Those are the words of Andy Stern, president of the SEIU. He’s referring, of course, to President-elect Barack Obama – a man who owes much of his newly found title to Stern and his compatriots. In a Wall Street Journal profile over the weekend, Stern outlined his hopes for the new administration, and while the list is expected, the order is a little surprising.
“Massive investment” in a stimulus for the economy, the car industry, deficit-ridden states and infrastructure. Then universal health care, an issue on which the SEIU boss helped push the Democratic consensus leftward, and “tax cuts for the middle class” (and hikes for the upper bracketed). At the end of his list, Mr. Stern puts something particularly dear to unions: Quick adoption of the Employee Free Choice Act…
It is hard to imagine that EFCA is third among priorities for the President of the SEIU. But with the economy spiralling downward, passage of the controversial bill – which looked like a complete lock in an Obama administration 6 months ago – is now relegated behind two initiatives that may be more easily accomplished.
Stern is quick to point out that the time is ripe for massive healthcare reform. While they may differ on the details, “Mr. Obama takes office at ‘an unusual Washington moment’ when business, labor and the politicians ‘see common ground’ on the president’s headline initiatives, health care above all.
Stern also addresses the status of the Employee Free Choice Act – the longsuffering bill championed by organized labor as a balancing of power during elections and early negotiations. It is, apparently, the big issue among unions who see president-elect Obama’s theoretical shift to the center as a roadblock to its passage. But Stern is confident, and while the article makes it seem like union-boss puffery, there is good reason to believe him when he says EFCA should be done in the first hundred days:
“You should do it early and I think it should be part of the basic second-tier economic package when we’re dealing with health care, energy and other ways that over the long term begin to solve America’s long-term economic problems.” Just how it will pass — in a single package, or a budget, or who knows — is hard to predict amid all the economic uncertainty, he says.
Why the confidence? Regardless of his center leanings, there is truth to the notion that politicians cannot forget the people who got them where they are. And for Obama, a lot of those people have union cards. Organized labor, and Stern’s SEIU in particular, was an Obama Campaign cash machine, and they know what that money’s worth:
[L]abor put up some $450 million to get Democrats elected. The SEIU accounted for $85 million of that, making Mr. Stern’s union the single biggest contributor to either party in this election cycle. And just in case, the SEIU set aside an additional $10 million fund to get people unelected if need be. “We would like to make sure people appreciate that we take them at their word and when they don’t live up to their word there should be consequences,” he says.
Now, read that headline again.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has ordered state agencies to cut ties with Bank of America. [story continued below video]
The Governor announced the move at a press conference held today at the former headquarters of recently-shuttered Republic Windows and Doors in the Goose Island neighborhood of Chicago. The company’s laid-off employees have been staging a sit-in at the warehouse since last week, protesting both the company’s decision not to pay the workers for their accrued vacation and sick days, as well as Bank of America’s decision to cut Republic’s line of credit.
From the Chicago Tribune:
The move is leverage to convince the North Carolina-based bank to use some of its federal bailout money to resolve the situation at Republic Windows and Doors.
Blagojevich says banks got bailout money and should provide lines of credit to businesses that need it so workers can keep working.
Also – apparently after some investigation by attorney general Lisa Madigan’s office – the state will seek a federal injunction tomorrow to ensure the company follows the 60-day pay provisions set out in the WARN Act, violations of which were the impetus for the sit-in.
We have reported twice in the past week on alleged WARN Act violations, and I expect it will be a pretty common thread while the financial situation keeps prompting layoffs. But this story – again from our home base of Chicago – poses an interesting twist.
Republic Windows & Doors closed up shop this week, apparently prompted by their inability to get short term financing. The workers were notified of the closing three days before the doors closed that they were out of a job, and that they wouldn’t be receiving any future pay or credit for their vacation or sick days – a move that, on its face, violates the WARN Act’s 60-day requirements.
Those three days were apparently long enough for Republic’s employees to decide not to take it sitting down. By sitting down. From the NY Times:
Scores of workers … have refused to leave, deciding to stage a “peaceful occupation” of the plant around the clock this weekend as they demand pay they say is owed them.
The workers, many of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs on the factory floor Saturday afternoon, said they would not leave.
“They’re staying because the fact is that these workers feel they have nothing to lose at this point,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, who said groups of 30 were occupying the plant in shifts. “Telling them they have three days before they are out on the street, penniless, is outrageous.”
Wow. Protest under the WARN Act. Even stranger is that the company hasn’t been up in arms about the “occupation” either, probably because the employees are pointing their fingers somewhere else:
Workers blamed Bank of America, which they said had served as an important lender to Republic Windows, for cutting off credit to the company and preventing workers from being paid. Some workers carried signs and stickers criticizing the bank: “You got bailed out, we got sold out.”
While I’m sure there will be copycat situations (a story like this, reported widely in the mainstream media, is the sort of thing that makes a law like WARN a household name), the thing that is so outstanding about this demonstration is that, for all intents and purposes, the workers and the company are on the same side.
We have met the enemy, and he is finance, apparently.
Blogs I Read
- Connecticut Employment Law Blog
- Delaware Employment Law Blog
- Employer Law Report
- Employment & Labor Insider
- FMLA Insights
- Lawffice Space
- Minnesota Labor & Employment Law Blog
- Noncompete & Trade Secrets Blog
- Ohio Employer's Law Blog
- Ross Runkel's LawMemo
- Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home
- The Employer Handbook
- The Proactive Employer by Stephanie Thomas
- Wisconsin Employment & Labor Law Blog