Noteworthy for Labor Day
Workforce Locator™ aides the workforce planning efforts of organizations in site selection mode, and site selection consultants typically advise companies considering expansion to focus on right-to-work states.
In Ohio, as well as other states not among those with right-to-work laws, the movement to enact change is known as Workplace Freedom.
The article below is noteworthy because it reports on the perspective of those rejecting the premise that right-to-work serves an important purpose.
‘Labor communities’ continue to stand up for America’s workforce
By Richard Payerchin, The Morning Journal
Posted: 09/01/13, 11:24 PM EDT
LORAIN – Union membership might be declining but area labor organizations say they are committed to fighting for workers’ rights in Northeast Ohio.
Last year America had 14.4 million workers, or 11.3 percent of the workforce, belonging to unions, according to figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number was down from 2011, and down from 1983, the first year for comparable data, when 17.7 million workers – a full 20.1 percent of the workforce – also were union members, according to the federal figures.
But Ohio was among the top seven states with union membership, tied with Michigan and New Jersey, with each state having 600,000 union members, according to the federal figures.
Lorain remains one of Ohio’s “labor communities,” comparable to Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown and Columbus for a tradition of workers being members of unions, said Anthony Caldwell, communications director for the Service Employees International Union District 1199.
“It’s nice to work in a community where people appreciate and value hard work,” Caldwell said. “It’s one of the few remaining really strong labor communities in Ohio.”
SEIU has 30,000 members in Ohio, including workers of Mercy Regional Medical Center, the Nord Center and the Lorain Public Library System, Caldwell said. The United Auto Workers Local 2000 has more than 1,800 members at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, President Jerome Williams said.
Lorain continues to have membership in the United Steel Workers Local 1104, with employees of U.S. Steel and Republic Steel, said Rick Lucente, a steelworker, trustee for the union and Lorain City Councilman.
Even in 2013, unions continue to exist because issues in the workplace continue to exist, local union members said.
Keith Hocevar is director of the Northeast Ohio Building Trades, which serves Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties and is a subsidiary of the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council.
“I think in Northeast Ohio, labor is actually getting stronger,” Hocevar said.
“Because people see the importance of health care and pensions and certain things we offer and the wage scales we do have.”
He said many companies don’t offer health care and pensions for employees and their families and one role of a union is to work to get better wages and conditions for workers.
“The unions fought for the common working man to maintain wages, benefits, pensions,” he said.
Advocating for wages, benefits and workplace conditions is a historic role of unions, but also a contemporary one, said Joe Thayer, organizer for the Sheetmetal Workers Local 33.
Last year Thayer, 37, stepped down as president of the Lorain County AFL-CIO to spend more time with his family and children, including his 12-year-old daughter and 5-year old son.
But Thayer intends to remain involved in labor issues. And Lorain County and northern Ohio have plenty of them, the union officials said. In the last year or so, the SEIU and Mercy argued over a new contract for the hospital nurses.
North Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, Lorain schools and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission are in court as the union is seeking to force the state to honor a project labor agreement for construction of the new Lorain High School.
The UAW is awaiting results of contested ballots in close vote this summer by workers who may organize at Freudenberg NOK Sealing Technology’s plant in Milan Township.
“We know that we’ve lost membership over the years,” Williams said. “The attitude now is to gain back some of those members that we’ve lost.”
Thayer also cited some animosity sparked earlier this year when local garbage collection workers of Republic Services Inc. striking to support Teamsters who were striking at Republic’s Youngstown facility.
Lorain County union members traditionally have supported Democratic candidates. But the laborers have disagreed with some actions of Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer, a Democrat, and his administration.
Ritenauer proposed and Lorain City Council approved scrapping Lorain’s requirement to use project labor agreements, or PLA’s, in contracts for public works. Supporters said the PLAs ensured high wages and local workers on public construction jobs.
“It blows my mind that in three nights we could destroy something it took almost three years to build,” Thayer said, referring to the Lorain City Council meetings voting on the changes.
When it comes to work in communities, unions promote the use of local workers, Hocevar said.
“What you’re doing is paying a good wage to people who are going to shop and keep the money in the area,” he said.
Money paid to local workers can turn over seven times in the community; out-of-town workers buy some food and gas, but take most of their paychecks home with them to spend, Thayer said.
Lorain’s PLA issue was “a wakeup call for labor,” Thayer said. He cited renewed interest from union members who previously did not get involved and people not in unions, but supporting them.
“The solidarity that we have right now, the relationships that we’re building . . . there’s a lot of good energy right now and we look forward to doing a lot of positive things,” Thayer said.
The political battles are not over. Union members are ready to rally against right to work legislation in Ohio, Williams said.
“Right to work, of course the way we look at it, it’s a right to work for less,” he said. “It’s an attack on unions. The whole effort behind it is to decrease our wages and benefits.”
Lawmakers in Michigan have approved right-to-work legislation, which aims to prevent union membership and paying dues from being a condition of employment.
Supporters of the issue do not think unions should have the ability to collect dues as a condition of employment and workers should be able to have a choice.
Hocevar believes the government should not be involved in the issue and said it is a matter of fairness for employees who benefit from what their union has negotiated on their behalf.
The Labor Day holiday has a special meaning for working people, he said.
“I think the people who were born in the middle class and bring a lunch pail to work every day and celebrate that building block in America should be celebrated,” Hocevar said.