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Unions reaffirm relevance, prep for busy election year

Labor unions in the St. Joseph area already are working on familiar issues they plan to either support or oppose during what promises to be a very contentious 2020 election cycle.

Union leaders in the city are once again professing their relevance for the economy and politics, despite criticism from pro-business groups that organized labor has run its course as a meaningful player when it comes to worker rights.

Dereck Heineman, business manager for Local Union No. 45 Plumbers & Pipefitters, told News-Press NOW his 160 members intend to spend time getting to know the candidates in next year’s local races while carefully examining their voting records.

“That’s where boots on the ground matters,” Heineman said of local races.

The state of the economy, labor rights and health care will all assume positions as the most vital issues for the union in 2020, according to Heineman.

“Our main goal is to protect workers’ rights, and protect our members’ rights,” he said. “I think it’s going to be extremely difficult. There’s so much partisan politics.”

Heineman decried talk from labor’s opponents that claim unions are no longer relevant in the national conversation.

“If unions don’t matter anymore, why are they so against us?” he asked.

Some opponents have operated in ways that drive down employee wages and the middle class, he added.

“That’s what we fight for,” said Heineman.

Another area union leader said his organization will continue to fend off attempts to resurrect a right-to-work law in Missouri and thwart paycheck deception practices. Labor officials contend that paycheck deception laws take away the right of union members and associations to use payroll deduction for payment of union dues, association dues or voluntary contributions.

“The people spoke, and they want to get the money out of politics,” said Mike Veale, president of the Northwest Missouri Central Labor Council. “And they’re not listening to the voters. ... Everything that the people voted on, they’re trying to sidestep that.”

Right-to-work, under which employees would not be required to join a labor union as a condition of their job, failed in a 2018 statewide vote, and despite prior approval by the Missouri General Assembly. Veale said unions believe there will be a new effort to bring right-to-work to Missouri, and think proponents’ war chests are deep for funding another round.

“Unfortunately, unions don’t have the money that we used to,” Veale said.

He contends the arguments that unions are supposedly irrelevant have a certain origin. The behind-the-scenes motivation is the ultimate destruction of unions by tactics that include convincing members that their interests and wishes should align with those of management, he said.

“It’s all about who can buy their voice,” said Veale. “They’re taking away our voice to speak what’s best for members, or for the working middle class. ... Unions don’t want to destroy corporations.”

Preparing for an election year will be a challenge, the union leaders admit, and will involve informing the rank and file that the way they earn a living is among the most important issues to grasp as they head to the polls.

“That’s one of our biggest problems: educating our members,” he added. “That’s our big challenge.”

The economy is another salient matter for labor, and Veale stated the current spending climate is due in part to improved wages that unions lobbied for across the U.S. A discussion of such issues by both sides would help bring a consensus to economic strategy, he continued.

“I believe we can create an economy that works for all,” Veale said. “We should make it our economy that works for everybody, not an economy that just works for the few.”


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Vaping complications difficult to diagnose

Vaping has turned into an epidemic nationwide, with 450 reported illnesses related to the practice and six reported deaths involving those smoking products, the most recent one in Kansas.

Part of the problem is believed to be related to THC oil vapes, which is a component of marijuana. Doctors also have speculated vitamin E in the oils might be the problem, but there is still not enough information to make definitive judgement.

“They do not know that for sure. They are concerned that that is the potential (of the THC oils),” Dr. Cynthia Brownfield of Mosaic Life Care said. “I don’t even think there is enough information to say they are assuming that vitamin E is the problem.”

THC causes its own problems, especially when users are smoking bootlegged cartridges off the street.

“The main issue that you think about vaping is that your lungs are tremendous filters. Your lungs are responsible for filtering chemicals and toxins. They trap the chemicals,” Brownfield said. “So when you are inhaling these intentionally when we don’t have it approved by the FDA, it is really dangerous. Your lungs will react to the chemicals they trapped.”

Young people have been impacted the most by vaping illnesses so far. Teens are attracted to the fruit and mint flavors of vapes. Recently, the Trump administration has looked into banning non-tobacco flavored juice all together.

“The intentions of vaping products was to get smokers off of cigarettes,” Brownfield said. “That is not how you see it being used for. Non-addicted teenagers are now using these devices and thinking it is cool and becoming addicted.”

Vomiting, nausea and coughing are just some of the symptoms that can be associated with the illnesses reported. So if a patient is not honest about smoking it can be hard to identify the cause.

“I just had a case recently that I was chasing down a lot of pathways and was trying to figure out to see what was causing these symptoms. I didn’t hear about vaping until after the symptoms were done,” Brownfield said. “So it is not like people will be admitting they are vaping, especially in this day and age.”


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Union votes to strike at General Motors' U.S. plants

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers union announced Sunday that its roughly 49,000 workers at General Motors plants in the U.S. would go on strike just before midnight because contentious talks on a new contract had broken down.

About 200 plant-level union leaders voted unanimously in favor of a walkout during a meeting Sunday morning in Detroit. Union leaders said the sides were still far apart on several major issues and they apparently weren’t swayed by a GM offer to make new products at or near two of the four plants it had been planning to close, according to someone briefed on the matter.

“We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most,” union Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement, referring to union concessions that helped GM survive bankruptcy protection in 2009. “Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our members.”

It’s still possible that bargainers could return to the table and hammer out an agreement, but union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said at a news conference that it would be unlikely because it is hard to believe they could resolve so many issues before 11:59 p.m.

GM on Friday offered to build a new all-electric pickup truck at a factory in Detroit that is slated to close next year, according someone who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because that person wasn’t authorized to disclose details of the negotiations, which hadn’t been released to the public. The automaker also offered to open an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where it has a plant that has already stopped making cars. The new factory would be in addition to a proposal to make electric vehicles for a company called Workhorse, the person said.

It’s unclear how many workers the two plants would employ. The closures, especially of the Ohio plant, have become issues in the 2020 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized the company and demanded that Lordstown be reopened.

The UAW’s Rothenberg said the company made general statements about why it is planning to strike, but he would not comment further on GM’s offer. The union said it would strike for fair wages, affordable health care, profit sharing, job security and a path to permanent employment for temporary workers.

In a statement, GM also said the offer made to the union on Saturday included more than $7 billion in U.S. factory investments and the creation of 5,400 new positions, a minority of which would be filled by existing employees. GM would not give a precise number. The investments would be made at factories in four states, two of which were not identified.

The statement also said the company offered “best in class wages and benefits,” improved profit sharing and a payment of $8,000 to each worker upon ratification. The offer included wage or lump sum increases in all four years of the deal, plus “nationally leading” health benefits.

The announcement came hours after the union let its contract with GM expire Saturday night.

If there is a strike, picketers would shut down a total of 53 GM facilities, including 33 manufacturing sites and 22 parts distribution warehouses. GM has factories in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.

On Saturday, Dittes, the union’s chief bargainer, said in a letter to GM members that after months of bargaining, both the union and GM were far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit-sharing. The letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.

A strike would bring to a halt GM’s U.S. production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.

The strike would be the union’s first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.

On Friday, union leaders extended contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler indefinitely, but the pact with General Motors was still set to expire Saturday night.

The union picked GM, which is more profitable than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as the target company, meaning it’s the focus of bargaining and would be the first company to face a walkout.

Talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four U.S. factories, including the one on the Detroit border with the enclave of Hamtramck, and Lordstown. The union has promised to fight the closures.

Here are the main areas of disagreement:

— GM is making big money, $8 billion last year alone, and workers want a bigger slice. The union wants annual pay raises to guard against an economic downturn, but the company wants to pay lump sums tied to earnings. Automakers don’t want higher fixed costs.

— The union also wants new products for the four factories GM wants to close. The factory plans have irked some workers, although most of those who were laid off will get jobs at other GM factories. GM currently has too much U.S. factory capacity.

— The companies want to close the labor cost gap with workers at plants run by foreign automakers. GM pays $63 per hour in wages and benefits compared with $50 at the foreign-owned factories. GM’s gap is the largest at $13 per hour, followed by Ford at $11 and Fiat Chrysler at $5, according to figures from the Center for Automotive Research.

— Union members have great health insurance plans and workers pay about 4% of the cost. Employees at large firms nationwide pay about 34%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The automakers would like to cut costs.


Associated Press 

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Oakland Raiders Sunday in Oakland, California. 


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Hispanic Heritage Month brings celebrations to St. Joseph

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated nationally from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

“Over 20 years ago, many people came to St. Joseph from Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras,” said St. Patrick’s Parishioner, Faustino Barbosa. “We started working with them to form a Hispanic outreach."

“We helped them find work, took them to the doctor, get them acquainted with the city and really anything they needed,” Barbosa said.

Barbosa has lived in St. Joseph since 1990 and said since then that the Hispanic population has grown tremendously.

The Hispanic population now makes up nearly 7 percent of all people living in St. Joseph. That is roughly 5,500 of a total population of 76,000.

“Now the people we originally helped have kids, and their kids have kids. It’s a great thing,” Barbosa said.

On Sept. 15, many Hispanic people celebrate the Mexican Day of Independence.

“Many of the larger cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and in Las Vegas have big parties,” said part owner of La Mesa, David Torres. “They have boxing fights, music events and other big sporting events.”

Torres has been in St. Joseph with the business for 26 years and still finds much to appreciate about the town.

Education of Hispanic culture is also being taught at Missouri Western State University.

Over the next 30 days, Missouri Western will host various events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Center for Multicultural Education teams up with the Center for Modern Languages to create not only fun, but educational activities.

The first event will be on Sept. 18 with Director of Outreach and Inclusion for Humanities Kansas.

She will be visiting campus and giving a lecture on the Mexican migration between Missouri and Kansas.

“It’s fun to get to learn a different race, religion, a different person,” said Latoya Muhammad, multicultural education director at Missouri Western.

The campus has to be able to work and educate each other on how to be inclusive of everyone.

“College is a perfect time to learn, and that’s part of the reason we put on a lot of the programs we put on to educate students and show them this is the time to learn as much as you can about as many things as you can,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad has been with the college for five years, and within that time has seen more involvement from the students.

“This year our students are not shy of saying what they what or what they need,” she said.

Many students are coming to the student affairs program with new ideas for organizations and events.