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Labor Day is September 7, 2009

Labor day means many things to many people, for some its just a long last summer weekend, for many it means the fight for workers rights goes on. It’s also a time for all of America’s working men and women to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. America’s labor movement brought us the weekend, the eight-hour workday, the minimum wage, the end to child labor and so much more. Labor Day is our day to celebrate the successes of our labor, while keeping one eye forward to our next challenges. The current Presidency holds the brightest hope for the labor movement in decades. As we look forward to our new hope we must also not forget our past. The eight-hour day was a key issue to the Chicago labor movement, it aroused enough support that a state law was passed in favor of the eight hour day in 1867. However, just like today slick Illinois politicians wrote enough loopholes in the law as to render it meaningless, so on May 1, 1867, a first general strike in Chicago in support of the eight-hour day was called. (ironically it was only two years prior, on May 1, 1865, that Abraham Lincoln’s body was displayed in Chicago for public mourning. President Lincoln quoted : “Labor is prior to, and independent of Capital, which would never have been created without labor’s first existing. Labor is the superior of Capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”)

The fight for the 8 hour day raged on into the late 1800s, with most unions and trade coalitions demanding 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, and 8 hours for what you will. May 1, 1886 was set as the day for nationwide demonstrations for the eight-hour day by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. In Chicago, this demonstration was not merely for the eight-hour day or other job-site conditions, but was also a show of strength by various immigrant communities. During this demonstration a bomb exploded in Hay-market Square, eight labor leaders were arrested (none of whom could have set off the bomb), tried, and sentenced to death. Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged, Louis Lingg killed himself on the eve of execution; Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe remained in prison (and were later pardoned by Governor Altweld). It wasn’t until the New Deal with its Fair Labor Standards Act that the eight hour day became standard.…or has it?

Unfortunately in local 150 we are losing our rights and conditions because of failed and self serving leadership. Leaders that are more interested in job and paycheck security than members concerns and rights. Thats right the Party that ran Bill Dugan for President of Local 150 and gave you Sweeney instead are losing the battle for the hard fought benefits and conditions that the operating engineers who went before us fought for. What happened?

Historically overtime pay was designed to penalize employers for not hiring more workers. But as the number of workers organized into labor unions fell, fewer workplaces paid double time—overtime fell back into time-and-a-half, some industries adopted the practice of reclassifying workers as “associates” or “managers” in order to opt-out of paying overtime. The cost of health care benefits (for workplaces that provide them) has made overtime a cheaper alternative to hiring more employees. Introduction of the four-day, ten-hour work week in many industries including construction, has further eroded the eight-hour day; “4-10s” seem to be in more demand due to a host of economic factors and greed. In my tenure as an operating engineer, business agent for Local 150, and 10 years as President of the Will/Grundy Building Trades Council we never tolerated 4 tens, even though the pressure through many national agreements and contracts was intense. We just said no! Hell no! Now it looks like President Jim Sweeney has bowed to the pressures in DC to do just that. Was that a condition of him taking the International VP position? Whatever happened it is wrong, wrong, wrong. At the refineries in Indiana and Illinois we now have 4 tens as a condition of employment when working under the National Maintenance Agreement. Four tens has also crept into a couple of the wind Farm agreements as well as the hours worked provisions (2,4 and 8). All under the Sweeney watch.

Another sad note for Local 150 members on this Labor Day is the disintegration of the members pension benefits that started with Dugan and his crony investment buddies Sierra Partners and continues with Jim Sweeney blaming the economy instead of owning up to many bone head investments. Oh yea we had bundled mortgages too! So whether you call it yellow, green or red, its still bad investing decisions with the members holding the bag. A 26% loss of assets for the 2008-2009 plan year, and a multiplier reduce to 1.5%. Take heart members, Sweeney now as IUOE VP has another $85k a year in his pocket and health care for life, what does he care? Him and all the hypocritical labor leaders Locally and in D.C. deride the CEO's of this country for stealing huge paychecks, stock options and benefits, while they do exactly the same, they have better paychecks than you, they have better pensions than you, and they make sure they stay healthier than you for free, and through your IUOE constitution and local bylaws wont be laid off or fired like you. Sweet!

We are also losing our jurisdiction under the Sweeney administration, we just lost an arbitration to the laborers union in Chicago. Worse than that we are currently losing our identity as operating engineers within our own local, you know, the guys that move the earth, lift the world and built america. In ten years we, the operating engineer (the dirt mover, the crane guys), will be the minority in a union that was built and fought for by dirt moving and steel hoisting engineers. Local 150 is now a union that is run by lawyers with union cards who sue brother members, plantsmen stolen from another jurisdiction, testers that Stan Simrayh brags make more than the real operating engineers, municipalities that cost more per contract to negotiate than any craft unit we have, deputies and States Attorneys now call themselves operating engineers. You know in the spirit of unionism and labor day, every working man and woman needs to belongs in a Union, but that doesn't mean it has to be this one. But don't be fooled my brothers and sisters, this onslaught of organizing mishmash is strictly a vote manipulating operation designed keep the dues flowing and to keep those in power at Local 150 in, and the members who seek and fight for union democracy out.

In spite of the turmoil caused by the last union election, this labor day we have a lot to be thankful and hopeful for. The Labor movement isn't quite dead yet, there are still a few honest Labor leaders, and we still have some democracy, although as union members in our own local we have to sue to get it. Remember our soldiers this Labor day fighting for our freedom, remember the Hay-market martyrs and the many like them, and remember that Union democracy like american freedom is never free.

Happy Labor Day, Fight On

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