Monday, August 10, 2009

A roundup of labor activity in the South--Aug. 10, 2009

A check on labor activity going on around the South today turned up the following: Pilots are picketing AirTran in Atlanta; cabin crews at Atlanta-based Delta Airlines are gearing up for another effort to unionize; national labor leaders are take aim at the right-wing-sponsored disruptions of town hall meetings on health care reform in Tennessee, North Carolina, and elsewhere around the country, disruptions that have included a death threat against a Democratic congressman from the Tar Heel State; Memphis-based Federal Express is intensifying its campaign against congressional legislation that would make it easier to unionize its truck drivers; and a new book by Baltimore writer Bill Barry calls for hard-nosed strategies at the bargaining table despite the hard economic times.

In Atlanta, the South's unofficial capital, pilots with AirTran Airlines have gone on the picket line to make their protest against a company that hasn't given them a pay raise in four years. Just this past April, the pilots voted to merge their union, the National Pilots Association, with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). Also in Atlanta, as reported in "Labor Notes" (see, some 21,000 flight attendants may soon be carrying a union card if efforts are successful to organize at Delta, the world's largest airline and only major one in the U.S. that is non-union. This will be third such attempt over the past eight years. A petition has been filed with the National Mediation Board for the attendants, who are wanting to join the Communications Workers-affiliated Association of Flight Attendants.

"Mob rule is not democracy," warned AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka recently regarding town hall meetings where congressmen and health care reform advocates have been screamed at and shouted down by anti-reform activists. These activists, as reported in the Institute for Southern Studies' "Facing South" Web magazine and elsewhere, are largely being sponsored by conservative groups wanting, among other things, to trash one of the top items on President Obama's legislative agenda. "People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents--not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction," Trumka said. The decibel level at these meetings and on the issue in general even reached the point where one congressman, pro-reform Democrat Brad Miller of North Carolina, received a death threat.

Federal Express, the Memphis-based transportation giant, is waging a no-holds-barred fight against congressional legislation that would shift its workers from Railway Labor Act jurisdiction to that of the National Labor Relations Act. Fed Ex fears this shift would make it easier for the Teamsters and other unions to organize its truck drivers. As a result, it has threatened to cancel billions of dollars in a Boeing contract and even to take aim at the congressmen who support it. Meanwhile, its top competitor, UPS, whose workers are organized, is waiting an anxiously as Fed Ex top executive Fred Smith for the outcome.

A new book, "Union Strategies for Hard Times: Helping Your Members and Building Your Union in the Great Recession", by labor movement veteran Bill Barry of Baltimore challenges union activists to be pro-active at the bargaining table and not fall into a defeatest, defensive posture regardless of the hard economic times. I haven't had a chance yet to read this book, but what I've read about it reminds me of the United Auto Workers, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (EU), and other unions who stood tough during the even harder economic times of the Great Depression and refused to allow management to use the economy as an excuse to slash wages, benefits, and workers' rights.

If you'd like to read more about these various activities, check out some of the labor and related sites on the Internet. For more on Barry's book, go to "". "" has a detailed account of Fed Ex's anti-union fight. Go to "" for more on the town hall meetings.

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