Friday, March 15, 2013

University of Oregon graduate employees win election

AFT - A Union of Professionals - University of Oregon graduate employees win election



More than 780 graduate research and teaching assistants at the Oregon State University are now the proud members of a bargaining unit represented by the Coalition of Graduate Employees/AFT. On March 6, an overwhelming majority of the assistants voted for CGE.

It was a day that had been a long time coming, says Wren Keturi, president of CGE. "This election nearly doubles CGE's current bargaining unit and significantly increases the power of graduate employees on campus," she said in announcing the victory.

CGE is affiliated with AFT-Oregon and since 1999 has represented more than 900 OSU graduate employees, who are predominantly teaching assistants. When the union formed, the university successfully argued that a portion of graduate assistants were engaged in research primarily to fulfill advanced degree requirements, and they were found ineligible to be part of the bargaining unit.

Despite their ineligibility, the unrepresented assistants still received the same pay and health benefits as CGE members and were on the university's payroll system. CGE allowed them to be associate members of the union and negotiated contracts that did not recognize a difference, says Keturi. "We have tried to bargain for the research assistants to the best of our abilities," she says, "but because they weren't part of the unit, they didn't have a voice at the table. The have always known they were in a precarious position in regard to their rights—should they be unjustly fired, for instance."

Last spring, the unrepresented graduate employees signed cards asking the Oregon Employment Relations Board for the right to vote on collective bargaining. The university resisted and appealed, but all the obstacles thrown in the path to unionization were finally cleared in January when the OERB ruled the assistants were employees, not just students.

"We're looking forward to bargaining with the collective strength of 1,700 as we work to improve working and living conditions for us all," says Keturi. [Barbara McKenna/photo by Matt Loewen]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Institutional boards are risky - OSU Daily Barometer

Institutional boards are risky - OSU Daily Barometer
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 00:03
Both the University of Oregon and Portland State University have requested individual institutional boards. Currently the legislation is still being revised and discussed in the state legislature. Oregon State President Ed Ray has asked the legislature to consider OSU and give us the option of having a board. At this point, however, the legislation is too vague and nebulous for the editorial staff to endorse.

As it is now, the Oregon University System ranks and reports the needs of the seven public universities’ to the state legislature. Institutional boards would act in place of the OUS for universities. This board would advocate the individual needs of its university directly to the legislature.

We definitely see the benefit of having our own board. We’ve discussed how having a personal OSU cheer squad in direct contact with the legislature would help make a case for OSU-specific funding. We see the potential of having more flexibility in where and how money is allocated.

Still, there are several issues we would like further defined and clarified. For instance, who would be on the board? In general, the boards would be made up of 11 to 15 people. Anyone on the board with special interests, however, would be a huge risk. This is because these board members would have the potential influence to designate funds for things they deem most important — like allocating funds to pay increases for board members, refurbishing a chemistry building into a new athletic building or arbitrarily hiking tuition costs.

To overcome these fears, the board members should be chosen extremely carefully. We’d also like to see a couple of students on the board — an undergraduate and a graduate student.

Despite our reluctance, if the University of Oregon and Portland State  have their own boards, we would like Oregon State to have one too. Basically, if everyone’s going to make this move, OSU should as well.

If U of O and PSU have their own boards advocating for their needs directly to the legislature, and OSU does not, OSU will have to make a case against the other four public universities in Oregon that do not have boards to the Oregon University System. Having a board would separate us from the six other public universities in Oregon and would allow us to directly communicate our needs to the state legislature.

Looking to the future, we wonder at what point these boards will be pointless. There is only so much money the state has to give to the universities. We agree having one board represent a specialized, smaller university, like in the case of Oregon Health and Science University, would be beneficial. Once everyone in the state signs up for one, though, boards could become counterproductive.

In this sense, universities will eventually become privatized. At some point all seven institutional boards will advocate directly to the legislature and the Oregon University System will be a thing of the past.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

PERS financing closure of union factory in North Portland- shipping jobs to non-union factory in WA

Union Pension Fund Finances Runaway Shop | Labor Notes

February 28, 2013 / Patrick Young

Craig Farr of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, at right, joined other financiers for a panel discussion. Union pension money goes into KKR's capital ventures, even as the firm destroys union jobs. Photo: Dow Jones Events.
Mattress manufacturer Sealy is shutting down its North Portland, Oregon, factory, eliminating 128 jobs. The North Carolina-based company announced November 6 it would move production from the Steelworkers and Teamsters shop to a new, non-union plant two hours north in Lacey, Washington.

The announcement came after management had asked the union for concessions to keep the facility open. “We offered to take 20 percent across-the-board cuts, as long as management did as well, but that wasn’t enough,” said Bob Tackett, president of USW Local 330.

Workers in Lacey are reportedly being hired for $14 per hour. Workers at the North Portland facility earn between $15.50 and $34, plus benefits. “We just can’t compete with $14 an hour,” Tackett said.

FINANCE OWN DESTRUCTION

Such runaway shops are all too common. But this story has a twist—the shutdown was financed, in part, by Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System.

Giant private equity investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts purchased Sealy from Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital in 2004. KKR took Sealy public in 2006 but retains a controlling interest.

And KKR is one of Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler’s favorite investments. Last year Wheeler put an additional $225 million into KKR’s Asian Fund II, bringing the state’s investments through KKR to $3 billion—5 percent of KKR’s more than $60 billion in total assets under management.

The Oregon Working Families Party, the Steelworkers, and Teamsters have circulated a petition calling on the Oregon Investment Council, a six-member board appointed by the governor, “not to stand by as KKR uses Oregon tax dollars to kill Oregon jobs”—and to divest from KKR if the firm allows the North Portland plant to close.

At a public meeting of the Council January 23, workers and community supporters delivered 770 petition signatures and challenged the state’s investment in KKR.

“Everything we worked for will be gone,” said Darren Willingham, a 22-year veteran of the plant.

To date, KKR has rebuffed all pleas, including from Wheeler, and the Council has not indicated any plans to divest from KKR.

POWER IN PENSION FUNDS

State employee pension funds like Oregon’s PERS are at the heart of a national debate about responsible investment. How should public pension money be invested—simply to seek the highest rate of return for retirees, or also with other social goods in mind, such as decent jobs?

The way pension funds are managed varies drastically from state to state. In some, such as Oregon, they are managed by appointed technocrats; in others, public sector unions and worker representatives have a seat at the table.

In either situation, fund trustees argue that they have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits. But too often they see leveraged-buyout firms like KKR and Bain Capital as a source of greatest returns—despite a proven track record of wiping out jobs and, as a result, state tax revenue.

KKR’s well-known job cuts at RJR Nabisco and at First Data are just two examples of the firm’s job-destroying behavior.

Public employee pension funds are often dramatically underfunded and as such are favorite targets of right-wing legislators when they decry state budget shortfalls. When the liabilities for workers’ pensions increase and assets fall because of market downturns, conservative politicians propose cutting benefits, rather than making sure the funds can meet their current obligations.

With heavy pressure to maximize return on investment, trustees are often very reluctant to prioritize ethical or responsible investment over the immediate bottom line.

RESPONSIBLE INVESTING?

Nonetheless, state employee pension funds in New York, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and Connecticut have prioritized social responsibility and long-term sustainability in their investment strategies. Perhaps the most vocal and active is the California Public Employee Retirement System.

CalPERS has a long record of shareholder activism, pushing firms in its portfolio on issues like climate change, corporate transparency, and human rights. In some cases CalPERS has filed shareholder resolutions or issued public letters to companies in its portfolio. In others the state has fully divested from objectionable companies.

Although CalPERS is widely seen as a leader in socially responsible investment, the fund is invested in KKR—to the tune of more than a billion dollars. To date, CalPERS has not weighed in on KKR’s behavior at Sealy in Oregon.

It seems unlikely that KKR will bow to public pressure at this point. The need for public pension funds to wield their huge investment power for the common good is a thorny one, but urgent.

Patrick Young is president of Steelworkers Local 3657 based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2013/02/union-pension-fund-finances-runaway-shop-0#sthash.azbSfWLu.dpuf