quarter century, says Karen Nussbaum, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. Their support is stronger than men's at every level:
As for the winds of change kicking up, Nussbaum notes that we're nearing a pivotal date, based on a 36-year cycle. The years 1896, 1932 and 1968 were major turning points in our country's political pendulum swings. "The lid could well blow off in 2004."
Whether workers in a post-industrial, information-age economy embrace major change remains to be seen. But a clarion call is being sounded.
As Midwestern songwriter Dirk Hamilton wrote, borrowing from Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle, gentleman, down into that good night, for here is a struggle, and it is your turn to fight."
Chris Pummer is personal finance editor for CBS.MarketWatch.com in San Francisco.
A Sorry Day for the TeamstersHouston Chronicle – by L. M. Sixel – August 11, 2002
(Aug. 10, 2002)
Teamsters Union 988 is holding the grand opening this weekend for its new union hall, which is expected to feature Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.
But it has become a sour moment for other labor leaders because the Teamsters didn't use union construction workers. They were told by the Teamsters that union contractors cost too much.
"No one is happy about it," said Paul Dunnam, organizer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 716.
The electricians, along with other unions, complained to the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council but to no avail. The council has no leverage over an individual union like the Teamsters because each local is run by its members.
"There are serious solidarity issues here," said Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO.
Unions are supposed to support each other, said Shaw. He recalled how other unions backed the Teamsters during its last strike against United Parcel Service.
Dennis Bankhead, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 988, said he wouldn't comment on the new building, adding it was unlikely any other Teamsters official would have anything to say.
This dispute comes at a time when union construction workers are in demand because there is so much work available for skilled tradesmen.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is a member union of the international AFL-CIO and an affiliated member of its Building and Construction Trades Department.
While Teamsters Local 988 is one of the biggest locals in Houston with more than 2,000 members, it has had a rocky relationship with other labor groups. It withdrew from the local AFL-CIO about a year ago.
Another local, Teamsters Local 968, a construction union, has never been locally affiliated. But, Teamsters Local 919, which represents the brewery workers at Anheuser Busch, has long had ties to the Harris County AFL-CIO.
Local 988 put its union hall on Interstate 10 up for sale and over the past few months it has been building a 16,246-square-foot building at 4303 E. North Sam Houston Parkway.
Other union leaders are still puzzled why the local opted to build nonunion.
Robert "Sarge" Robinson, business manager of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, said he remodeled his union's three-building complex in Houston during 1998 and 1999 and did it with union labor wherever possible.
"We paid a little extra but the quality was better," said Robinson, whose union covers plumbers in Beaumont, College Station, Victoria and Galveston. "Unions have to support one another."
While Robinson said he wouldn't have done what the Teamsters did, he said it's their decision.
E. Dale Wortham, president of the Harris Country AFL-CIO, said he wasn't involved in the discussions about the construction but has been hearing complaints from other unions.
He speculated that perhaps because Local 988 was paying a mortgage on two properties, it felt it needed to be specially careful how it spent its members' dues.
But, Wortham added, "I just can't believe the cost issue outweighed the right thing to do."
Walkout Over Retirement, Health CareThe Virginian-Pilot by Michael Davis – August 7, 2002
(8/3/02) - Lights kept burning and air conditioners continued humming late Friday, hours after Dominion Virginia Power workers walked off the job over retirement and health-care benefits. About 1,000 unionized Hampton Roads employees hit the picket lines at noon in the first labor strike against the company in nearly four decades.
The union rejected the latest contract offer from Dominion late Thursday.
Although both sides said they are willing to return to the bargaining table, no negotiations are scheduled.
``We made it very clear we're willing to talk. . . . We need concessions on these issues,'' said Danny LeSueur, senior business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50 in Richmond. ``All we're asking for is for them to help their workers.''
About two dozen workers picketed in the midday heat Friday, waving signs with slogans such as, ``We make the power, they make the money'' outside Dominion's operations center on Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach.
Most said concerns about benefits remain the biggest source of their dissatisfaction.
``There's no way I can do this for 20 more years until I retire,'' said Sheldon Parker, a lineman with 21 years at Dominion who struggles with arthritis and asthma. ``I'd like some benefits. It's not about the raises.''
The company -- Virginia's largest utility -- said it will be able to operate despite the strike.
But the walkout could threaten electrical service and Dominion facilities across Virginia and North Carolina, including two nuclear plants.
While Dominion officials did not specify what their plans are, companies typically use managers, nonunionized workers and sometimes temporary help during employee walkouts.
Dominion Virginia Power's parent company, Dominion Resources Inc. of Richmond, provides natural gas and electric service in Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Company managers said they were disappointed that contract talks had broken down.
Weather forecasts call for partly cloudy conditions through the weekend, with high temperatures in the upper 80s. But thunderstorms, which are possible through tonight, could create problems for Dominion if they down power lines and disrupt service.
Virginia law would allow Gov. Mark R. Warner to take over Dominion's facilities in the state if a strike led to substantial interruption of service.
Warner will ``monitor the situation closely to make sure that Virginians continue to receive electric service without disruption,'' according to a statement from his office.
The IBEW represents about 3,700 line workers, electricians, power plant workers and other Dominion employees in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Locally, the union includes employees of the company's Chesapeake and Yorktown coal- and oil-fueled plants; its Surry and North Anna nuclear plants; and field workers such as line technicians and meter readers.
Negotiations on a new agreement began in late January. In June, Dominion IBEW members rejected an earlier offer and authorized a walkout with 72 hours' notice.
And last Friday, a previous strike deadline passed with both parties still at the negotiating table.
The company and the union agree that significant progress has been made in forging a new deal.
But still in dispute are retirement and health-care benefits, which employees say are key issues to a work force with an average age of 50, in a profession requiring grueling, foul-weather labor.
Picketing workers angrily accused the company of cutting disability pay and not helping to offset rising health-care premiums.
``They're not trying to work me. They're trying to kill me,'' said Bill Lamb, a 34-year Dominion veteran who says his knees, shoulders and abdomen are worn out from line work. ``I want to tell them, `We'll work for you, but don't take our benefits away.' ''
The company's last offer also removes ``success sharing'' bonuses, which amounted to several hundred dollars per employee last year. And workers say it does not provide pay raises retroactive to the proposed new contract's start date of last April 1.
The company counters that its latest offer includes a base pay increase of 16.5 percent over the five-year contract, bringing the average to more than $52,000 a year before overtime and other payments. Workers also would get a $500 signing bonus.
Health-care proposals double the maximum medical benefit to $2 million, according to Dominion, and provide better prescription, dental, vision and dependent life insurance benefits.
Company officials say the new plan is similar to that covering most of Dominion's other 13,000 workers companywide.
``We worked long and hard to address issues that the union told us were important while achieving a balance among its members, the company and Dominion's other union and nonunion employees,'' said Edgar M. Roach Jr., president and chief executive of Dominion Virginia Power.
The strike is the first against Dominion Virginia Power since 1964. That walkout lasted five days.
Related article below:
IBEW Strikes at UtilityAssociated Press – by Hank Kurz Jr. – August 4, 2002
(8/2/02) - RICHMOND -- The union representing workers at Dominion Virginia Power rejected the company's latest labor contract offer Thursday and notified company officials that they are calling for a work stoppage to begin today. ``At noon, our members will walk off the job and take their places on the picket line,'' said Brad Stevens, senior business representative and spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50. The union represents 3,700 lineman, electricians and other workers in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. It represents about 1,000 employees in Hampton Roads.
The company has contingency plans in place and is ready to keep its customers' lights on, said Edgar M. Roach Jr., president and chief executive officer of Dominion Virginia Power.
Stevens said Dominion's final offer was not as good as the ``last, best and final'' offer the company made in May that was rejected by a 9-to-1 ratio by the union members.
``They stirred the pot. We didn't necessarily see improvements'' in the latest offer, Stevens said. ``They just took things out of one pot and put them in another.''
The contract called for a 16.5 percent compounded wage increase over five years, pay increases for shift differentials and employees working in expensive northern Virginia, and pension plan and medical benefits improvements, the company said.
Stevens, however, said sticking points for the union include the benefits the company gives retirees, and the company's removal from its previous offer of a success sharing plan that could have been worth up to $15 million to the membership.
``Retirement is so much in the forefront of people's thoughts,'' he said, and the success sharing plan was based on worker attainment of goals set by the company.
The union remains willing to negotiate, Stevens said.
Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said the company will wait to see if workers do walk off the job on Friday and decide how to proceed from there. He said he did not know if management had made any overtures to return to the bargaining table.
``Certainly we want to work this out, but we need to make sure that we're fair to the union, the company and our 13,000 other employees,'' Norvelle said, adding that the pension plan rejected by the workers is the same one that all other Dominion employees have.
Contract talks with the IBEW Local 50 began in January. The union's previous contract was a three-year deal from 1995 extended for two years on two occasions.
``We are extremely disappointed that the union leadership rejected this proposal,'' said Roach, the CEO. ``It is unfortunate that we came so close this time, yet remain apart.''
A job action would be the first at Dominion Virginia Power since 1964.
The union represents linemen, meter readers, electricians and power plant workers at Dominion Virginia Power and Dominion North Carolina Power, which deliver energy to more than 2 million customers, and at Dominion Energy's power stations in Virginia and Mount Storm, W.Va.
Dominion serves 3.9 million energy customers in five states.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
Bush Attempts to Crush UnionsReuters - Thomas Ferraro - August 3, 2002
Wed Jul 31, 2:04 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A firefighter who helped pull people from the burning Pentagon on Sept. 11 joined fellow union workers on Wednesday in denouncing President Bush's demand to limit labor rights at the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, union members rejected as insulting Bush's contention he needs "management flexibility" to have an efficient department that can better protect the nation against terrorism.
Firefighter Mike Staples, who responded to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon in nearby Virginia, said, "One of the implications I have heard is that somehow union affiliation interferes with an employee's ability to do their job."
"That really brings into question the character of union employees everywhere, and quite frankly, that is an insult to union employees everywhere," Staples said.
Bush has proposed rolling all or parts of 22 federal agencies into the Department of Homeland Security in what would be the biggest federal government reorganization in 50 years.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, hosted Wednesday's news conference as he tried to pressure Bush to back off a vow to veto any legislation that would limit his ability to fire, hire and transfer workers he deems vital to national security -- even if their jobs do not change at the new department.
The Republican-led House of Representatives last week passed a homeland security bill that would give Bush the flexibility he demands in managing the proposed agency's 170,000 employees.
Lieberman is chief author of the Democrat-led Senate's version of the legislation, which would provide what the White House calls unacceptable union and civil service safeguards.
The Senate had initially planned to take up its bill this week. But because of objections and a possible filibuster the Senate has put off action until after its August recess.
Mark Hall, a unionized U.S. Border Patrol agent based in Detroit, told Wednesday's news conference, "The president uses the words 'national security' and 'flexibility' to describe his goals in creating this new agency, but his hard line and his veto threat show it's about something far more serious -- his administration's anti-union agenda."
About 50,000 of the 170,000 workers targeted for transfer to the new department are union members. Many work at the Border Patrol, Customs Service, Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nonunion workers at the new department would have civil service protections that the president also wants to limit.
T.J. Bonner, head of the union that represents 9,000 Border Patrol agents, did not attend Wednesday's event, but had a statement issued at it blasting Bush's stand on labor rights.
"It will be impossible to protect our nation from terrorism without dedicated career employees, and it will be impossible to attract and retain such employees without guaranteeing them basic worker rights and protections," Bonner said.
Fidelity Agrees to Meet with AFL-CIOBoston Globe – by Louise Story - August 3, 2002
(8/1/02) - The AFL-CIO canceled a march to Fidelity Investments' headquarters yesterday after Fidelity officials agreed to meet and discuss the labor group's call for the mutual fund firm to start making its proxy votes available to the public.
Fidelity manages 281 mutual funds in the country and votes as shareholders on issues at approximately 5,000 companies the firm invests in. The positions it takes on these proxy votes are not publicly disclosed to investors in Fidelity's funds. Most other mutual fund firms also have nondisclosure policies.
Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey L. Pitt said in May that the SEC is considering making all mutual firms disclose their proxy votes. The SEC is still studying that proposal, said SEC spokesman John Heine yesterday. The AFL-CIO, which represents 13 million workers across the country, concluded a three-day campaign in the Northeast with a stop in Boston yesterday.
About 100 AFL-CIO supporters met in front of Faneuil Hall at noon. After several speeches and less than an hour later, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka announced that the group would not march to Fidelity's Devonshire Street headquarters.
''Let me tell you what you have already accomplished by being out here today,'' Trumka said. ''Fidelity now wants a meeting with us. ... We're going to give them a break. We're not going to go over to their office today. But if the process fails, I want you to let them know that we'll be back.''
The AFL-CIO had spoken with Fidelity twice on Tuesday and scheduled a meeting to be held within the next week, said Fidelity spokeswoman Anne Crowley.
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Kathy Roeder said a rally was meant to do more than simply get the mutual fund firm's attention.
''A lot of this is an education process explaining to people when they invest their money in a mutual fund, it doesn't just sit there,'' Roeder said. ''The fund invests the money in companies.''
About 25 workers from one of the companies where Fidelity is a large shareholder, The Stanley Works of New Britain, Conn., traveled to Boston yesterday to participate in the march. Shareholders at Stanley, a manufacturing company, recently approved a proposal to move its corporate headquarters to Bermuda to save on corporate taxes. Opponents of the move have persuaded Stanley to hold another vote on the matter. The AFL-CIO and Stanley employees would like to know where Fidelity stands on the issue.
Fidelity's Crowley said the company would not comment on Stanley. She said Fidelity is more successful using ''quiet diplomacy.''
''Are there times we vote with management? Yes. There are times we don't vote with management, also,'' Crowley said. ''The most valuable time we don't vote with management is when we dump the stock.''
Fidelity will release its guidelines for proxy voting on the firm's Web site in the next few weeks - a plan that was already underway before the AFL-CIO rally, Crowley said.
This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 8/1/2002.
John Sweeney Denounces Corporate PiratesBloomberg News – by Dan Morrison – August 1, 2002
NEW YORK — AFL-CIO labor federation President John Sweeney denounced "corporate pirates" during a rally across from the New York Stock Exchange and called for more stringent government standards for publicly traded companies.
Sweeney, who represents 13 million U.S. workers and more than $5 trillion in pension funds, said the federation would push for increased accountability.
Among the AFL-CIO's recommendations to government officials and business executives are creating new corporate governance standards, enacting pension reforms and putting workers at the "front of the line" in bankruptcy proceedings.
Sweeney endorsed a proposal being debated to force publicly traded companies to expense the stock options they give CEOs. Companies have no such obligation and have lavished millions of shares on top managers, diluting the value of existing shares.
Sweeney also said CEOs should be prohibited from selling their company shares while they're in office, removing incentives to pump up the stock in the near term regardless of future consequences.
Sweeney harshly criticized the former leaders of Enron, Global Crossing and WorldCom, who sold millions of dollars worth of shares just before their companies spiraled from billion-dollar businesses into bankruptcy protection amid disclosures of questionable accounting.
"Now we're faced with 20th-century corporate pirates who took advantage of our nation's transition from an industrial to an information economy," Sweeney said. "The sad truth is that American consumers can shop with more assurance of quality and safety at their corner grocery store than American investors can shop for equities in our stock market."
The federation will take legal action to recover severance pay for workers fired from WorldCom, Sweeney said.
Chief executives of companies involved in corporate scandals and bankruptcy "aren't businessmen," Sweeney said. "They aren't even capitalists. They're thieves."
The rally came after President Bush signed into law legislation granting the government new powers to police the accounting profession and increasing prison terms for executives who defraud investors.
Hundreds of New York-area labor leaders and union members joined the rally.
Among the unions represented were the United Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
"We want to make corporations and people at the top of these corporations more aware of their responsibilities to the general public," said Marty Eisenberg, 56, a United Federation of Teachers member and Brooklyn teacher.
The AFL-CIO helped negotiate severance payments of as much as $13,500 for more than 4,200 fired Enron workers. Sweeney said the federation plans to file a similar lawsuit on behalf of 17,000 fired WorldCom workers.
The AFL-CIO is made up of 66 unions. Its union pension funds are "our country's single largest source of investment dollars," Sweeney said.
Former employees of Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen spoke at the rally. The three companies fired thousands of employees amid investigations of accounting irregularities.
"The bottom line is executives stole our money," said Deborah Johnson, who worked for Enron for seven years. "They should pay for what they've done."
Coretta Robinson, a senior executive assistant at Arthur Andersen for nine years, said she was "penalized for the wrongdoing of others." She lost her job five months from being vested in the company's pension program.
Johnson and Robinson were not union members.
"I'm worried about my pension," said Anthony Williamson, 39, a member of Local 79 of the Laborers International Union of North America who attended the rally. "They're investing our money and it's being squandered into the big CEO's pocket and it's not fair."
Labor unions will increase their push for accountability by meeting with executives, leading shareholder fights, holding demonstrations, lobbying and starting electronic mail campaigns, Sweeney said.
The AFL-CIO has long used its financial clout to further its agenda. Union investments represent more than $400 billion in the capital markets.
AFL-CIO pension funds lost $3.3 billion in the bankruptcies of Enron and WorldCom.
Some observers say organized labor is trying to harness outrage over the accounting scandals to push its agenda on such issues as subsidized health care and opposition to privatizing Social Security.
"They'd be fools if they didn't seize this chance, and they're not fools," said Jarol Manheim, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.
Critics say unions' motives for better regulation of corporate-accounting practices aren't altruistic — they're just trying to organize workers at nonunion companies.
AFL-CIO General Counsel Damon Silvers said increasing membership is only part of the federation's agenda.
Such high-profile corporate implosions simply drive home the labor movement's message, he said. "At the very heart of their message to their employees was, 'Trust us,' " Silvers said. "Look where it got them."
Sweeney also is to meet with New York Stock Exchange President Richard Grasso and Henry Paulson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs.
"The New York Stock Exchange has taken positive steps already, but we have to insist on more," Sweeney said.
On Monday, Sweeney joined a rally at the Stanley Works in New Britain, Conn., to protest its plan to reincorporate in Bermuda. Today, Sweeney is to lead a demonstration at the Boston headquarters of Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual-fund company, to protest its policy of not disclosing votes in shareholder fights.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
IBEW Set to Strike for PensionsDaily Press – by Peter Dujardin – July 26, 2002
(7/25/02) - NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The union representing about 3,000 power company workers in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina might strike by the end of the week if it can't reach a contract agreement with the company.
Local 50 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted Tuesday to reject Dominion Resources' latest contract offer and authorize union heads to call a strike at noon Friday.
"If talks are working toward an agreement on Friday, we will not walk," said Danny LeSueur, the local's senior business representative. "But if not, if talks have stalled, we're authorized to strike."
The union and company have been negotiating for several months, and talks were continuing Wednesday evening.
Dominion Resources, which owns Dominion Virginia Power, the power company that serves Hampton Roads, said it was yet hopeful that a strike would yet be averted.
But Dominion said it was prepared for a strike. If workers do walk, the company said, the company's 3 million electricity customers would not lose power.
"We do have contingency plans that we've been working on to ensure that we can keep the lights on in the event of a strike," Dominion Resources spokesman Dan Genest said. "Day-to-day customers will not see a difference."
The union represents about 1,000 workers in Hampton Roads, including many technical workers and system maintenance staff.
The range of jobs runs the gamut from janitors to operation and line workers to nuclear licensed control room operators.
The union members work at offices in Hampton, Williamsburg, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, as well as at the power plant at Yorktown and the Surry nuclear plant.
The contingency plans mostly involve having supervisors and managers do the work of their underlings. But in the event of a major storm or major power outage, Genest said, plans are in place to call in help from other utility companies and other contractors for assistance.
Dominion has been working on the contingency plan for several months, Genest said.
Dominion told the state this week that it did not expect it would have any problems delivering power to customers in the event of a strike, said Ken Schrad, a spokesman with the State Corporation Commission. No law in Virginia bans utility workers from striking, but the state is authorized to come in and run the power company if the state's power supply is threatened.
That has never happened.
The last time that Dominion workers went on strike was in 1964, when workers walked out for six days. Customers never lost their power during those six days, and the state was never called in.
For months, Dominion and the union have been trying to hash out a contract to replace one that expired on March 31. ,p> Since April 1, union workers have been working under the terms of the expired contract.
Dominion would not comment on negotiations.
A significant sticking point in the discussion, union officials say, is retirement benefits.
Dominion wants to shift from a defined benefit plan a standard pension plan in which retired workers are guaranteed a monthly retirement income to a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) plan in which the company puts in a certain amount per month, and market factors dictates how much the workers are left with when they retire.
That change is unacceptable, LeSueur said, especially in light of recent events in the business world, which demonstrate that the stock market can't be counted on to yield consistent results.
"Look at what stock prices are doing now," he said.
Employee Advocate: Below is the link to the IBEW Local 50 Website:
Repeal Anti-Worker LawKnight Ridder/Tribune – by Ralph Nader – July 25, 2002
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, one of the great blows to American democracy. The act, which was drafted by employers, fundamentally infringed on workers' human rights.
Legally, it impeded employees' right to join in labor unions, it undermined the power of unions to represent workers' interests effectively, and it authorized an array of anti-union activities by employers.
Among its key provisions, Taft-Hartley:
The political damage of Taft-Hartley was just as severe. In addition to starting an era of red-baiting with the American labor movement, which led to harmful internal division (a now-invalidated provision of Taft-Hartley required union leaders to sign anti-Communist affidavits), the act sent a message to employers: It was OK to bust unions and deny workers their rights to collectively bargain.
In short, Taft-Hartley entrenched significant executive tyranny in the workplace, with ramifications that are more severe today than ever. Union membership is at historic 60-year lows, with only 10 percent of the private economy's workforce unionized. Employer violations of labor rights are routine, and illegal firings of union supporters in labor organizing drives are at epidemic levels.
It is past time for the repeal of Taft-Hartley.
That would be one important step in restoring workers' right to organize into unions, achieve a living wage in the Wal-Marts, McDonald's and other workplaces, and in revitalizing American democracy.
Illinois Officials Stand Behind Union WorkersSt. Louis Post-Dispatch - by Alexa Aguilar – July 23, 2002
(7/20/02) - Federal, state and local officials have come out in support of members of a Southern Illinois union whose members became involved in a fight July 12 that left four men hospitalized.
State Rep. Jim Fowler, D-Harrisburg, and Williamson County Commissioner Rex Piper said Thursday that they stood behind local labor. They were joined at a union news conference early in the week by representatives for U.S. Reps. David Phelps, D-Eldorado, and Jerry Costello, D-Belleville; a representative for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and state Rep. Gary Forby, D-Benton.
Union officials say members went to the Lake of Egypt site, south of Marion, Ill., to peacefully protest the use of out-of-state, nonunion workers by Duke Energy Co. However, the protest turned violent and ended with four men hospitalized, including one with a gunshot wound in the leg.
Danny Gibbs, a spokesman for Duke Energy said the company accepts bids from both union and nonunion contractors. Work at the site has resumed.
Unions Use Shareholder ResolutionsDow Jones – by Lynn Cowan – July 17, 2002
(7/10/02) - WASHINGTON -- A group of labor unions that launched several successful shareholder battles this spring over auditor independence at U.S. corporations is warming up for a new issue next year: expensing corporate stock options.
The unions, representing groups ranging from sheet-metal workers to the Teamsters, have filed 11 shareholder resolutions focusing on stock-option expensing that will be voted on from September to November. Most U.S. corporations hold their shareholder meetings in the spring, so the unions consider the votes this fall to be a practice run for their larger effort next spring, when they plan to target between 50 and 60 companies.
The resolutions vary, but have one thing in common: They seek greater disclosure of the effect that stock options have on a company's earnings. One version, filed at five companies this fall, asks the board to begin expensing stock-option costs in their annual income statements. The five companies are MIPS Technologies Inc. , ResMed Inc. , Sysco Corp., National Semiconductor Corp. and Mercury Computer Systems Inc. .
A second version, filed at Clayton Homes Inc. , Meredith Corp., SWS Group Inc. and Zale Corp., asks boards to avoid any type of executive compensation that isn't reflected in the company's annual income statement. Current accounting rules don't require companies to treat stock options as an expense, thus avoiding any drag on earnings.
A third variation asks for a report to shareholders on the effect of not expensing options. That version was filed at AmeriCredit Corp. and Parker Hannifin Corp. , but was later withdrawn from Parker Hannifin when the company agreed to supply the information requested.
"There's an increasing use of stock options at a time of growing investor skepticism on the accuracy of corporate financial reporting," said Jim Voye, international representative at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "This was an issue that we really wanted to speak to companies on."
Besides the IBEW, which filed the AmeriCredit and Sysco resolutions, other unions involved in shareholder votes are the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Sheet Metal Workers, and the Laborers International Union of North America.
A Fall Trial Run
The 11 companies that hold their annual shareholder meetings this fall will provide a trial run for these unions, who may need to refine their proposals before unleashing a bigger campaign in the spring. Although the unions, who own the stocks through their pension plans, can submit any question they like for a shareholder vote, the companies they target can petition the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to exclude the question from proxy materials sent to shareholders. Even if the question makes it onto the proxy and a majority of shareholders vote for it, companies usually aren't bound by the outcome. However, some do choose to make the requested changes, especially if the same question gains an increasing vote year after year.
Several companies who received the stock-option-expense request already have petitioned the SEC to exclude the question, arguing that decisions about stock- option accounting are part of ordinary business, a categorization that excludes shareholder participation. The SEC is expected to rule on the resolutions beginning next month.
"It will be interesting to see what the SEC does with this type of proposal," said Benny Hernandez, chief international representative for the Sheet Metal Workers, who submitted resolutions at MIPS, ResMed and Zale. "I think the best thing they can do is allow shareholders to be able to engage the companies over these kinds of issues."
The unions received the SEC's blessing this spring for their auditor independence resolutions, which corporations also claimed should be exempted under the ordinary business umbrella. The unions submitted 34 such resolutions, calling for a complete separation of audit and consulting services used by corporations. Thirteen companies negotiated the issue with the unions and agreed to a range of compromises in the matter; three others continue to negotiate. The remainder went to a vote, with the highest shareholder approval coming in at 48% , said Ed Durkin, director of corporate affairs at the carpenters' union.
Mr. Durkin said the union's use of the shareholder resolution process has been faster and more effective than waiting for legislation to change corporate behavior, and he is optimistic that the unions will achieve some victories on the stock-option-expensing issue well before lawmakers do.
"The settlements we got on the auditor issue outstripped the legislation" that is pending in Congress, said Mr. Durkin. "In expensing options, my guess is there is very little chance of legislative action."