Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pro-union rulings and lawsuits, anti-union companies in Tennessee and South Carolina, a labor hero wins a much-deserved award, and bus drivers strike

A round-up of recent labor activity in the South shows that a national board ruling may aid workers in organizing at airlines and railroads, FedEx is still fighting efforts to reclassify its drivers as employees and thus make them eligible to join unions, the Boeing Co. plans to open a plant for the 787 jetliner in North Charleston and avoid union labor costs, longtime labor activist Bill Chandler of Mississippi wins a national award for his long fight for social justice, and Mississippi school bus drivers win an agreement after a two-day strike.

The National Mediation Board recently agreed to change a 75-year-old rule that counted a non-vote in a union election as a "no" vote. Under the new rule, only the votes cast are counted, and a majority of "yes" votes mean the union won the election. Hey, what took 75 years to figure that one out? The anti-union camp fears the new ruling--which covers all companies under the Railway Labor Act--could affect outfits like Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Memphis-based FedEx.

FedEx is digging in its heels to fight efforts to label its drivers employees rather than independent contractors and thus expose them to possible unionization. The attorney generals in Montana, New York and New Jersey are pursuing legal suits against the company. Meanwhile, the Teamsters are waiting in the wings, and unionized UPS is hoping to be able to say, "Welcome to our world. Be a part of it."

In a valiant, historic victory nine years ago, Charleston, South Carolina, longshoremen (members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 and other unions) defeated a state-backed, battle-clad army of cops and patrolmen as well as an ol' mossback, retrograde, would-be-Strom attorney general named Charlie Condon in preventing a Danish shipping line from hiring non-union dockworkers. Yet anti-unionism is still strong in the cradle of the Confederacy. It's apparently why Boeing wants to open a new assembly line for its 787 jetliner there. North Charleston defeated Everett, Wash., to get the plant despite the company's longstanding ties to the state of Washington.

Bill Chandler, whose long labor career reaches back to even beyond his days working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California, has been named a 2009 Purpose Prize Fellow for his years-long fight on behalf of immigrant workers in the Deep South. The 68-year-old Chandler is executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), an organization he also helped found. MIRA is a tireless champion of immigrants--whether they have their proper documentation or not. The prize honors social entrepreneurs over 60. Each recipient receives up to $100,000.

By the way, Chandler's organization, MIRA, will join with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for their 4th annual "Unity Conference" in Jackson, Miss., December 3-5. The conference is titled "Building Bridges Through Diversity: One Goal, One Vision, United Power". MIRA has fought the good fight for years, helping immigrants get their just wages from employers who'd just as soon let them work for nothing, helping the helpless recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and the crooks and shysters who came in its aftermath.

Dozens of school bus drivers in Hinds County (Jackson area), Mississippi, went on a two-day strike for better wages and benefits in late October that resulted in an agreement between Teamsters Local 891 and the Ohio-based First Student company. After media coverage that typically focused on the `disruption' caused by the strike and the `demands' of the bus drivers rather than the issues that led to the strike, the parties resolved their dispute in a compromise from both sides, local union leader Willie Smith said.

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