Dec 31, 2007

Top labor stories of 2007 feature a strike and an assault on labor

Organized labor was under attack in Michigan with proposals aimed at busting unions and increased moves to privatize many services and send them to non-union employees at often lower wages and benefits. But the biggest news that had Michigan residents on edge was the contract negotiations between the Big 3 and the UAW.

UAW and The Big 3 sign a contract after short strikesThe United Auto Workers signed a historic four-year contract with the Big 3 automakers in the fall that called for moving unfunded retiree health care costs into an independent trust administered by the UAW. The contract did not come easy and in September the UAW launched a nationwide strike against General Motors as 73,000 UAW members walked off the job and hit the picket lines at the nation's largest automaker. Luckily, the strike only lasted two days before an agreement was reached. In October, the UAW reached an agreement with Chrysler after a strike that only lasted a few hours. The contract Ford and the UAW signed in December was reached without a strike.

Right to Work Laws pushed
Republicans in the Michigan legislature made a concerted push to enact so-called Right to Work laws this year. Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, introduced Senate bills 607 and 608, and the companion bills in the House – House bills 4454 and 4455 – were introduced by Rep. Jack Hookendyk, R-Kalamazoo, and Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire. Both bills sat idle in their respective committees, despite Republicans controlling the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop saying that passing Right to Work was a priority in 2008. There is also talk of a Right to Work ballot initiative in Michigan appearing in mainstream media outlets, and that may be a story for 2008. Right to Work laws allow workers to enjoy benefits won by trade unions but not pay union dues.

Pro-labor law makes it out of the HouseThe Michigan House tried to put an end to the unfair advantage that unions feel management has when there is a drive to establish a union. This came in the form of House Bill 4316, known as the Worker Freedom Act sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows, D-Lansing. The bill would prohibit employers from making workers attend mandatory meetings where employers have a captive audience to put out negative and anti-union information. The bill passed by a 56-49 vote on July 18, 2007, and it’s still currently in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee awaiting action. The practice of gathering employees to put out one-sided information is a staple in management’s fight to stop a union-organizing effort, while union organizers are sent to the sidelines to try and pass out info as employees zoom out of the employee parking lot. According to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, a study of more than 400 union representation election campaigns found that during 92 percent of union organizing drives, employers forced their employees to attend closed-door, anti-union meetings. In addition, 78 percent of employers directed supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to employees in one-on-one meetings.

Employee Free Choice Act approved
In March, the U.S. House approved HR 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, by a vote of 228-183. It will allow workers to organize a union free of an employer’s intimidation, free from fear of being fired and free from retaliation. The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., on Feb. 5, and it had bipartisan support with 233 co-sponsors. The bill would allow employees at a work site who want a union to simply sign a card clearly indicating support for a union, and the company is required to recognize the union. Under the current law, even if the majority of the workers sign up for the union, the company can simply veto that decision and call for an election.

GM cuts workforce
General Motors Corp. announced in December it plans to offer buyouts to 5,200 of its 72,000 hourly workers. This will allow GM to hire new workers at lower wages. The deal was part of the agreement reached in September between the union and GM.

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