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HomeColumnsUnion Roundup - April 2004

Union Roundup – April 2004


As this is being written, the holidays of spring renewal and rejuvenation—Passover and Easter (or “Eostar” for those celebrating the pre-Christian version)—are unfolding. And much as those times celebrate potential and possibility (what kind of “rebirth” will the coming growing season bring?) so, too the labor/political news is lately more about what may come sprouting out of the ground later, versus the here-and-now.
Indeed, the only overt union news involved two retailing giants, Wal-Mart and Costco, with the former getting rebuffed at the ballot box in Inglewood, in attempts to expand its Southern California presence, and the latter finding itself the object of Teamster wrath. The transport union has asked the California attorney general’s office to look into whether Costco coerced employees into circulating petitions at its stores to gather signatures for a ballot proposition that would rewrite worker compensation rules (the same proposition supported by SAG-spawned Gov. Schwarzenegger, who by the way has targeted a University of California think tank on organized labor for complete elimination in his state budget). While it makes sense that the Teamsters would do this—in their non-Hollywood life, the union reps nearly a third of Costco’s employees—it is somewhat ironic to find that particular union suddenly worried about personnel being “forced” into taking a political stances.
Still, the Teamsters’ call for an investigation at least smacked of some sort of action. On all other fronts (as befits movie making) it was hurry up and wait, as other guilds and unions wait to see what those above-the-line scribes in the WGA will do in their current negotiations over DVD revenue, as they try to stake out a new contract with the AMPTP. The early word is that there’s not much mettle for a work-stopping walkout right now, though if the producers press that advantage, they may yet force a response that nobody wants. It’s much too early to tell, but a worse-case scenario would force below-the-line workers to choose between union solidarity or supporting a labor action for something—DVD revenue—in which most of them will never participate.
But of course choosing whose backside you watch out for is another aspect of politics, and there are so many backsides involved in the U.S. Senate’s acro-named JOBS bill—which stands for Jumpstart Our Business Strength (which hopefully won’t, like the Patriot Act, wind up being the antithesis of its cutely worked-out moniker)—that it may be no surprise the thing has stalled out twice before coming to a vote. Hollywood job-watchers are interested in the legislation because that’s where the long awaited “tax breaks” to encourage domestic film production—as opposed to the runaway kind—are buried.
Mostly, the bill is designed to give corporations tax breaks—right, they need more—to make up for recently lost export subsidies that the World Trade Organization deemed illegal. Included in the omnibus language of the bill is a reclassification that would have studios counted as “manufacturers”—just like the current administration wanted to reclassify the fast food industry for unemployment statistic purposes—which would additionally reduce the corporate tax rate those studios theoretically face.
The bill has been stalled, though, by irate Republicans who insist the Democrats are “playing politics” by—gasp!—offering amendments to the bill addressing the recent overtime pay imbroglio and minimum wage rates.
The Republicans, of course, would never ever play politics by pasting amendments onto bills that benefit their own constituencies.
Meanwhile, California’s own Senate team, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, plan their own amendment to the bill which would exempt Hollywood entirely from the financial hardships of the WTO ruling.
Will any of this really result in JOBS however? That remains to be seen–later in planting season—as Congress returns from its own spring break as April winds down, and the untended business of winter awaits.
By Mark London Williams

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