Airport workers picket for right to organize

by: Marilyn Bechtel

Posted to July 9 2012











OAKLAND, Calif. – Workers at several Oakland Airport concessions and their supporters held an informational picket outside the terminal July 6, to tell the flying public they need a fair process for workers to decide about joining a union.

Workers at companies leasing concessions directly from the airport already have the right to organize when a majority sign cards saying they want to join a union, under an agreement with Unite Here, the union representing some 29,000 airport concession workers in North America. As part of the agreement, commonly known as “card check neutrality,” the union has agreed not to cause labor interruption.

Some 240 Oakland Airport workers have joined Unite Here Local 2850 under this provision.

But the pact does not apply to workers at concessions subcontracting from the main food service provider, HMS Host. And the workers employed by these subcontractors notice the difference.

“Every day we see other workers who have benefits we deserve, too, because we are working just as hard,” Rachel Penelton said as she briefly stepped aside from her place in the 200-strong picket line.

Penelton, who works at the Jamba Juice concession, said union rights and benefits for workers will benefit the company, too: “Happy people give good service!”

Her co-worker, Mesha Adams, added that she and the other workers “are the face of the business, the people customers encounter face-to-face.”

Adams, who is also a student in a post-baccalaureate pre-professional health program, warned that workers’ lack of paid sick days, and the resulting need to work even when they’re sick, “can compromise our customers’ well-being.”

“But if we take days off,” she said, “we’re penalized.”

Adams urged the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, to support the workers’ campaign.

Workers at Jamba Juice and other non-union subcontractors, including Burger King, Subway, Duty Free and See’s Candy, were on the picket line July 6. Joining them were members of Unite Here! Local 2850 and other unions including the Service Employees International Union and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Unite Here! says none of the eight subcontractors provides affordable health or retirement benefits, and workers complain of part-time employment, last minute schedule changes and inadequate rest periods. The union adds that dozens of workers have filed complaints with the Port of Oakland alleging that their employers are even violating the port’s living wage law.

After the concessionaires learned workers were circulating a petition asking for a fair process for deciding about the union, many workers have been subjected to aggressive anti-union campaigning.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Oakland City Council declares independence from Goldman Sachs

by: Marilyn Bechtel

Posted to July 6 2012








OAKLAND, Calif. – On the eve of the July 4 holiday, Oakland’s City Council took a historic step toward independence from Wall St. giant Goldman Sachs as it voted to end an interest swap deal that has cost the city millions since the financial crisis began.

The motion, passed unanimously at the Council’s July 3 meeting, calls on Goldman Sachs to negotiate an end to a 1998 interest swap agreement without forcing the city to pay an over $15 million termination fee. The pact benefited the city at first, but now is costing Oakland some $4 million a year.

If no agreement is reached within 70 days, Oakland would stop doing business with the financial giant.

Oakland is the first to take such a step, among more than 1,100 government entities around the country with interest swap agreements, with costs to taxpayers estimated at more than $2.5 billion a year.

City Council members and community speakers pointed to the paradox that the same financial giants who were bailed out with taxpayer money when they were in crisis are now rejecting efforts of crisis-ridden governments to ease agreements that are draining their resources.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan called the City Council’s action “part of a growing movement of accountability on banks who took billions from taxpayers but are not paying it forward.”

Councilmember and Finance Committee chair Ignacio de la Fuente added, “It’s time to take a stand. We need to use the economic power we have to send a message.”

The Oakland Coalition for Social and Economic Justice, a coalition of community, labor, occupy and faith groups, first brought the issue to the City Council in February.

The pact goes back nearly 15 years.

In 1998 Oakland agreed with Goldman Sachs to switch variable rate payments on bonds that helped fund pensions for police and firefighters, to a fixed 5.6 percent interest rate, with the deal slated to last until 2021.

The city gained in the first few years, as interest rates rose. When the original bonds were paid off in 2005, Oakland remained in the agreement, expecting to gain some $30 million more.

But when the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates during the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions began to reap billions from such pacts while only having to pay very low interest rates themselves. Meanwhile, the government entities left holding the bag face heavy cancellation fees if they decide to end the pacts.

The city has now paid about $32 million more to Goldman Sachs than it has received from the agreement, and stands to lose millions more before the pact ends in 2021.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel