U.S. Jobs Lost Due to Law Restricting Mexican Truck Drivers

CarbonlessPaperMachine2010-05-20.jpg“Carbonless paper comes off a coating machine at Appleton Papers in March. Mexican tariffs have hit sales.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) APPLETON, Wis.–Congress’s vote last year to keep Mexican truck drivers south of the border was good news for DuWayne Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, 49 years old, owns a truck and hauls loads all over the U.S. from his home in Wisconsin. “Why should I have to compete against Third World drivers within my own borders?” Mr. Marshall asked during a break on a run to San Diego. “By closing down the borders, we are saving American jobs.”
Elizabeth Villagomez, 38, isn’t so sure. A single mother of two teens, she has worked at a paper plant in this community near Green Bay for 15 years. After the Mexican government retaliated against the trucking ban by slapping $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. paper, produce and other goods, orders plunged and managers began slashing shifts and overtime for the unionized work force.
“The company has done all it can to cut costs,” Ms. Villagomez said. “I’m at the bottom of the list if they have layoffs. It’s kind of scary, not knowing if you’re going to have a job.”
. . .
At Appleton Papers Inc., the fight over who can drive a truck across a border 1,600 miles away has translated into falling wages and rising anxiety.
Rick Bahr, head of the United Steelworkers union local that represents more than 500 employees at the Appleton plant, said six shifts have already been cut, cutting down on overtime.
“The battle ends up union versus union, truckers versus the paper workers,” Mr. Bahr said. The national steelworkers’ union has been supporting the Teamsters on the issue of Mexican trucks in the U.S.
Nearly half the company’s revenue, about $420 million last year, comes from carbonless paper sales. Its largest foreign customer is Mexico. After Mexico put a 10% tariff on carbonless paper, revenue from Mexico fell to $37 million in 2009 from $46 million in 2008.
Now, more Mexican customers say they will look for alternative suppliers to avoid having to bear part of the tariff costs. Just last month a major customer told Appleton it was going to get its carbonless paper from a European producer.
Even before the tariffs were imposed, the company had seen business hit by the economic slowdown and had cut its work force in 2008 and stopped other benefits, such as reimbursing tuition and matching workers’ contributions to their 401K retirement plans. Company officials said it was hard to quantify what part of the business downturn could be blamed directly on the tariffs, but they noted that Appleton sold 18% fewer tons of carbonless paper in the U.S. last year, compared with 2008. The number of tons sold to Mexican customers was down 24%.
Inside the plant, the machine that coats 4,000-pound rolls of paper to make it carbonless was idle one recent afternoon. Once run 24 hours a day, it is now used only half that time.
Kevin Bunnow, 50, a 33-year veteran of the plant, said the reduction in shifts had meant a wage cut of several thousand dollars last year.
“When elephants fight, the grass loses,” he said. “It didn’t take me long to realize, we’re the grass.”

For the full story, see:
GARY FIELDS. “Trade Dispute Divides Workers; It’s ‘Union vs. Union’ as Ban on Mexican Trucks Cheers Drivers, Triggers Cut in Hours at Paper Plant.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Largest Decline in Private Sector Union Members in 25 Years

(p. A3) Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years. The drop is on par with the fall in total employment but threatens to significantly limit labor’s ability to influence elections and legislation.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported private-sector unions lost 834,000 members, bringing membership down to 7.2% of the private-sector work force, from 7.6% the year before. The broader drop in U.S. employment and a small gain by public-sector unions helped keep the total share of union membership flat at 12.3% in 2009. In the early 1980s, unions represented 20% of workers.

For the full story, see:
KRIS MAHER. “Union Membership Declines by 10%.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 23, 2010): A3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title “Union Membership Drops 10%.”)

Like Cesar Chavez, Union Intimidates Its Own Members

FrankVitaleAmeliaUnionOrganizer2010-01-16.jpg “Amelia Frank-Vitale, a former union organizer, said the practice of pink sheeting sent her into therapy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) After six years working in the laundry of a Miami hotel, Julia Rivera was thrilled when her union tapped her to become a full-time union organizer.

But her excitement soon turned to outrage.
Ms. Rivera said her supervisors at Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, repeatedly pressed her to reveal highly personal information, getting her to divulge that her father had sexually abused her.
Later, she said, her supervisors ordered her to recount her tale of abuse again and again to workers they were trying to unionize at Tampa International Airport, convinced that Ms. Rivera’s story would move them, making them more likely to join the union.
“I was scared not to do what they said,” said Ms. Rivera, adding that she resented being pressured to disclose intimate information and then speak about it in public. “To me, it was sick. It was horrible.”
Ms. Rivera and other current and former Unite Here organizers are speaking out against what they say is a longstanding practice in which Unite Here officials pressured subordinates to disclose sensitive personal information — for example, that their mother was an alcoholic or that they were fighting with their spouse.
More than a dozen organizers said in interviews that they had often been pressured to detail such personal anguish — sometimes under the threat of dismissal from their union positions — and that their supervisors later used the information to press them to comply with their orders.
“It’s extremely cultlike and extremely manipulative,” said Amelia Frank-Vitale, a Yale graduate and former hotel union organizer who said these practices drove her to see a therapist.
Several organizers grew incensed when they discovered that details of their history had been put into the union’s database so that supervisors could use that information to manipulate them.
“This information is extremely personal,” said Matthew Edwards, an organizer who had disclosed that he was from a broken home and was overweight when young. “It is catalogued and shared throughout the whole organizing department.”
. . .
(p. B5) Several organizers likened pink sheeting to a practice that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, used when he embraced a mind-control practice developed by Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center founded in Santa Monica, Calif. Union staff members were systematically subjected to intense, prolonged verbal abuse in an effort to break them down and assure loyalty.
. . .
Ms. Frank-Vitale, now a graduate student at American University, says she is still haunted by memories of pink sheeting.
“One night my supervisor pushed me and pushed me, and I started talking about being an overweight woman in America, what that was like in high school, that it was very difficult for me,” she said. “I felt kind of violated.”

For the full story, see:
STEVEN GREENHOUSE. “Some Organizers Protest Their Union’s Tactics.” The New York Times (Thurs., November 19, 2009): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 18, 2009.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

Calderón’s Decision Is Bigger than Reagan’s Firing of Air Traffic Controllers

ElectriciansProtestMexico2009-10-29.jpg“The Mexican Union of Electricians protests the government’s decision to liquidate the state-owned electricity company in Mexico City.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A19) Eight days ago, just after midnight on a Sunday morning, Mexican President Felipe Calderón instructed federal police to take over the operations of the state-owned electricity monopoly, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which serves Mexico City and parts of surrounding states. The company’s assets will stay in the hands of the government but will now be run by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), a national state-owned utility and the major supplier of LyFC’s energy.

The net effect of the move is to dethrone 42,000 members of the Mexican Union of Electricians, which had won benefits over the decades to make Big Three auto workers in Detroit blush. When the liquidation is complete, it is expected that the company will employ about 8,000. To appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Calderón’s decision, think of Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers–only bigger. As one internationally renowned Mexican economist remarked on Sunday, it is “the most important act of government in 20 years.”

For the full commentary, see:
MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY. “Mexico’s Calderón Takes on Big Labor; Its state-owned electricity company was bleeding the national treasury dry.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A19.

Powerful Rail Unions Defend Specious Disability Claims

RailroadDisabilityReport.jpg“LAX REGULATIONS; One examination in 1997 found that 97 percent of workers who applied for disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board were approved. Despite decades of efforts to re-evaluate the standards, the rate is as high or higher today.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) After learning that most of her career employees were retiring early and getting disability payments, the Long Island Rail Road’s president, Helena E. Williams, set out in October to learn more about the obscure federal agency in Chicago that was dispensing the money, a quarter of a billion dollars since 2000.

But when Ms. Williams asked to attend the next meeting of the agency — the federal Railroad Retirement Board, rail workers’ version of Social Security — she got a surprise.
The board, with about $34 billion in assets, had not met formally in nearly two years, and no new meeting was scheduled. The three board members, all full-time presidential appointees, rarely met even in private, employees of the agency say.
Operating out of public view, with little scrutiny from Congress and even from its former inspector general, the retirement board has become the agency that cannot say no, last year approving virtually every single disability application it received — almost 98 percent. It did not matter where rail employees lived or where they worked.
An examination of the board by The New York Times, including dozens of interviews and a review of government records, found a disability program plagued by labor-management infighting, weak standards and a failure to use tests that could better weed out specious disability claims.
. . .
(p. A25) More than a half-dozen state and federal agencies are now investigating the retirement board’s disability payments to former L.I.R.R. employees. In September, two days after The Times published the results of an eight-month investigation that documented those disability payments, federal agents raided the board’s Long Island office.
The L.I.R.R.’s disability rate, which since 2000 has ranged between 93 percent and 97 percent for retired career employees, is three to four times that of the average railroad. Workers at other railroads get disabilities just as easily, but they file for them less often because, unlike L.I.R.R. employees, they cannot retire early with a private pension plan to supplement their disability pay.
. . .
The rail unions, which have remained powerful even as the nation’s labor movement has ebbed, have aggressively defended their interests at the retirement board. Management has largely avoided a showdown, choosing to spend its political capital in other areas, including contract issues, according to current and former board officials.
“The unions have been successful not only in getting a separate system, but keeping it,” said Robert S. Kaufman, a former director of retirement claims for the board.

For the full story, see:
WALT BOGDANICH and NICHOLAS PHILLIPS. “The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn’t Say No.” The New York Times (Mon., December 15, 2008): A1 & A25.
(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title leaves out the word “Railroad.”)

RailroadDisabilityHistoryInaction.gif

Source of time-line graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

French Labor Holds Management Hostage—Literally

PolutnikNicolasFrenchHostage2009-04-10.jpg “French Caterpillar executive Nicolas Polutnik, center, with workers after his release Wednesday.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) PARIS — Of the 22,000 workers Caterpillar Inc. plans to lay off this year, the French ones have perhaps the most radical tactic for negotiating their severance deals.

In an aggressive, and peculiarly French, negotiating strategy, they held their managers hostage. The workers detained the director of their plant and four other managers for about 24 hours this week. Workers released them only after the company agreed to resume talks with unions and a government mediator on how to improve compensation for workers who are being laid off.
. . .
Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, surveyed 3,000 companies in 2004 and found that 18 of them had experienced an executive detention in the prior three years.

For the full story, see:
DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS and LEILA ABBOUD. “In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages.” Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 3, 2009): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Union Dynamited “True Industrial Freedom”

AmericanLightningBK.jpg

Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) The turn-of-the-20th-century war of capital and labor is not even half-remembered now. But the glum slab of the Los Angeles Times building will remind anyone who cares to look. The antiunion rallying cry of “True Industrial Freedom” is carved deeply into its façade. Completed in 1935, the building is a cenotaph for the 21 nonunion pressmen and linotype operators who were blown up on an early October morning in 1910 and died in a storm of fire and collapsing masonry.

The dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times was, for Howard Blum in “American Lightning,” the war’s decisive engagement. After it, a national campaign of union-led terrorism was exposed; labor sympathizers who defended the bombers were proved to be gullible (if not dishonest); and the political force of American socialism was wrecked. Reputations were wrecked, too, principally that of Clarence Darrow, who was then a renowned labor lawyer.
. . .
In 1910, Los Angeles was a young boomtown aching for water and respectability. To the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis, respectability included making sure that the city was uninfested by union labor. It was an era of deep enmity and suspicion between business and labor, when it was not uncommon for strikes to end in riots and death. Otis and the Times preached the open shop with such vehemence that it was almost inevitable that they would become targets of prounion wrath.
The dynamite conspiracy unraveled when a second, unexploded bomb in Los Angeles was found to match another bomb discovered a month earlier by a Burns operative in a rail yard in Peoria, Ill. Burns tied the evidence to a campaign of terror against the National Erectors Association, a union-busting alliance of builders. The target of the association’s animus was the union shop in general and the Structural Iron Workers Union in particular. John McNamara was the union’s secretary-treasurer. His brother James was a union agent. Their weapons against the association and its allies were nitroglycerine and dynamite.

For the full review, see:
D.J. WALDIE. “Bookshelf; Dynamite and Deadlines.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 16, 2008): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The reference to the book under review, is:
Blum, Howard. American Lightning. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.