Labor Notes: December 2012

Hostess Brands, the maker of such iconic products as Twinkies, Dolly Madison pies, and Wonder Bread, sought court permission to go out of business after a series of labor problems that culminated in a crippling strike. The strike by members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union crippled its ability to produce and deliver products. (Hostess came to an agreement with its largest union, the Teamsters, and the Teamsters—given access to the company’s books—warned their sister union that the company wasn’t bluffing about its dire financial condition.) Union officials blamed mismanagement for the company’s problems and, according to the Atlantic, unions were “holding fast against the company out of fear that too many concessions will lead other companies to gut wages and benefits everywhere.” Prior to the strike, Hostess had 36 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, 570 bakery outlet stores, and more than 19,000 employees. According to the Washington Post, the president of the BCTWGMIU makes more than $210,000 a year and its secretary-treasurer almost $197,000.

Many coal miners and others whose livelihood depends on coal were turned off to President Obama’s re-election by the President’s “War on Coal.” (See the “Notes” section in this month’s issue of our sister publication Green Watch.) For the first time since 1972, the United Mine Workers of America declined to endorse the Democratic nominee. But Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and a former head of the mine workers, had a scapegoat for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that are helping to shut down the coal industry: Mitt Romney. “Those EPA rules were ordered by the Supreme Court as a result of a lawsuit by Mitt Romney’s state when he was governor. If there is a ‘War on Coal,’ it starts and ends with Mitt Romney.” In fact, the official who spearheaded the lawsuit was the state’s attorney general, a Democrat elected separately from then-Governor Romney. Romney opposed the ruling.

Trumka, by the way, claimed a few days before the election that unions were going to deploy 128,000 volunteers over “the final four days” of the campaign, knocking on 5.5 million doors and making 5.2 million phone calls. It’s impossible to verify Trumka’s numbers regarding union campaign workers, but political observers believe the Obama campaign operation was the most sophisticated ever deployed and that unions played a critical role. After Obama won the key states of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada, Trumka claimed: “We did deliver those states. Without organized labor, none of those states would have been in the President’s column.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) denounced the first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the American Federation of Government Employees and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), saying that the agreement “allows unions to claim a greater stake in dictating our national security.” She said that TSA is “doubling down” on union demands rather than “focusing on the traveling public.” Blackburn said that TSA, intended to be a national security agency in the mold of the FBI and the CIA, is failing in basic functions such as performing background checks, providing security training, and firing or retraining screeners who fail to detect threats.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, people from across the country headed to the affected region to help. Yet non-union workers met resistance from local unions. For example, as noted by Scott Walter of the Capital Research Center, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1049 on Long Island demanded that non-union crews from Florida sign a “contract” before they would be allowed to help out, agreeing to “normal working hours and overtime” as in the union’s agreement, the “contribution” of $9.75 an hour to the Union Health and Welfare Fund, 22.5% of each employees’ gross salary into the union’s Craft Annuity Fund, 3% for the Craft Division Skill Improvement Fund, 3% for the National Electrical Benefit Fund, more for four other funds, and, of course, 1% of gross payroll for IBEW union dues.

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