April 5, 2009

After years of knowing the Indiana Unemployment Insurance Fund was headed toward a financial crisis, Indiana legislators waited until the last minute to develop a plan to deal with a potentially bankrupt system. For 16 of the last 18 years, the fund has taken in less money in taxes than it has paid out in benefits.

In 2001 the trust fund had a $1.6 billion surplus, and a deal was struck through which businesses were given an unsustainable tax cut. This essentially created an unfunded liability for employers and relinquished their responsibility as taxpaying entities. No wonder our governor was able to promote Indiana as a location where companies could find a "good business" environment.

The Unemployment Trust Fund officially went broke at the end of November 2008. As of March 11, the state has so far borrowed $534 million from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. If there is no consensus on a solution for solvency among our legislators by next year, the federal government has the authority to step in and take over control of the unemployment fund.

However, even that threat hasn't created much movement on serious reform, and it just may be the solution we need.

February 22, 2009

Editor's note: In response to President Barack Obama's visit to Elkhart, Ind., union organizer Deneen Stout wrote the following letter regarding UAW 364's three-year-old Conn Selmer strike in the North-Central Indiana community.


On April 1, 2006, a company called Conn Selmer, which was owned by the Steinway musical company, wanted takeaways. Our union, working with the big three headed up by UAW President Ron Gettlefinger, supported a strike when we could not agree to contract.

Healthcare, a decrease in wages, language in the contract that gave up major concessions was unacceptable, and the company would have total control.

December 14, 2008

More media attention than usual has been devoted to labor law and the potential for some badly needed changes since Barack Obama's election. During his campaign, Obama publicly supported the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

But some in the business community have gone on the offensive to condemn changes in labor law as if the world was going to end if the EFCA passed in Congress.

The NLRA was passed in 1935 and gave workers the right to self-organization and protection if they desired to organize collectively to address workplace issues with their employers. It was a response to the effects of industrial strife and workplace disruptions of interstate commerce.

When employees believed they were being treated as commodities instead of as a people, strikes ensued, costing the economy, workers and employers much needed financial resources during the Great Depression.

December 14, 2008

Some time ago a friend suggested that we begin referring to the Republican party as simply the “Low-Wage Party,” since the only consistent theme throughout all Republican platforms seemed to be pushing down wages for the majority of Americans -- presumably so that a minority could scoop up what was left on the table.

Of course the current appellation for the Republican party is, correctly, The Party That Wrecked America (or perhaps the even more grandiose and accurate The Party That Wrecked The World). But if things ever get back to some sense of normalcy, I wonder if, on a day-to-day basis, it wouldn’t make sense to take my friend up on his recommendation and in conversation, casual to formal, refer to the party by its ideological foundations.

Meaning refer to the party as The Low-Wage Party and party members as Low-Wage Republicans.

September 7, 2008

Tired of global corporations using the old divide-and-conquer tactic, one of labor's largest unions, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), recently joined forces with the largest labor union in the United Kingdom and Ireland to form Workers Uniting. The new union will utilize the combined power of more than 3.2 million members to confront and challenge capital's quest to lower labor standards and increase competition between workers in plants located across oceans.

We aren't the only ones facing job loss, outsourcing and lower standards of living. It's happening across the world thanks to corporate greed and the race to the bottom. Workers everywhere are struggling to hang onto decent wages, pensions and affordable health care. Corporations have a global labor pool these days and want us to fight each other for the scraps offered by global employers. We can't continue to let this happen.

The USWA and the UK's Unite the Union delegates approved the merger to become the first global labor organization to directly represent workers. Workers Uniting is not just an umbrella organization representing the interests of various national and international unions but a top-down and bottom-up member organization with members from different countries. Leadership and representatives are accountable to their memberships and expected to justify their actions to local unions.

August 24, 2008

There's a saying that goes: The more things change, the more they stay the same. It's true. The struggles of a century ago are alive, here and now.

The robber barons built their industrial empires on high finance and the backs of cheap labor. Their battle cry was "tax cuts and deregulation." But on the way to the bank, the industrialists ran into an immovable force -- the American labor movement.

The elimination of child labor, the eight-hour work day and safer work places are just a few of the achievements unions have won for all working people in this country. Unions created the middle class.

Today, having put our industrial base on a fast boat to China and our financial house in a mortgage crisis, the global economists are still calling for "tax cuts and deregulation" to fix our problems. They were wrong then and they're wrong now. The answer is to reinvest in America: our infrastructure, our people, our future.

May 4, 2008

Kathy Starks-Dyer and Phil Eskew could be understandably smug about the resounding Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) employee vote on Earth Day to unionize. The “business-model” types whose management philosophy has dominated decision making at the community institution in recent years were anything but subtle in their anti-union sentiments.

Former MCPL Board of Trustees President Stephen Moberly expressed dismay back in the winter that the resignation of former director Cindy Gray didn’t end the union movement. He thought the staff would be so enamored with Interim Director Sara Laughlin that all from the contentious Gray era would be forgotten, and they would drop the idea.

The board went so far as to post notice of a behind-closed-door session during which, three days before the April 22 union vote, they would discuss making Laughlin’s appointment permanent. Under President John Walsh and Vice President Fred Risinger, the board learned from their attorneys that they did not meet the 48-hour notification requirement for a closed meeting and canceled it.

So, following a 62-35 vote to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), union organizing committee members like Eskew and Starks-Dyer could easily gloat. But they’re not. They’re looking ahead.

April 6, 2008

Local Visteon workers were handed a nasty surprise last fall.

The plant in Bedford is scheduled to close by the end of June 2008. In an "effects bargaining session," Visteon management and IUE-CWA Local 907 crafted language they thought would ensure that laid-off workers would receive state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits immediately after the plant closing. The language was based on language used for more than a decade in other plant closures in Indiana.

To their chagrin, they learned that the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), headed by Commissioner Teresa L. Voors, a Mitch Daniels appointee, had begun "interpreting" effects-bargaining language in a way that departed from past practice.

At issue in the Visteon case were retention bonus payments workers had received from the company as a condition for not quitting before the plant closes. DWD wanted to delay UI payments by the number of months equal to the retention bonus divided by the monthly UI payment a worker would be due.

January 13, 2008

Construction is a complicated business. From planning and development through the final touches on a new facility, numerous factors play roles in ensuring a job finishes safely, on time and on budget. When the job is finished, the customer expects all of the electrical and mechanical systems to be installed properly and work as designed.

Customers, such as school boards, city governments or private business owners, are paying for architects, engineers, construction managers and quality materials to construct their buildings. Many times, conscientious customers will consider only the most qualified and reputable providers to perform their construction services. This is a responsible and respectable position to take, especially when dealing with taxpayers’ money that more often than not runs into the millions.

However, sometimes lost in the shuffle is a customer’s confidence in the quality, skill and training of the available workforce. From making an incorrect assumption that all construction workers are trained the same (if at all) to never having been informed about the importance of finding highly skilled workers, customers must be educated about the vast differences among the labor pool of construction workers.

December 30, 2007

Any objective analysis of the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) administration over the past two years leads to two inescapable conclusions: Leadership at the public institution has been desperately lacking. And MCPL Board of Trustees' President Stephen Moberly's fingerprints are all over the mess.

Moberly is a former 18-year Republican state legislator and retired estate lawyer from Shelbyville. He is one of two MCPL board members appointed by the Monroe County Commissioners -- Republicans Joyce Poling and Herb Kilmer and Democrat Iris Kiesling at the time. His term began in January 2006 and runs through January 2010.

As Moberly has correctly noted, controversial MCPL Director Cindy Gray was hired before he joined the board. But her most egregious transgressions and ethically questionable activities, which infuriated library staff and led to Gray's Aug. 31 resignation under pressure, transpired on Moberly's watch, with his knowledge and approval.

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