US billionaire brothers are financing anti-union drive

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BILLIONAIRE brothers Charles and David Koch could be the poster boys for the big money special interests that are dumping hundreds of millions of dollars in this year’s US elections on the national and state levels, says the AFL-CIO trade union federation.

Last week it was reported that the American Future Fund (AFF), a front group for corporate special interests that’s linked to the Kochs, dropped $4 million into the effort to pass California’s Proposition 32.

Deceptively titled, ‘Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,’ Prop 32 would ban the use of voluntary payroll deductions by union members who want to contribute to their union’s political activity, but it would do nothing to stop the big money campaign spending by secret corporate-backed political action committees (PACs) and the wealthy.

In fact, it’s been described as a ‘fraud,’ ‘phony’ and a ‘sham.’ Prop 32 benefits secretive corporate super-PACs like the Kochs and Karl Rove, while eliminating the voices of teachers, firefighters and other workers.

At a rally mobilising support to defeat Prop 32, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said: ‘Without the voice of working people, politics don’t work. Not for working people, and not for America.

‘And that’s why we use our unions to balance the power of corporations. To keep democracy strong. To keep our nation in balance. And, brothers and sisters, Prop 32 would throw California and America out of balance.’

With Koch’s connection to Prop 32 revealed, Brian Brokaw, spokesman for the No on 32 campaign, says: ‘If any doubts remained about who is truly behind Prop 32, we now know with absolute certainty.

‘The very same corporate special interests who carefully exempted themselves from Prop 32 and who stand to benefit from its passage — Big Oil, billionaire businessmen and the super-PACs linked to the Koch brothers and Karl Rove — are now spending millions to pass Prop 32 and advance their interests at the expense of everyday Californians.’

Meanwhile, the IndustriALL Global Union U.S. affiliate United Steelworkers (USW) has reached a tentative new three-year agreement with ArcelorMittal for the company’s operations in USA.

One month earlier, the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) managed to get their first deal with the same company.

The USW and ArcelorMittal agreement is valid for three years and will cover 14,000 workers at 15 ArcelorMittal US sites. The USW reports the negotiations were tough, the union had to defend against the company’s attempts to impose a two-tier wage system.

USW also had to protect seniority rights and maintain limits on work performed by outside contractors. The agreement provides for a wage increase and improved health care conditions. The specific details of the agreement are not disclosed until the members’ approval voting, which will last several weeks.

‘After ten long weeks of difficult negotiations that continued past the expiration of our previous contract, the hard work of our committee has resulted in a tentative agreement with ArcelorMittal,’ said Leo W Gerard, USW International President, commenting on the agreement.

‘Our members’ unwavering solidarity throughout the bargaining process in the face of management’s high-risk scare tactics and demands for major cutbacks has been rewarded,’ Gerard added.

At the same time, in Liberia, the agreement signed in Monrovia came after years of organising in the mining sector since Liberia’s civil war forced the shutdown of the iron ore mines in the mid-1990s.

Among other conditions the agreement includes a wage increase up to 20 per cent and enhanced benefits for the employees. The company and the union will also establish a joint health and safety committee.

The IndustriALL Global Union puts a special focus on provision of healthy and safe working conditions at ArcelorMittal sites.

Back in 2007, the International Metalworkers’ Federation one of the co-founders of IndustriALL, the European Metalworkers’ Federation (now IndustriAll European Trade Union) and the United Steelworkers signed an agreement with ArcelorMittal on the creation of a Joint Global Health and Safety Committee (JGHSC). One part of the agreement foresees the creation of joint bodies at ArcelorMittal sites, which are aimed at improving occupational health and safety.

Also, the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) has reached a tentative agreement with General Motors but is still negotiating with Chrysler, the last remaining automaker that has yet to sign a deal.

The announcement comes after a day of back-and-forth rhetoric between the union and the US automaker.

After a marathon 30-hour bargaining session, GM agreed to a deal identical to the one Ford signed Monday, CAW president Ken Lewenza said.

‘In today’s economy, in today’s market share, it meets our goals,’ Lewenza said at a news conference Thursday night.

But he warned the union would provide a strike notice against Chrysler if a deal can’t be reached.

‘To the Chrysler workers we represent in Canada: Be patient. I hope the patterns established will give Chrysler confidence,’ he said. ‘We’re not fearful of providing a strike notice. If Chrysler is going to resist that pattern we may have to use that tool.’

The GM and Ford deals contain no base wage increases, but workers will get $2,000 a year in the second, third and fourth years to cover cost of living increases, and a $3,000 ratification bonus.

The GM deal also includes significant investment at plants in Ontario. Lewenza announced GM will create or maintain 1,750 Canadian jobs and invest $675 million in capital spending in Canada.

A third shift at the Oshawa flex-plant will create or maintain 900 jobs.

General Motors also agreed to extend the life of the consolidated plant in Oshawa through 2014 which would save 750 jobs for the time being. The plant was scheduled to close in 2013. A second shift may also be added there and create 750 new jobs but only through 2014, when the plant finally closes.

‘Needless to say, the master bargaining committee entirely tried to get new product…but GM made it clear they don’t need the capacity or have the products at this time,’ Lewenza said. ‘But, at any time during this collective agreement, if GM shows increase in market share, we have the investment there and tools to move fast.

‘Don’t waste that investment. Don’t waste that floor space,’ Lewenza told GM.

In St Catharines, GM will create 100 new positions and the plant will remain open through 2016, the year the new contract expires, Lewenza said.

That plant’s future was cloudy when the Ontario and federal governments bailed out the auto industry in 2009. At that time, GM refused to commit to keeping the plant operational beyond 2012.

General Motors said late Thursday that a proposal it submitted in the morning to CAW mirrors the offer to Ford, but the union rejected the comparison and warned that it may set a strike deadline.