LABOR MATTERS


Edwards Takes Pro-Labor Stand in White House Bid
compiled by Jeff Burman


Jeffrey Burman

John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, dramatically launched his presidential campaign in late December from New Orleans’ battered Ninth Ward. “I’m announcing here because no place better demonstrates the two Americas I’ve talked about for a long time,’’ the former North Carolina senator said, promising to close the economic gap between the “two Americas’’––one for the comfortable and another for the struggling.

Edwards stressed the importance of a higher minimum wage, universal health care, and improving the status of the middle class. He also emphasized the importance of making unions more accessible to workers.

“We have to make it easier, not harder to organize unions in the workplace,” Edwards said. “If anyone can join the Republican Party by signing a card, people should be able to join unions the same way.”

The next president will face tremendous challenges. Among them, according to Edwards, are: restoring America’s moral standing in the world, transforming the energy economy, solving global warming, eliminating poverty and creating tax fairness by rewarding work––not just wealth.

The Democratic presidential contender put it bluntly, saying it is more important to lift people out of poverty and to invest in universal health care than to reduce the budget deficit. In an interview broadcast on ABC’s This Week, he said, ‘’If I were choosing now between which is more important, I think the investments are more important.’’ Edwards’ proposal includes tax cuts and a million housing vouchers for the poor.


Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is greeted by supporters before speaking at a rally on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2006 in Des Moines, Iowa. Edwards announced that he will seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Many commentators see Edwards as a leading prospect for organized labor’s backing. In December he won the AFL-CIO’s Wellstone Award for backing labor initiatives. He is also well regarded by the Change to Win coalition, which broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005, having taken on a prominent role, with Danny Glover, in an organizing campaign for hotel workers in February of 2006. Concerns about Senator Barak Obama’s lack of experience and Edwards’ position to the left of Senator Hillary Clinton are both considered important advantages for Edwards in the aftermath of a midterm election that saw voters swing to the left.

Edwards has also hired David Bonior, a former House majority leader and longtime ally of unions, as his campaign manager. Bonior now heads American Rights at Work, a Washington-based group that promotes workers’ rights to organize.

“There’s no question that right now John Edwards is an incredibly attractive candidate, particularly given his identification with the issues we care about,” said Greg Tarpinian, executive director of Change to Win. Asked by Scott Shepard of The Atlanta Journal Constitution whether any of the other potential candidates have been as attentive to labor’s political priorities as Edwards, Tarpinian replied: “Not yet. Certainly, Senator Clinton has relations with all our affiliates as an important senator. And our different affiliates have different levels of relations with all the candidates. But I think it’s safe to say that [former] Senator Edwards has made labor and labor’s concerns a central part of his campaign.”

AFL-CIO President Opposes Military Expansion in Iraq
“No United States foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in January. “Last November, the American people spoke loudly and clearly that the President’s course in Iraq was flawed and that he should begin bringing our troops home rapidly.

“Rather than heed the will of American citizens, or listen to military leaders speaking out against the current policy in Iraq, the President is choosing to make one last attempt to salvage his own legacy by putting in harm’s way more young American soldiers,” he continued.

“These soldiers––the men and women risking their lives in Iraq––come from America’s working families. They are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our husbands and wives. They always answer when called to duty. For that fundamental commitment to this nation, they deserve leaders who will call them only when the nation’s security is at risk and there is a clear plan for victory. This administration has failed and continues to fail that basic obligation.”

2006 Box Office Beats 2005 by Five Percent
“Much to the chagrin of doom merchants who insist the end of cinema is nigh, Hollywood ticket sales this year beat 2005 by five percent,” wrote unnamed staff at The Manchester Guard-ian, published in the UK.

In fact, Americans have been such enthusiastic supporters of the multiplexes over the past year that 2006 is set to become the fourth-biggest year in the history of modern cinema. By year’s end, audiences had shelled out $9.46 billion compared to $8.99 billion in 2005, thanks to some extent to the phenomenal success of

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Faced with rising ticket prices, the rollout of competing platforms like DVD and digital downloads, and alternative entertainment such as video games, industry executives were far from bullish heading into the year. But audiences found plenty to keep themselves amused and attendance climbed by three percent from 1.4 billion last year to 1.44 billion. The modern-day record was set in 2002 with 1.64 billion. (Admissions were higher in the 1940s and early 1950s before the spread of TV.)

Number of Shooting Days Hits New Record in NY in 2006
New York City hit a record high for production last year, increasing its number of shooting days 10 percent from 2005, writes John Clarke in Variety.
According to the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, last year New York City hosted the largest number of film, television, commercial and music video shoots ever, giving a boost to an industry that employs more than 100,000 local residents and contributes $5 billion-plus each year to New York’s economy.
Last year, the film office assisted 34,718 shooting days––a 10 percent jump from the 31,578 days in 2005. The business boost is in part due to the “Made in NY” tax incentive program.

IATSE Concludes Expanded Low-Budget Deal for US and Canada
The IATSE has negotiated a new three-year deal covering low-budget films, bumping the cap from $9 million to $9.4 million in the first year and by 4.1 percent in each of the next two years.

The International Alli-ance of Theatrical and Stage Employees said the pact, which became effective January 1, expands the IATSE motion picture agreement into Canada for the first time and will achieve similar working conditions in both the US and Canada.

This agreement reflects IA President Tom Short’s push to organize workers in the independent and low-budget film world and to strengthen the union’s clout in Canada, writes Richard Verrier in The Los Angeles Times. Canada has lured away scores of feature film and TV productions in the last decade by offering tax incentives and, to a lesser extent, lower labor costs. But runaway production has slowed in the last two years because of a rise in the value of the Canadian dollar.

Over 140 independent companies and producers are signatories to the current pact. The union said the terms of the new deal will be offered to companies through March, after which companies seeking the deal will have to do so on a case-by-case basis on more favorable terms to IATSE.
Howard Fabrick of the law firm Akin Gump, who negotiated on behalf of producers, predicted that the new deal would lead to 400 films being produced under its terms during the next three years.

The New Republic Outlines a Compassionate Immigration Policy
“Over the last few years, anti-immigration sentiment in this country has stiffened––not unlike Lou Dobbs’ hair,” write unnamed editors of the conservative The New Republic. “Even the President’s conservative supporters moan that the author of the Bush Doctrine has been a ninny when it comes to guarding the Southern border. This growing discontent helps account for the events of the morning of December 12, when the White House launched another campaign of shock and awe. More than 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, clad in riot gear, swooped down on six Swift & Co. meat packing plants. With the news cameras rolling, the agents carted away nearly 1,300 Latino immigrants, whom they accused of ‘identity theft.’

“If the Bush administration truly wanted to alleviate the tension that surrounds immigration, it would reform the industries that rely on immigration,” the article continues. “It could begin by enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which makes the federal government responsible for assuring ‘safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.’ Of course, Bush has done exactly the opposite.

“The National Labor Relations Board can also enforce existing laws that guarantee workers the chance to organize,” the article goes on. “The United Food and Commercial Workers, for instance, has enjoyed success organizing immigrant workers, but it faces hostility. One meat processor hired its own security force, whose chief was convicted of beating up organizers. If the administration were to enforce these safety and labor laws, it could ease the plight of illegal immigrants. And it could also help create acceptable jobs for unemployed American workers. That wouldn’t capture headlines like troopers raiding plants, but it might help calm dark passions.”


Nothing $ucceeds Like Failure for Home Depot CEO
“So, another failed CEO takes a fall over excessive pay,” writes Jonathan Tasini in the online Working Life. “It was pretty amusing to watch the press frenzy over his crash and burn because of his refusal to even take a modest cut in his pay package. Robert [Nardelli], who took home $64 million over six years, was in line to pocket hundreds of millions more. That pissed off even some of the company’s board members––though, to be clear, it was the board that had already approved his deal. So, Nardelli, who did a pretty poor job at Home Depot, will still get $210 million as severance.”

“In the end, it came down to the headstrong CEO’s refusal to accept even a symbolic reduction in his stock package,” said an uncredited article in BusinessWeek. “Home Depot Inc.’s board of directors wanted their controversial chief executive, Robert L. Nardelli, to amend his whopping compensation deals for recent years. After he pulled down $38.1 million from his last yearly contract, angry investors were promising an ugly fight at the company’s annual meeting in May… After weeks of secret negotiations, things came to a head at a board meeting on January 2, leading to Home Depot’s stunning announcement the next day that the company and Nardelli had ‘mutually agreed’ that he would resign.”

Jeff Burman represents Sound Editors on the Guild's Board of Directors. He can be reached at jeffrey.burman@nbcuni.com.

return to top