Friday, September 15, 2023

It's a Militant Union World - Except for a Certain Teacher Union

Continuing my series on How UFT/Unity is More Like Management than Union 

Today's assignment:

Compare and Contrast: UAW Shawn Fein and UFT Michael Mulgrew as union leaders.

Key point: Fain pushes back against tenets of crony capitalism while Mulgrew supports shifting public money into the hands of corporate giants. And you will never hear Mulgrew talk about where the real money is in this city by attacking real estate interests and calling for them to pay their fair share. Why is a subject for future analysis. Hint: Militancy is no longer in the Unity DNA - except when it comes to attacking the opposition.

Friday, Sept. 15, 2023

I got off the ferry shuttle bus near my house yesterday with another guy who was wearing a union tee-shirt. I asked him if he was coming from the rally I had attended and he said hell yes. I asked what union and he is a Teamster out to support other workers. He lives a block from me. Nice to see union spirit in a 75% Republican neighborhood. 

I woke up today to a chill in the air. And a UAW strike. Today we are heading up to Westchester to meet up with Harris Lirtzman for a tour of Untermeyer Gardens. But I needed to get these points out before I go.

I'm postponing my blog post on the first UFT Ex Bd meeting of the year on Monday and last Saturday's Labor Day parade due to the breaking stories of the UAW and ongoing SAG/AFTRA and Writers strikes. 

A bunch of Retiree Advocates attended the big rally and picket lines on East 19 St and Broadway yesterday. 

The militant union movement in the nation is intense - and how this makes UFTers who just voted up a contract with a 3% raise and little else, feel - well not having access to schools - I wonder if anyone is even thinking about the comparisons. We saw no one from the UFT staff there - 52 is just a short subway ride away -- but if they did show it would be only for a photo op.

My thoughts go to how our UFT leadership lines up with the Mayor on healthcare issues while Republicans and Democrats come together to protect us from being forced into Medicare Advantage schemes. And note that the Teamsters and UAW fight to reverse givebacks, including ending multi-tier systems while the UFT seems fine with a 6-Tier pension system. In fact they gave a report at Monday's Ex Bd that the largest group working is in Tier 6 (only 7 Tier 1 left working). 

Tier 6 - another UFT death panel.

Note this breaking news --- Right and left unite to protect Medicare in Congress and Adams (and probably Mulgrew) go ballistic.

Mulgrew and crew calls these attacks on collective bargaining - you know - their version of collective bargaining that takes stuff away. How interesting that Mayor Adams picked up on the Mulgrew theme to argue the same thing against this bill.

Wow -- Adams is so concerned about worker rights.

BREAKING NEWS - UFT and City agree to share talking points.

But let me turn to the UAW and their leadership which makes the kinds of connections to the big issues unions need to make, especially in the face of mass media anti-union bias. 

Imagine if we had a UFT leadership that functions in a similar manner - the UFT was such a union - the last time in the early-mid 60s when the basis of our current contracts were set up.

When media tries to blame the UAW for striking and causing car prices to rise, Shawn Fain responds by pointing out car prices rose 30% before a strike as has exec compensation and billions in stock buybacks. These reports have begun to slip into mainstream media which is being forced to report the UAW side.

Remember the UFT/Unity attacks on strike talk?UAW has amassed an $825 million strike fund

And don't forget the Biden factor:

"Politico reports that the administration sees Fain as a "as a less establishment-oriented labor leader" and a wild card who is not looking for an off-ramp. Biden aides worry the UAW strike "could alter perceptions of the president as a champion of organized labor." 

With the UFT/AFT tied at the hip to corporate Dems, this is another difference from the UAW which has not endorsed Biden.

The alt media sources I follow have done a great job.

Yesterday, Krystal Ball on Breaking Points did a good segment starting an hour into the show where she points out the enormous give backs in the 2008 crisis: pensions, a two-tier system of pay, salary, etc. They want them back.

My favorite media is The Majority Report and here is a segment with Emma:


Another segment with Shawn:

And another fave alt media - The Lever

UAW Fights Back Against Corporate Media


New At 6:30: Anti-Union Propaganda

NBC Nightly News’ coverage of the potential auto worker strike centers consumerism over human welfare — and fails to disclose its potential conflict of interest.

Knowing how to report on labor action is as much about what not to do as it is about what to do. A good place to start when establishing how not to report on strikes or potential strikes is a recent segment on NBC Nightly News, aired to an average six million viewers, that checked off pretty much every anti-labor trope in the book — including failing to disclose the news network’s relationship with one of the major employers covered in the report.

Let’s begin with the segment title and framing: “United Auto Workers union strike expected next week, potentially increasing car prices.” Nightly News anchor Lester Holt leads the report by telling the audience, “It’s likely that more than 100,000 United Auto Workers could go on strike by the end of next week as contract negotiations have slowed, and that could mean car prices will soar even higher.”

From the outset, the viewer is oriented to see only how a strike can hurt them and their personal bottom line — and how fault for that lies with the potential strike, not the corporations refusing to negotiate with United Auto Workers (UAW) in good faith. It’s established right away that the strike is coming after the September 14 contract deadline, it’s bad, and it’s bad because it’s going to cost you, the viewer, money.

Humans and human welfare is not centered in the report, consumption is. The headline isn’t “United Auto Workers union strike expected next week, potentially raising wages for workers.” Holt doesn’t introduce the segment by saying, “More than 100,000 united auto workers could go on strike by the end of next week as contract negotiations have slowed, and that could mean increased labor leverage for workers to secure higher pay.” 

The potential work stoppage is presented as an inconvenience that will eat at the viewer’s pocketbook, and it’s designed, like the rest of the report, to diminish public support for unions. There is no upside, no class conflict, no interviews with regular workers — just mindless destruction of “the economy” and “higher prices” for the viewer.

After a three-second clip of UAW President Shawn Fain explaining how the “Big Three” — General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Stellantis North America, which owns Chrysler — had ignored the union’s demands (they have since responded), we get a section on those demands that’s stripped of context and implies that the union’s wage demands are greedy. 

Viewers get a throw-away line about Big Three’s “record profits” but no sense of what those profits have been: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis made a combined $21 billion in profits in just the first six months of this year. According to the UAW, they’ve earned a quarter trillion dollars in profit since 2013. 

Automakers have reported such large profits over the past few years in part due to a pandemic-era production slowdown, which allowed them to raise prices to all-new levels.

The host then offers a non sequitur about how UAW workers are already paid $10 to $20 more an hour than non-union workers at Tesla and Toyota. Even if we believe this is true (no source is cited), the obvious implication is that these demands are out of whack with the industry norm. 

This finding should inspire our reporter to ask why Tesla and Toyota workers are so underpaid relative to their unionized counterparts. Instead, it’s used to undercut unionized workers’ demands that they share in the handsome profits of their employers. These profits, it’s worth nothing, have been heavily subsidized by the federal government’s recent Inflation Reduction Act, which could provide, in just one example, up to $5.5 billion in tax breaks to General Motors.

We then hear from small business owners whose companies will be impacted by the strike. With an understanding that multimillionaire CEOs of the Big Three wouldn’t make for sympathetic victims, NBC’s Tom Costello interviews a car dealership owner. 

“In Ogden, Utah, Jake Talbot at Young Ford [car dealership] warns [the strike] could send car prices higher,” Costello tells us. Talbot then adds the classic ticking-time-bomb sales pitch, telling us, “If you’re going to buy a car in the next few months. It’s probably not a bad idea to do it now.”

Costello then plays a brief clip from Todd Olson, the CEO of Twin City Die Castings, which supplies parts for the automakers, who threatens to lay off some of his workers if UAW workers exercise their right to withhold labor. 

It’s all doom and gloom. No sense of any upside if the strike successfully pressures management to increase pay, improve healthcare, and give workers more time with their family. 

It should be noted that NBCUniversal has a modest conflict of interest, in that it has a business partnership with General Motors — which, like other car companies, is a giant advertiser. The entertainment conglomerate announced last September that GM became “the first brand to utilize NBCUnified to access NBCUniversal’s expansive network of consumer touchpoints across movies, entertainment, news, sports, ecommerce, subscriptions, theme parks, and more with [its] media agency partner.” 

It’s impossible to know whether or how much this relationship would impact the editorial line in this specific Nightly News broadcast, but it’s useful context when we see one-sided coverage. 

It’s also worth highlighting NBCUniversal’s own recent anti-labor activities: In July, the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA actors’ union filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against NBCUniversal, accusing the company of illegally blocking a picket area by obstructing a public sidewalk. 

A similarly shoddy NBC Nightly News report from two weeks ago engaged in many of the same or related tropes. 

Holt also kicks off this report by telling viewers how the strike will cost them money — but this time, there’s a twist: It’s going to hurt the environment. 

“The United Auto Workers [is] voting to authorize a strike in the weeks ahead,” he says. “Jesse Kirsch now with what it all means if you’re in the market for a new car and how it could put a bump in the road for electric vehicles, too.”

After a token four-second clip from UAW president Shawn Fain, we pivot to industry talking points. CNBC reporter Phil Le Beau comes out and asserts, without evidence or skepticism, that “for the Big Three, they need those profits in order to fund the development of electric vehicles.” 

Ah, see, the Big Three are making obscene profits — not for their own benefit, but to reinvest in saving Mother Nature. Le Beau doesn’t mention that Ford, according to the UAW, has paid out $5 billion to shareholders in dividends this year alone, up $2 billion since last year. Le Beau doesn’t offer any evidence that a significant percentage of profits are funding infrastructure investments in electric cars — it’s just a vibe.  

Le Beau tells the viewer it takes fewer people to build an electric car than it does a combustion engine (though some research suggests it may actually take more net labor hours), implying that the UAW’s demands are out of touch. 

NBC’s Jesse Kirsch then raises the stakes again, telling us how much a strike would harm any viewer looking to buy a new car. 

“When UAW’s contracts expire mid-September,” Kirsch laments, “roughly 150,000 workers could strike nationwide, slamming the brakes on production. Not ideal if you’re looking for a new car.” 

Kirsch then turns to John Crane, the owner of several luxury car dealerships in Illinois, to further menace the viewer. In the event of a strike, Crane tells us, “nearly every [car] will get tougher to find as time goes on.” 

What would the strike mean for the worker? And worker power? What would it mean for both Big Three workers and the upward pressure on wages for all American workers in the event that a strike leads to meaningful concessions for workers? It’s not clear, because NBC Nightly News has zero interest in interviewing any actual workers, only wealthy car dealers, and part suppliers, and echoes the talking points of Detroit C-suiters. 

This kind of coverage is not only reflexively unfair to workers, it also misses a huge opportunity to cover one of the most fascinating labor stories of our time. 

Fain, a reform-oriented president won the leadership of the union in March, at a time when rank-and-file reform movements are gaining steam — and real power — across the labor movement. The UAW’s rise or fall has huge implications for the labor movement: UAW consolidated its power with the famed 1936-37 sit-down strikes at General Motors, but has been recently beset with corruption — one of the catalysts for Fain’s rise. 

The joint expiration of Big Three workers’ contracts is a tremendous opportunity for this union to display collective power, and win real gains, at a time when union enthusiasm is soaring, but density is low. With the spotlight on him, Fain is talking about big ideas, like a 32-hour work week with no pay reduction, and a just transition for electric vehicle workers (contrary to claims that he rejects environmentalism). 

The UAW is making big demands: an end to wage and benefit tiers based on hiring date, the right to strike when the company tries to close a plant, cost-of-living adjustments, and much more. Workers have been practicing picketing, using chants like, “Record profits equal record contracts!” 

As with the UPS contract fight, their success has major implications for whether unions are able to build successful campaigns in other shops, such as Amazon and electric vehicle plants getting massive subsidies from the Biden administration.

Bosses know that public support is overwhelmingly on the side of the workers. A recent Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans side with the United Auto Workers in their negotiations.

But where unions have the numbers, management has a well-funded PR team, with ready-made talking points about greedy union workers shutting down the economy, wanting to cut hours, and preventing Ma and Pa America from getting a cheap car quickly. 

Reporters should push back against these pat cliches, and seek to find deeper context about the potential upside to workers that a strike like this could bring, rather than constantly beating the drum about how it will jack up prices and wreck “the economy.”

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