2009 Local Labor News

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Published in the Everett Herald, Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tale of 1916 Everett Massacre Retold in Style of Radio Play

Library Offers Recorded Melodrama as Podcast

Debra Smith
Herald Writer

EVERETT — On one explosive day 93 years ago, citizen deputies and a shipload of labor radicals tussled in a bloody battle on a city dock.

When the dust settled, two deputies were dead. So, too, were at least five members of the Industrial Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies. It became known as the Everett Massacre.

For right or wrong, Everett earned an infamous reputation as a place unfriendly to labor unions.

Now contemporary Everett folks can get a window into how some of their counterparts in 1916 may have felt and talked about the event — at least people who sympathized with the labor movement.

The Everett Public Library is offering a free radio show-style performance of a one-act sketch written by a union activist in the weeks after the massacre. The sketch, "Their Court & Our Class," is performed by local actors and will be available to listen to free on the library's Web site and available now at www.epls.org.

Historian David Dilgard describes the sketch as a "rare, entertaining piece of the history of Everett and the labor movement." It was written by Walker C. Smith, a radical labor journalist of the time. He also wrote "The Everett Massacre," a book so controversial the Everett Library had trouble keeping copies on the shelves.

Smith's sketch is a scathing one-sided smackdown of what he called "the Lumber Trust" -- Everett's mill owners. Read full story

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Published in the Everett Herald, Sunday, November 1, 2009

Its Mind Made Up, Boeing's Talks With Sen. Murray Were For Appearances

Political analysis

By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Political Columnist

Everett never had a chance.

At least it seems that way now to Sen. Patty Murray.

Months of quiet diplomacy on her part ended in disappointment when Boeing chose Charleston, S.C., over Everett for a second assembly line for the 787.

Disappointing but not surprising.

Signs of the company's intentions had been popping up for months, say those familiar with conversations that Murray had with Boeing.

Boeing executives only half-heartedly penciled in Everett for the coveted production line, discouraged Murray from rallying on the city's behalf, held bad memories of the strike and Gov. Chris Gregoire walking the line, smarted from battles with state legislators and purchased a South Carolina aerospace company.

Murray heard firsthand on Feb. 9 about South Carolina's favored status from Boeing execs Tim Keating and Phil Ruter. Charleston topped the list of choices with Everett scrawled along the margin, its chances slim if not none. They suggested Murray not waste her immense political capital trying to alter the course of events set in motion by Boeing's big boss Jim McNerney.

Boeing's plan for a second production line somewhere in America — the third will surely be in China — had gone from rumor to fact weeks before that February meeting.

Everett's chances already seemed next to nil given the bitterness stirred by the Machinists strike in 2008. Read full story

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Published in the Everett Herald, Sunday, October 25, 2009


Merits of Merit Pay Aren't All That Proponents Say

By Beverly Hoback

For years Washington educators heard the same cliche from folks opposing school levies or bonds: "You can't solve problems in education by throwing money at them."

All that changed when Bill Gates' National Math and Science Institute offered seven schools $13.2 million if they would institute merit pay for teachers. Suddenly, those opposed to throwing money at education were outraged because the teachers' union rejected Gates' money.

We've read all about the teachers' union. They're those money-grubbing protectionists who don't care a whit about kids. Right.

I'm one of those dues-paying teachers. I have two bachelor's degrees, I've done everything except the thesis for two different master's degrees, and I'm required to get 150 hours of continuing education credits every five years so I'll be adequately equipped to teach music to elementary students. I teach in a dingy portable that is more than 20 years old because, as we all know, bond measures to build permanent classrooms are just misguided attempts to throw money at education problems. Still, some would have you believe I chose teaching over, say, law, because I'm out to make money and don't care about kids -- not even my own four, who all attended the district in which I teach.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people who buy into such logic don't see the irony in their current complaints. If columnists such as Richard S. Davis (Wednesday's Herald, "Washington shouldn't say no to schools innovation") would ask the Washington Education Association why it opposes merit pay, they might get the facts behind the headlines.

Here's a homework assignment for Mr. Davis and like-minded individuals: Read Dr. Alfie Kohn's well-researched book, "Punished By Rewards." You'll learn that merit pay not only reduces the productivity of those who don't receive it, it reduces the productivity of those who do! Evidently, throwing money at people to motivate them causes them to do just enough to get the "prize" rather than to do their best. And eventually many workers decide they don't care enough about the prize to put forth the effort to win it. Pride in one's work, cooperation, team spirit and self-motivation all wither away in an atmosphere of competition, cheating and resentment. Read full story

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Published in the Everett Herald, Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Boeing Enjoys Profitable Model Here in Puget Sound

By John Burbank

Boeing's second quarter profit was $998 million. That's $46 million more than a year ago. How does this work, with the 787 sucking up billions of dollars in development and mistakes? The answer is embedded in Boeing's tried-and-true, decades-old business model.

Boeing made more than $800 million from its commercial airline production this past spring. Every workday Boeing completes another 737. Each plane brings in gross revenues of $60 million to $70 million. Unionized workers supply the skills to build these planes from the ground up. Each plane is a custom-built, complex piece of machinery, with slightly different tolerances, set-ups and even lengths, as requested by the carriers, built to fly hundreds of people across thousands of miles.

So how about that outsourced 787? Last month Boeing engineers discovered that the 787 wing-box to fuselage attachment is compromised, so that the wing made by Mitsubishi and the center wing box made by Fuji don't work together as they should. A fix will push out the first flight into 2010, more than two years behind schedule. Boeing has now lost 5 percent of its orders for the 787. With each delay, Airbus gains orders for its competing A350.

Another 787 innovation is to shift production to non-union states. But if you start with an unskilled workforce and add in the lack of technical infrastructure, no matter how little you pay workers, you still are not going to get a flawless airplane. And that's what you need when you are going up into the sky. Read full story

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Published July 12, 2009

Boeing Risks Overplaying Its Hand with Southern Strategy

By Jon Talton

Special to The Seattle Times

Reality check: If Boeing's Puget Sound employees decertified their unions and agreed to a 20 percent pay cut tomorrow, the company would still shop around the location of its second Dreamliner assembly.

This is a game at which Southern states excel. It's an open question whether South Carolina still has game. The state:

• Is in political chaos with a governor mired in scandal.

• Is suffering some of the highest unemployment in the nation, 12.1 percent in May.

• Finances are so troubled it may have trouble marshaling the incentives it has successfully used in the past.

The Vought assembly plant purchased by Boeing was among the most troubled parts of the 787s outsourced-supply chain, in part because of less experienced workers and arguably without the talent and synergy that come from a dense, highly skilled aerospace cluster. Turning it into a full-scale production line, as in Everett and Renton, would require huge investment.

Still, the threat is real. It's already brought out the long knives of some business lobbyists against Puget Sound unionized employees and reinvigorated the questionable charge that Washington has a dismal business climate.

On the other hand, some are so sick of kowtowing to Boeing threats they're ready to call the company's bluff. Division, exaggerated or misunderstood business conditions here also play to South Carolina's advantage.

Southern economic-development strategy is only partly based on lower wages. In its purest form, it involves state officials making a full-court press to win a single high-end economic asset, especially using huge tax breaks, other public incentives and cheap land.

South Carolina epitomized this with its courtship of BMW in the 1990s. The German automaker built its only North American factory near Spartanburg and spawned a supply chain that caused the local Interstate to be nicknamed the autobahn.

The Southern states were desperate to diversify beyond agriculture and textiles, and they also benefited from the migration to the Sun Belt and the rise of Atlanta andCharlotte, N.C. The strategy has not been without controversy, with critics questioning whether many projects ever meet the optimistic projections that sold them. In many cases, the results don't match the BMW benchmark and in few do they create widespread prosperity.

For example, North Carolina recently trumpeted a $1 billion Apple data center in a rural county, thanks to a $46 million tax break. The operation will employ only 51 people in a state that has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in textiles, apparel, furniture and now banking. That's more than $900,000 per permanent job.

In fact, the Great Disruption is affecting many parts of the South far worse than Western Washington.

There's no guarantee that the South will see the kind of success in the future that it enjoyed in the bubble and Sun Belt migration days.

Of course, the same is true for Seattle, a theme regular readers of this column are familiar with. It's healthy to run a little scared in today's economy as long as you don't run over the edge of a cliff or throw others off. That's the risk with the most strident comments about the bad-business climate here.

It's mostly a myth.

And, in addition to being divisive because much of it translates into blaming workers or programs that benefit them, it obscures the real competitive issues that face us.

The Puget Sound region has one of the most vibrant, talent-rich and diverse metro economies in the nation. It's what allowed it to avoid the downdraft of the recession for so long and to sustain comparatively light injuries as events continued to worsen globally. Seattle punches well above its weight-class among metro areas.

The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston ranked Washington No. 6 in its 2008 State Competitiveness Report, which looks at a wide range of yardsticks, from fiscal policy to business development. South Carolina came in at No. 46.

In Corporation for Enterprise Development's (CFED) last Development Report Card for the States, a widely respected benchmark covering everything from the economy to social issues and quality of life, Washington received a B grade. South Carolina earned a C.

And in its new Asset and Opportunity Scorecard, which assesses 46 measures of individual well-being, CFED, a nonpartisan, best-practices think tank whose sponsors include Bank of America and Wal-Mart, rated Washington a B and South Carolina a D.

Meanwhile, a recent report by the Milken Institute put Seattle 11th among the nation's elite life-science clusters. The closest it came to Carolina was No. 5 Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Its Research Triangle Park has benefited from six decades of patient state investments and three research universities rather than the incentives game of South Carolina.

Unions are a familiar whipping boy in the bad-business-climate myth. Funny, the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods is union-heavy Germany.

And it stretches credulity to argue that four strikes over 20 years are anywhere near the competitive burden of the executive blunders that put the Dreamliner behind schedule. (Incidentally, the Vought plant in North Charleston is represented by the International Association of Machinists.)

It's especially disingenuous to hide behind the myth when Boeing has benefited from billions in tax breaks and other incentives here.

The Puget Sound region has serious competitive disadvantages, too many of which get little attention. Business taxes are relatively high, partly a consequence of having no income tax and tax-limitation measures. They fall heaviest on smaller, unsexy industries without Boeing's lobbying power.

In CFED's categories of business vitality, Washington went from an A in 2000 to a D in 2007, hurt by less manufacturing investment, fewer jobs created by startups and fewer company's going public.

Businesses created by university research, a critical element to Silicon Valley, is tepid here. We're creating and growing far fewer firms that could be tomorrow's Microsofts.

As with many technology and creative hot spots, Seattle suffers from affordability problems. You can get a lot of house for the money in South Carolina.

We do need to cooperate and fight together to preserve and expand this world-class aerospace cluster. We need to realize our rivals are in Shanghai and Singapore not justSouth Carolina.

But Boeing risks overplaying its hand. We survived the loss of its headquarters. We'll survive without the second 787 assembly line and hopefully be prodded to reinvent ourselves for the 21st-century economy.

You may reach Jon Talton at jtalton@seattletimes.com.

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Published: Friday, June 19, 2009

Oregon House Sides with Labor on Workplace Communications

by Janie Har, The Oregonian

SALEM -- Organized labor scored a fat win on Friday when lawmakers gave final approval to a bill allowing workers to opt out of meetings where employers talk about unions, ballot measures and other political speech.

The House voted 34 to 24 to endorse Senate Bill 519, with Democrats and unions praising what they call the "Worker Freedom Act." Republicans and businesses protested fiercely, saying that the employer "gag rule" is an unnecessary regulation that tilts the landscape toward unions.

The bill now goes to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who is expected to sign it. Oregon would join New Jersey in extending such protection to workers.

Democrats say businesses are overreacting and that the bill doesn't silence anyone's right to speech -- it just frees workers from having to listen. The provision also applies to religious speech.
"This is a policy that makes sense and will be good for business," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, an English instructor at Portland Community College who has served as president of the faculty union there.

Added Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland: "All this does is protect the natural rights of employees; it doesn't hinder employers in any way."

But Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, said the legislation will prevent free and easy communication between workers and their bosses. He owns a Shell station franchise and employs anywhere from 7 to 10 people.

"The idea that I couldn't take a few minutes to talk to them about what we're doing here is the wrong thing to do," he said.

A move by Republicans to kick the issue to voters next year failed.

J. L. Wilson, a vice president with Associated Oregon Industries, says the legislation creates a protected class and knocks employers out of the political process. And, anyway, what's wrong with making workers attend meetings?

"Employees work at the pleasure of the employer and the employer is entitled to make a request or demands on an employee's time if the employer pays for it," he said.

The Senate approved the bill 16-14.

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Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009


When the boss says, "You Either Do This or Else"...

By Rep. Mike Sells

Should you be required to sit through religious services -- or listen to political speeches -- as part of your job?

Unless you work for a church, or for a politician, the answer should be no.

How about donations to charity? Shouldn't you be the only one deciding which causes to support?

These are issues of individual conscience, your individual conscience, and are totally unrelated to your job performance.

Workers certainly must go through mandatory training to be better at their jobs; nobody's arguing that. The problem arises when your job is conditioned not on how well you do it, but on how you vote, what you believe in, whether you want to join a union, or who you give your hard-earned money to.

This is happening more and more across America and our state is not the exception. Employers are requiring their workers to sit through mandatory events that have no relation or relevance to the work they were hired to do. To ensure they follow through, employers often make the workers understand that if they don't comply, the consequences can be really bad and may even involve a pink slip.

What it boils down to is that workers either do what they're told or they may not have a job the next day. Nobody wants to put their income at risk.

This is legal in our state and it has to stop.

I have introduced House Bill 1528 to make this practice unlawful. The terms of the Worker Privacy Act are very clear and very simple: your employer can't fire you or even threaten to fire you if you don't go to a meeting or an event where the purpose is to feed you information on political or religious matters, or to influence you to change your beliefs, opinions or actions about these matters.

The bill is necessary to protect your fundamental freedom of thought and speech, since employers are currently allowed to trample on that freedom by forcing you to do things that are not only not related to your job, but in fact disregard your individuality and violate your privacy.

What my bill doesn't do is prohibit or infringe the right of employer speech. The Worker Privacy Act is no gag rule; employers are free to speak out at the workplace on any political, religious and charitable issues they want and in any way they choose to do so. They can use meetings, posters, flyers, e-mail messages and whatever other form to get their word out on these matters -- they just can't force workers to give these communications the time of day.

Opponents are saying that my bill goes against federal labor laws and that it challenges the First Amendment. But neither of those claims is true. First, the state has full authority to establish minimum working conditions, which the Worker Privacy Act does. For instance, just as the state prevents employers from forcing workers to toil in unsafe working conditions, it can also pass a law preventing employers from forcing workers to attend a meeting that threatens their freedom of conscience.

And regarding the First Amendment, my bill in no way prevents employers or anyone else from discussing religion, politics or any other subject in the workplace; it merely prohibits coercing and threatening employees who don't want to listen.

Would someone seriously argue that the First Amendment gives an employer the right to order employees into a meeting where the goal is to convince them to be Catholics instead of Protestants, or Democrats instead of Republicans?

As Washingtonians who aim to live in a free, fair and just state, we must recognize the importance of protecting employees from this form of coercion and the way to do it is passing the Worker Privacy Act.

The Worker Privacy Act has 46 supporters in the House and 20 in the Senate version.

Mike Sells is a state representative from the 38th Legislative District, which includes the communities of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip. He currently serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council, an organization of 65 unions that represent 42,000 working people in Snohomish County.

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Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009

SPEEA Members Reject Boeing's Offer for a New Contract -- Negotiations to Resume

WICHITA, KS -- Engineers delivered a resounding "NO" to a contract offer from The Boeing Company in voting today, a move that sends both sides back to the bargaining table.

Following the recommendation of union negotiators, members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, voted down the Boeing offer at a special meeting held at Curtis Middle School. The tally showed 88 percent of the voting members rejected the offer, with 209 voting "No" and 28 voting "Yes" to accept Boeing's offer for a new contract covering engineers at Boeing's Wichita Integrated Defense Systems (IDS). Union tellers counted the votes at SPEEA's Midwest office following the meeting. The ballot did not include a strike authorization vote. The union has 330 members eligible to vote on the contract.

"This is a very clear message to Boeing corporate that engineers in Wichita will not tolerate being treated as second-class," said Joe Newberry, chair of the SPEEA Wichita Engineering Unit negotiating team and a 35-year employee at the plant. "We're anxious to get back to the table."

With the offer rejected, SPEEA and Boeing are discussing when negotiations can resume.

"We are ready to go back to the table and get an offer employees will be proud to accept," said Bob Brewer, SPEEA Midwest director.

The company's offer of 3 percent salary increase pools, increased out-of-pocket medical costs and elimination of the pension for new employees was in stark contrast to the contract recently negotiated for engineers in Washington, Oregon, California and Utah. Employees there secured raise pools totaling 20 percent over the next four years while maintaining medical coverage and the defined benefit pension for new employees.

The 700 SPEEA-represented engineers in the Wichita Engineering Unit (WEU) have worked under a contract extension since Dec. 5, when the existing contract was set to expire. Read full story