A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Labor coalition achieves landmark pact with Red Cross

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Nov. 23, 24 or 25

The Red Cross has an image of arranging blood donations for everyday accident victims, handing out coffee to firefighters at a neighborhood blaze, or providing basics to folks affected by natural disasters.

They’ve earned that reputation.

But they also deserve less-flattering publicity stemming from a history of tense labor relations.

Now, however, that tension may be relaxing, as a coalition of eight international unions recently ratified a first-ever national collective bargaining agreement with the American Red Cross (ARC), and the terms include Illinois workers.

The unions formed the coalition to address key work-force issues while conceding the ARC faces financial challenges – no easy task in light of those often-strained relations with the nonprofit, according to Mark Richard of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the eight unions.

For the first time, a national collective bargaining agreement will cover about 4,000 workers at the ARC represented by the eight unions that formed the ARC Union Coalition: AFT; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; United Auto Workers; United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and United Steelworkers.

The three-year agreement was ratified by 41 local unions representing 90 percent of coalition employees. The pact is an addendum to the local unions’ individual agreements and continues through September 2018.

Bargaining-unit workers are getting a 2-percent, across-the-board wage increase. Also, full-time employees are receivinga $1,000 ratification bonus, and part-timers a prorated bonus based on hours worked in the first half of this year.

“Insurance costs to members were greatly reduced as Red Cross moved to the Teamsters’ health plan, Team Care M200 Plan,” said AFSCME staff rep Tim Lavelle of Illinois’ Council 31, which ratified the agreement. “It includes a standardized operation, too. Financial penalties to ARC would increase the cost to the employer for abnormal or extended work days, intended to normalize the work week.”

AFCSME Council 31, which has eight offices throughout Illinois, has struggled in bargaining with some Red Cross chapters, a pattern with ARC nationwide. But now, the national addendum supplements any local agreements and extends local contracts to September 2018, too.

“There has been a long history of acrimony between labor and management at the Red Cross, while providing essential services and in the midst of transition,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. “The unions decided the best way for our members to have a real voice was by working together. And the agreement shows what can be done when workers and their unions, along with management, come together to find common ground. This coalition underscores the unwavering commitment of our eight unions to the long-term future of the American Red Cross and to protecting the country’s vital blood supply.”

Registered Nurse Ann Twomey, vice chair of AFT Nurses and Health Professionals, added, “This is an important step forward for health-care professionals whose work enables the American Red Cross to save lives. It’s a win for the families and communities the Red Cross serves. When frontline professionals have a voice in decisions that affect their work, they can focus on providing excellent service – and everyone wins.”

The 41 union locals are in 24 states; rejecting it were three locals (all with AFSCME, none in Illinois), according to AFT’s Richard.

Besides the gains, however, the national addendum has one concession, arguably: moving all workers accruing benefits in the Red Cross’s defined-benefit pension plan into the Red Cross’s 401(k) defined-contribution plan.

Still, overall, the development is a positive step for the iconic institution and a cooperative stand for the collaborating unions, underscoring that labor should be the lifeblood of U.S. society even as workers and ARC management help everyday Americans cope with trouble, large and small.

[PICTURED: Photo from Teamsters Local 174.]

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