2012 in review: A labor lookback

 

For organized labor, 2012 was a mix of successes and setbacks, both nationally and locally.

 

Some national highlights:

President Barack Obama was re-elected with union backing, but immediately after the votes were in, union leaders felt a need to mobilize to push him, and Congressional Democrats, not to mess with Social Security or Medicare as part of a “fiscal cliff” compromise.

Labor failed in its effort to recall Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker — who made war on public employee union rights in 2011. But three months after Walker beat back recall with 53 percent of the vote, a state judge struck down parts of the law.

And in December, a lame duck legislature passed a law, with little public notice, making Michigan the 24th “right-to-work” state, or as one pro-union legislator put it, “a right-to-freeload” state. Right-to-work laws make union dues strictly optional, even though unions are bound by law to represent all workers in a workplace.

In Chicago, a weeklong strike by 26,000 public school teachers in September dealt a partial blow to a corporate reform agenda for schools. Later, voters in Idaho and South Dakota rejected anti-teacher reforms.

Symbolic protest strikes also took place at Walmart stores nationwide the day after Thanksgiving, and at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants in New York City.

But at bankrupt Hostess Brands, management responded to a weeklong protest strike in November by members of the Bakers union by closing the 85-year-old company for good, putting the company’s assets up for sale and laying off close to 18,000 workers.

In January, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire intervened to end a dispute between International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and EGT at the Port of Longview’s new $200 million grain export facility, and the two sides came to agreement. But concessions in the resulting contract set off an even wider contract dispute with other unionized grain exporters that was still unresolved at year’s end.

 

In Oregon, unions lost some hard-fought campaigns, and won others:

  • Dosha Salon Spa, an Aveda-branded salon chain that unionized in 2011, fired several union supporters in 2012, and campaigned to decertify the union; predicting certain loss, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901 called it quits after failing to secure a first-time union contract.
  • At TriMet, an arbitrator picked management’s offer over the union’s, leading the transit agency to demand workers pay up to $7,080 for retroactive health insurance premiums. But Amalgamated Transit Union challenged that in court, and won several partial legal victories in a set of cases that are still pending.
  • At Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville, about 300 members of United Steel Workers Local 8378 got annual raises of up to 2.5 percent after a 12-day strike, but also paid more for health coverage.

 

Several large Oregon workplaces voted to unionize, which may enlarge next year’s government survey finding; last year’s found that 17.1 percent of Oregon workers are union-represented.

  • University of Oregon faculty members Tina Boscha, Karen McPherson, and Deborah Olson prepare to deliver union authorization cards signed by more than 1,000 of their colleagues to the state Employment Relations Board.

    In March, 1,912 University of Oregon faculty unionized with American Association of University Professors.

  • In July, 500 Portland security officers joined Service Employees Local 49 at four companies that agreed to “card check” union recognition: Securitas, ABM, G4S, and AlliedBarton.
  • In November, TriMet Lift workers at a long non-union unit of contractor First Transit voted 111-31 to join Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757.

But at BrucePac, a Willamette Valley cooked meat and poultry processor with 284 workers, a three-year-long campaign to join the Laborers Union went down by more than 3-to-1 in a July union election.

And in November, a group of 600 support staff at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend voted 334 to 212 to go non-union Nov. 1. Workers vote narrowly in January 2011 to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49, but never got a union contract in the course of more than 40 formal negotiating sessions.

 

Portland City Council made some policy changes that will benefit working people:

  • In September, it approved a model “community benefits agreement” that commits to build city projects with union labor, and to use minority workers and contractors.
  • And in November, it voted to issue 50 taxi permits to Union Cab — a newly-formed driver-owned co-op that is affiliated with Communications Workers of America Local 7901.

 

The recession seemed to end for many local building trades workers as work boomed at Intel’s giant new manufacturing facility and in projects building a “cloud” of computer data centers in the high desert of Central Oregon.

 

Oregon politics

Union members knocked on over 115,000 doors and made over 315,000 phone calls in the Oregon AFL-CIO’s election program, with some successes. Labor-backed Democrats picked up four seats in the Oregon House, retaking the majority there while holding on to 16-14 majority in the Oregon Senate.

In the November election, a union-sponsored ballot initiative diverting Oregon’s corporate kicker tax refund to schools passed by a wide margin. Labor also helped reject Measure 84, an attempt to phase out inheritance taxes on large estates.

But in Clackamas County, strong labor support was not enough to save incumbent Chair Charlotte Lehan and Commissioner Jamie Damon.

 

Meanwhile, in Washington, labor-endorsed Democrat Jay Inslee won the governor’s race, but Democrats held the state senate by only 26-23, and in December, two Democrats announced a power-sharing deal to turn the chamber over to Republicans.

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