Monthly Archives: March 2009

Thoughtful Letter in defense of EFCA from the local paper

From Letters to the Editor, Springfield Republican, March 26, 2009:

Rights of workers too easily impinged
Employees without a union have very few rights when dealing with their employers. For example, an employer may unilaterally cut pay, decide to cancel benefits such as health insurance and vacation time, and refuse to pay workers when they are out with the flu, or because of non-work-related hospital stays.

So, it’s no wonder employers don’t want employees to exercise their legal rights to join and participate in unions that they have selected as their collective-bargaining agents.

During my 35-year career with the National Labor Relations Board, I witnessed (prior to my retirement) the erosion of employee rights, as employers have become increasingly more aggressive in their efforts to thwart unionization. That is why I believe it is essential to the well-being of every employee to gain the protection of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The most discussed aspect of the legislation is the provision that employees may select a union by demonstrating through a card check, rather than through an election, that a majority of them want to be represented by a union. Such a procedure – a card check – has always been permitted under the National Labor Relations Act if both parties agree.

All that is new in the Employee Free Choice Act is that employees may insist on a card check. Based on my experience, I believe elections will continue to be the most frequent means to measure employee support; but unions that have signed-up majority support should have the right to prevent employers from undermining their positions through prolonged legal maneuvers and aggressive pre-election anti-union campaigns.

Other provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act impose meaningful sanctions against employers who fire or discriminate against employees because they exercise their legal rights to join a union. As the law now stands, employers almost get a “free ride” when they violate the rights of their workers.

The most unfortunate aspect of this whole debate – in my opinion – is that we need even to discuss the legalities of what should be a matter of respect for the women and men whose labor is the force that turns the wheels of commerce.
–JAMES J. PALERMO
–Northampton

I’m amazed the Republican printed this letter, considering they’re violently anti-union and have already twice ran a hyperbolic Op-Ed rife with distortions and half-truths about EFCA that was penned by a Union-busting Boston Law Firm.

I think I’ll write to Mr. Palermo and thank him for his letter, and also ask him for some illumination on this sentence:

“All that is new in the Employee Free Choice Act is that employees may insist on a card check. Based on my experience, I believe elections will continue to be the most frequent means to measure employee support; but unions that have signed-up majority support should have the right to prevent employers from undermining their positions through prolonged legal maneuvers and aggressive pre-election anti-union campaigns. ” (emphasis mine)

I’m wondering why Mr. Palermo believes most union organizing drives will still go the route of a National Labor Relations Board election when card check gets workers union certification much faster. Perhaps EFCA shortens the window between submitting the cards mandating an election and management and the NLRB holding the election–and there are the new provisions which make dirty tricks in the run up to the election more costly to management. Or perhaps its a combination of the two. Very interesting. Now all the country needs is for 60 Senators to vote yes for cloture and 51 to vote yes to pass the bill. No small task, there.

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ECFA debate on Democracy Now!

Democracy Now! had a 15-minute long debate on the Employee Free Choice Act between Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO and James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation. You can watch the full debate here.

Business, Labor Groups Clash Over Legislation to Ease Workers’ Barriers to Forming Unions

A fierce battle is brewing between labor unions and business groups over the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form a union. If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act would amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow workers to form a union if a majority of them signed a card or petition. We host a debate between Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO and James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation.

I know DN! is a very labor-friendly environment, but the debate wasn’t even close, Acuff flat out clobbered poor Mr. Sherk. While Mr. Acuff made reasoned explanations and cited numerous relevant statistics, poor Mr. Sherk just kept clinging to his two favorite talking points: 1. ECFA eliminates the worker’s right to a secret ballot election (which is untrue). 2. ECFA will allow government bureaucrats to “parachute in” and force business-killing 2-year labor contracts down management’s throat.

I usually just podcast Democracy Now! and listen to it at work, but today I watched the TV broadcast too, and on it Acuff wins even more points for likeability, given that James Sherk looks every bit the haughty, over privileged, ivy league smart but no wisdom or common sense, lily-white, naval-gazing, so-and-so you’d expect to work for the Heritage Foundation. Acuff just looks like a pretty average Joe.

Here are both sides’ “opening salvos” on the con and pro of EFCA (emphasis mine):

JAMES SHERK: Because this is a bill that takes away employees’ choice. Read the text of the bill. There’s nothing in there about workers having a choice between a secret ballot or simply being forced to sign publicly. Workers have, if this is passed, no ability to call for a secret ballot election. That hand—that would be entirely in the control of union organizers. And they’ve made it clear in their public statements that they have no intention of doing that.

And on top of that—the secret ballot part is outrageous, and it’s gotten most of the attention, but after that happened, at newly organized companies, you’d have the government imposing contracts, the government writing contracts that workers and business would have to live with. They couldn’t appeal. Workers wouldn’t have the right to vote or strike. And government bureaucrats don’t have the expertise to run a company, in even the best economic times. But in times like this, where it’s hard enough for businesses and workers with every incentive to keep the company going, to stay afloat, to be stuck with a contract that a government bureaucrat who knew nothing about the business to impose, you’d see thousands of businesses going under and tens of thousands of workers losing their job. Government control is not the way to get businesses back on track.

AMY GOODMAN: Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO?

STEWART ACUFF: Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be with you and Juan.

Let me start by saying we’ve had thirty years of failed trickle-down economics brought to you by the Heritage Foundation and James’s associates there. It’s hard for me to believe he can speak with a straight face, seeing what thirty years of free market fundamentalism has done to us.

The Employee Free Choice Act is very important, because those thirty years have led to flat wages and declining wages. The average wage of the average worker in America today is lower than it was in 1973, because of the corporate and right-wing assault on labor unions and workers. So the Employee Free Choice Act simply will restore in the private sector the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. Workers will still be able to seek and get a secret ballot election, if they want, to simply by 30 percent or 40 or 45 percent of the workers in the workplace signing a card and/or a petition and going down to the National Labor Relations Board and asking for an election, and election will be granted, or signing 50 percent plus one and going down and applying for certification, and certification will be granted. Both methods have been legal since 1935. It’s just that today, the employer decides which method is used. We want to change it for the worker to decide.

And the problem is, in that six-week period between when workers apply for an election and get an election, employers routinely—it’s now a routine part of a corrupt corporate culture—run campaigns of terror, intimidation, firings, retaliation against workers who support the union. Last year, 31,000 workers, according to the National Labor Relations Board, were retaliated against for legally protected union activity. And so, folks like James make up a problem to cover a real problem. There is no union intimidation. There’s only been forty-two cases in the history of the Board—that’s seventy-four years—while last year 31,000 workers were intimidated by their employer for legally protected union activity.

On the arbitration—

JAMES SHERK: That’s—

STEWART ACUFF: I’m sorry, Amy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: No, go ahead. Finish your point.

STEWART ACUFF: On the arbitration, if workers and their employer are making steps and progress towards a first contract, they can mutually agree to extend the time period from the current 120 days under the bill for as long as it takes to get a contract. The aim here is not to arbitrate contracts, but it’s to give employers and corporations a real incentive to reach a first contract. One company, the largest company in cable television, Comcast Cable, routinely awards their non-union workers higher wages than their union workers, as a policy. And so, we’ve got to stop this business where workers can wait twelve years to get a first contract, six years to get a first contract, after they form their union. And we do need to impose real penalties on employers who violate the law. I don’t know of another federal law where there is not real penalties for employers who violate the law, and that’s why the Employee Free Choice Act would provide real penalties for employers who violate the law.

Stylistically and substantively Mr. Sherk is overmatched from the word go. Note his hyperbolic tone and insistence on absolutes. There will be no choice for workers, and matters will be “entirely in the control of union organizers.” There will be no choice for management–government will squash their fragile businesses like bugs. Union Bad, Business Good. Government Bad, Business Good.

Several times James Sherk made reference to government types “parachuting in” and hammering out a contract–one that in Mr. Sherk’s view would kill the business.

JAMES SHERK: . . .And then, with the government stepping in, no government bureaucrat is in a position to run your company, to run your job, to tell you what your wages should be, what your benefits should be, what your work assignments should be, what promotion opportunities you should have, what equipment your company should use to do the job. They’re unaccountable. They don’t know. They’re just being parachuted in there. Government planning is not a recipe for economic health.

JAMES SHERK:
It’s not going to help any business to have the government come in, to have a bureaucrat parachuted in and simply impose a business plan on the company.

And I kept scratching my head over Sherk’s talking point about government bureaucrats “parachuting in” to write a 2-year labor contract. Regarding contract negotiations, EFCA allows a company 120 days (4 months) to agree to a contract with the union–plenty of time if they are bargaining in good faith–before the NLRB would get involved. As far as “parachuting in” goes, I think he meant for “parachute in” to mean “drop out of sky”–as in arrive in a situation unprepared (I guess), but I took it completely another way. When I think of someone “parachuting in” I immediately think of. . .paratroopers–specifically WWII 82nd Airborne “Screaming Eagle” paratroopers. These are the guys who flat out GOT THINGS DONE (and still GET THINGS DONE to this day). Read “A Bridge Too Far” and “The Longest Day” by Cornelius Ryan or “Those Devils in Baggy Pants” by Ross S. Carter to see what I mean. “Parachuting in” for those brave young men meant getting behind enemy lines and causing trouble, holding bridges or destroying them, reinforcing positions about to be overrun, and always fighting against impossible odds until help arrived, until the battle was won, or until you were dead, captured, or too injured to fight on.

I’m sure someone else probably crafted Mr. Sherk’s words and message–most likely someone to whom military service and real heroism are alien things. Regardless, I hope they keep up this sort of approach, because I think that will make passage of ECFA that much easier.

Full transcript of EFCA debate from Democracy Now! 3/13/2009 here.

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My Mom On Hannity’s Show

It’s not really my Mom, it just sounds like her. Imagine talking politics with someone who thinks/talks like Victoria Jackson, only is a blood relative who you can’t just laugh at without really hurting their feelings. That’s my situation every Tuesday night when me and the family go to “Grandma and Grandpa’s” for dinner.

Watch and cringe.

Some wingers have stepped in to defend Victoria Jackson, saying she’s really smart and her appearance here was just an act–performance art, if you will. That’s extremely doubtful at best. More likely she just mixed her meds which in turn liberated her to say any damn thing that popped into her addled head. Read her blog. Read her BIO. Watch her other recent TV appearances. This lady is 1000% rapture-ready, and she’s just waiting to disappear at the appointed hour and reappear in Heaven with a front row seat to watch all the heathens–pretty much everybody except for the folks who read the Left Behind series, get butchered like hogs or infected with plague or stung by giant scorpions or burnt by righteous fire in the time of tribulation.

Limbaugh/Palin/Hannity in 2012. Yay!

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Wind power in the housewares dept?

Photo: John Lok, Seattle Times

Chad Maqlaque wants to make buying wind power as easy as driving to the mall. The West Seattle inventor is just another savvy American making wind power in his garage, but his design, currently in the running to win a $10 million prize from a Google contest, could accelerate the green energy revolution. Thomas Key, tech lead for the Electric Power Research Institute renewables program called Maqlaque’s wind turbine and generator “elegantly simple”. If he wins the Google prize and/or attracts other investors, after development he plans to sell his invention at “big box” stores like CostCo, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, and Wal-mart for $400-500. One device will generate enough electricity (40 hw hours) to cover your light bill every month if you use compact-fluorescent bulbs. The blades spin at half-speed of a conventional turbines–meaning half the noise pollution and possible usage in close-packed urban environments.

from the Seattle Times:

Seattle inventor hopes Google contest will help rooftop wind turbine fly

A West Seattle man hopes his wind turbine will receive worldwide support from Google users.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Maglaque, 42, an inventor since childhood, does freelance product management and strategy for technology companies. He was a vocal supporter of the failed Seattle Monorail Project a few years ago.

He’s entered his wind-turbine idea in Google’s “Project 10 to the 100th” contest, which, to celebrate the company’s 10th birthday, will award $10 million to five innovative ideas that seek, in simple terms, to change the world.

“We thought this would be an interesting way to celebrate, and it goes with the Googley culture,” said company spokesman Jamie Yood. “Google is very much about democratizing the world. You might have this great idea but no way to share it.”

Google employees worldwide are wading through more than 100,000 entries submitted in 25 different languages. They’re narrowing the field to 100 entries, and starting Tuesday the public can vote to name the top 20. A Google advisory panel will pick the five winning projects.

Contestants could submit a short YouTube video explaining their ideas in categories such as energy, education and health. Maglaque’s video is one of the most viewed among all of the projects.

He calls his idea a simple one that combines several everyday parts into a wind-power generator. The 3-foot turbine would be mounted on a rooftop or wind tower and plugged directly into an outdoor electrical socket.

The turbine’s variable-speed motor — similar to those found in a blender or ceiling fan — is then connected directly to the electrical grid.

The turbine is equipped with a device that senses when there is enough wind to operate. That automatically turns the motor on, allowing the wind-driven turbine to generate electricity to be used in the home or fed back to the grid.

A handful of small wind turbines already have been developed, but they require an expensive converter to take variable wind energy and turn it into a uniform current appropriate for the grid.

Maglaque says his design doesn’t need a converter and can be plugged directly into the grid. He hopes his prototype, called the Jellyfish wind turbine, will be easy for homeowners to use.


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Back by popular demand: Body Paint We Can Believe In (NSFW)




More photos of Brazilian Carnival Queen Viviane Castro and her amazing body–Amazing body paint, I mean. Hey, isn’t that our president painted on one of her lovely thighs?

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Free Phish Hampton 2009 at livephish.com


Phish played their first “reunion” show at Hampton Colliseum last night. Being really generous, the band has decided to make available free mp3 audio files of the entire 3-day run at livephish.com. All you need is to register there and go to it (some bandwidth would help). Wish I could’ve been there at starship hampton, but free mp3s are good too. For audio purists, you can get FLACs of the show for a nominal fee ($13/show)

Free Hampton MP3 Downloads at LivePhish.com

In celebration of Phish’s first shows in over four years, we’re thrilled to be able to offer fans free, high-quality downloads of the band’s sold-out March 6th, 7th and 8th concerts at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia at LivePhish.com.

Each show will be professionally multi-tracked and mixed onsite and within 24 hours, 256kbps MP3s will be made available for free for a limited time at LivePhish.com. Fans who wish to download higher quality versions may purchase FLAC downloads. The shows will also be available on CD. Both are available for pre-order now. Register at LivePhish.com to receive an email when the free MP3s are available.

“We really wanted to show our gratitude to all the Phish fans for their support and the overwhelming response they’ve had to these shows. It’s going to be an amazing celebration and we only wish everybody could be there,” said Trey Anastasio.

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Toyota offers buyouts to over half US workforce

American car manufacturer’s Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler have taken some lumps lately for the bailout requests and their “unsustainable” union work forces. The GOP has taken delight in Detroit’s plight, while simultaneously lavishing praise on the foreign automakers and their predominantly Southern state, non-unionized US workforce.

With that in mind, it should come as a shock that Toyota and Nissan, the GOP’s darlings, are really hurting too in these tough economic times. So much so, in fact, that Toyota has offered buyouts to over half of its US workforce (Business Week):


Toyota Takes the Knife to US Labor Costs

With sales in the doldrums, Toyota is offering buyouts to 18,000 U.S. workers, reducing wages, and slashing bonuses. But no layoffs so far

Last summer, when Toyota (TM) temporarily shuttered three U.S. plants as part of a move to build more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer large trucks, it won plaudits for not laying off employees. Instead, workers undertook extra training sessions, helped out at other plants, or even became involved in projects in the local community. Now, though, with the U.S. market showing few signs of recovery—Toyota’s sales slumped 32% in January—and losses mounting, the Japanese automaker has no choice but to cut labor costs in the U.S. While no layoffs are planned, Toyota is offering buyouts to some of its 30,000 American employees, slashing bonuses, and cutting executive pay.

According to a statement issued late on Feb. 12, Toyota will offer voluntary exit programs and work-sharing schemes at selected plants. Worker bonuses will be reduced and there will be no wage increases “for the foreseeable future.” Executives will have their pay cut and see their bonuses disappear. There will be additional nonproduction days in April, too. “We’ve taken responsible, step-by-step actions to address this issue in recent months, and we hope the new measures will help us adjust while protecting jobs,” Jim Wiseman, vice-president for external affairs at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, said in the statement.

Toyota says it is unsure how many workers will take up the offer of the buyouts and that it doesn’t have a target in mind. Workers that sign up for the voluntary plan will get 10 weeks’ salary, plus two weeks’ salary for every year worked, and $20,000. The offer will be made to 18,000 U.S. Toyota workers, but unionized plants, such as New United Motor Manufacturing, a joint venture with GM (GM) in California, will not be affected.

I suck at math, but if all 18,000 workers take the buyout (they won’t–but lets say they do) that would be 60% of Toyota’s US workforce gone. When an automaker is ready to cut 60% of its workforce. . .that doesn’t bode well for the plants themselves–and kind of debunks the GOP meme that Detroit’s unions are responsible for all the Big 3’s problems.

Japan’s protected their markets and their automakers since they began rebuilding the country after WWII. South Korea (Hyundai) does the same. Don’t even get me started about China. It would be stupid if we didn’t do the same, especially when our guys have finally seen the light and started making some pretty darn good cars. Let Citibank and Bank of America die–other banks will buy their good paper, but save GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

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