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Working In These Times

Saturday, Aug 18, 2012, 1:40 pm

Bain Capital Busted Unions; Canada Reopens Asbestos Mine; New York Union Tosses Prez

BY Mike Elk

Mitt Romney was director of Bain-controlled Key Airlines when it busted employee unions.   (DonkeyHotey / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Each week, Working In These Times rounds up the news that we miss during the week. Email stories to mike@inthesetimes.com

A recent expose by the Financial Times shows that under Mitt Romney, a Bain Capital-controlled airline engaged in union-busting. From the Financial Times:

Key Airlines, an early investment for the private equity firm founded by a young Mitt Romney and two associates, broke the law by attempting to coerce and then dismiss two pilots who tried to organise a union. Two months after a union vote failed, Bain agreed to sell Key Airlines at a large profit.

 “The anti-union activities in this case are not merely unfair labour practices as Key argues, but blatant, grievous, wilful, deliberate and repeated violations of the Railway Labour Act,” Roger Foley, federal judge for the District of Nevada, wrote in 1992, in a case brought by two Key pilots.

The case illustrates an episode in Mr Romney’s business career and raises questions about how it has prepared him to manage the US economy.

Key Airlines was a small charter carrier with a military contract to ferry personnel to bases in the Nevada desert. The union effort was suppressed under Bain’s ownership in 1985 and 1986 although a court judgment against the company and its management–including Bain Capital founding partner T Coleman Andrews III–did not come until 1992. The judgment was later qualified by a subsequent court ruling in 1994, together with an agreement to settle an appeal.

According to regulatory filings, Mr Romney was a director of Key Airlines and had a personal shareholding in the airline. Neither Mr Romney nor Bain Capital were named or cited in the federal court ruling in Nevada.

Mr Romney’s campaign referred to a statement on its website supporting the right of workers to join–or not join–a union: “To exercise that right freely, workers must have access to all the relevant facts they need to make an informed decision. This means hearing from both the union about the potential benefits and from management about potential costs.”

The founder of NYU’s Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice is currently locking out healthcare workers at his nursing home chain. From the Nation:

Annually endowed with $1.25 million from Daniel E. Straus, a trustee at the law school, the institute is defined by an “international, multicultural, interdisciplinary, and community-minded approach.”

But over the past year, Straus has seemingly failed to live up to the mission of his own institute. His company HealthBridge Management, which owns nursing homes in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, refuses to bargain in good faith with workers at its Connecticut facilities and, while Straus is accused of violating labor laws, his employees are walking the picket line.

NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), noting the irony in the contradiction between Straus’ actions and the title of his namesake institute, is organizing a campaign against the trustee. In the last year, the group of student activists has held protests, teach-ins, and film screenings, working closely with SEIU 1199 NE, which represents HealthBridge’s employees, to bring awareness of this complex situation to the NYU community.

Indian trade unionists are upset by the Quebec government's decision to re-open an asbestos mine, saying that tons of the cancer-causing material will be exported to India. From the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI):

The Indian trade unions are outraged by Quebec’s Premier Mr Jean Charest’s decision to grant $58 million loan to revive the Jeffery Mine. The opening of the mine would mean export of over 5 million tonnes of cancer causing Chrysotile Asbestos to developing countries, including India over the next quarter of a century. ...

Terming it ‘immoral’, Fiona Murie, Health and Safety Director of the BWI, said “At a time when countries in the west are counting bodies and grappling with the increased number of asbestos-caused cancers, it is indeed immoral that the Government of India is importing over four hundred thousand metric tonnes of asbestos every year and putting it into the built environment. Canada should be ashamed of their role in supplying not only the asbestos, but moreso the misinformation that denies the risks to health and encourages its use. ... The latency period for asbestos cancers is around thirty years after exposure, so we can expect to see many cases of asbestos cancers appearing in the near future, and lasting for many years to come.”

One of New York state's largest public-sector employees' unions has thrown out its leadership and elected a reform-oriented ticket. From Labor Notes:

Members of the Public Employees Federation backed the insurgent NY Union Proud slate, turning out two-term president Ken Brynien and his slate in a close late-June election.

 At 53,000 members PEF is New York’s second-largest state employees union, representing engineers, scientists, and professional and technical workers across dozens of state agencies.

Many saw the election as a referendum on the 2011 contract. In September PEF members rejected a tentative agreement offering job security language in exchange for a three-year wage freeze, furlough days, and increased health care contributions.

At 19,629 votes to 16,906, it was the first time in PEF’s history that members had rejected a contract with the state.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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