January 4, 2012 War on Workers News

Labor Groups Pan Walmart Plan to Bring Oversight Approach Used in Bangladesh to the US

The Nation
A new plan for audits of labor conditions at Walmart’s US distribution centers drew skeptical reactions from labor groups Thursday. According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the plan on December 28, Walmart’s plan is “similar to” the labor monitoring system the company currently uses for its overseas suppliers in countries such as China and Bangladesh.

“Walmart’s global labor rights monitoring program is a public relations scam put in place to address public relations problems arising from their use of sweatshop labor,” Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova told The Nation. “In that sense, it makes perfect sense that now that they’re facing public relations problems anew around treatment of workers in their domestic distribution system, that they would choose to apply the same public relations scam to that problem that they’ve applied internationally.” The WRC is an international labor monitoring group whose board is composed of university administrators, labor advocates and students.

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment. In past statements to The Nation, the retail giant has defended conditions in its warehouses, dismissed claims that it is legally responsible for them, and denied that it retaliates against activist workers. According to Journal reporter Shelly Banjo, the new plan “includes unannounced visits of all third-party operated warehouses by independent auditors.” Banjo wrote that the plan, which has not been formally announced, was confirmed by Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman, who told her, “We take this seriously.”

Read the source story here.

Food Co-Ops refuse orders from UNFI in support of striking workers

Teamsters 117
Progressive food co-ops, like the Olympia Food Co-op and the Central Co-op in Seattle, are taking principled stands in support of workers on strike at United Natural Foods, Inc.

True to their commitment to social justice, these organizations recognize that the well-documented abuses of workers’ rights at UNFI are inconsistent with their values.

Many co-op members throughout our region have walked the picket line with workers at UNFI’s distribution center in Auburn (22 30th St. NE Auburn, WA). Some have brought hot food to the workers or wood for burn barrels; others have handed out leaflets about the dispute or attended rallies in support of the workers.

On December 27, the Olympia Food Co-op announced that it would refuse to take orders from UNFI for the following week, a move that it estimates will cost UNFI $100,000 in sales.

“We hope this sends a strong message to UNFI that the integrity of our supply chain is important to us,” said Harry Levine, a staff member at the Olympia Food Co-op. “UNFI must end labor violations and return to good faith bargaining.”

Read the source story here.

Judge Orders Carhaul Company to Hire Back At Least 166 Teamsters, Pay Millions in Back Pay

In a major victory for Carhaul Teamsters, at least 166 workers at Ford’s Louisville Auto Assembly Plant (LAP) won their jobs back with 38 weeks’ back pay and benefits.

“This is a huge victory for our members and the Carhaul Division,” said Roy Gross, Co-Director of the Teamsters Carhaul Division. “The battle was won by coordinated efforts of the International Union, the Carhaul Division, Local 89 and its members. The International Union assigned attorney Jim Wallington to the case and with Local 89 they built an exceptional case to secure this victory. The Carhaul Division will do whatever it takes to protect our members’ livelihoods and we will continue to work hard to protect jobs and enforce contracts.”

The ruling orders that 85 named workers be put back to work, as well as another 81 Teamsters on the seniority list. However, more Teamsters may win their jobs back as well if it is determined they are eligible. The back-pay order covers the 85 named workers who will get their jobs back and the other 81 Teamsters on the seniority list. As of this week, the total back-pay would be about $5.3 million, plus interest, but that is a conservative estimate since more workers may be found eligible. These figures do not include back-benefits, which are also owed to the workers.

Read the source story here.

Woo-hoo! Calif. court rules unions can picket on private property

Teamster Nation
Score another win for working people in California! Yesterday the state Supreme Court ruled union members can picket in store parking lots and on sidewalks. (Read the ruling here.)

The high court upheld laws that were struck down by an appellate court in 2010. Ralphs Grocery Co. sued to prevent our UFCW brothers and sisters from handbilling only 5 feet from a store door. Ralphs bans picketing during holiday seasons and sets up a 20-foot buffer zone.

The Appeals Court sided with Ralphs, ruling two state laws allowing unions to picket on private property were unconstitutional because they gave special protection to labor speech.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the state Supreme Court disagreed yesterday,

…in a 6-1 ruling, saying such activity is a legal component of collective bargaining.

The laws are “justified by the state’s interest in promoting collective bargaining to resolve labor disputes … and the understanding that the area outside the entrance of the targeted business often is the most effective point of persuasion,” said Justice Joyce Kennard in the majority opinion.

Read the source story here.

Who’s behind No Rights At Work in Ohio?

Teamster Nation
You can bet it isn’t the teacher, autoworker and forklift driver featured on the “Ohioans for Workplace Tyranny Freedom” website. It’s a bunch of billionaire-backed troglodytes who are trying to put “No Rights At Work” on the ballot in Ohio.

Dan Greenburg, writing in Voices of Change, tells us these are the wonderful folks who are trying to bring RTW4Less to the Buckeye State:

Maurice Thompson … is Executive Director of The 1851 Law Center. That’s the group that tries to repeal school levies, like they recently tried in Westerville for example. The 1851 Law Center also pushed Ohio lawmakers to eliminate Ohio’s estate tax in the last budget, which cost the state millions of dollars, while at the same time cutting funding to Ohio schools and other programs.

Upon continued examination, you discover Chris Littleton, a spokesperson for “Ohioans for Workplace Freedom,” is also the President of the Cincinnati Tea Party. Another key figure of the “Ohioans for Workplace Freedom” group is Bryan Williams, who happens to be Director of Government Affairs for Central Ohio Associated Building Contractors. This group supports the repeal of Federal prevailing wage laws, which establish guidelines for fair compensation for employees.

He forgot to mention ALEC, which wrote the so-called “right-to-work” law now threatening Michigan’s standard of living (unless we can manage to repeal it).

Read the source story here.

It pays for states to raise bar on minimum wage

On New Year’s Day, our states accomplished something that Congress has achieved only erratically over the past 40 years: raising the minimum wage.

By now, minimum wage increases have become a routine practice in our home states, thanks to a key policy reform known as indexing, which establishes automatic annual adjustments to the minimum wage to keep pace with the rising cost of living each year. Washington led the nation in adopting indexing in 1998, and Oregon followed suit in 2002. In each state, the adoption of indexing resulted from ballot initiatives that passed with roughly two-thirds of public support.

Red and blue states alike have now begun indexing their minimum wage rates: On Jan. 1, our home states were joined by Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Vermont in raising the minimum wage to keep pace with the cost of living. These raises are modest in size — between 10 and 15 cents in each state — but we adopt these raises with a level of regularity that Congress has not managed to achieve in decades. With the addition of a 35-cents minimum wage increase signed by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee last June, a total of 10 states throughout the country boosted wages for low-paid workers on New Year’s Day.

Read the source story here.

Labor leaders: Fiscal cliff deal a temporary victory

The Ed Show
The fiscal cliff deal which Congress approved late Tuesday night was a flawed but significant step in the right direction, said representatives of some of the nation’s biggest labor unions. However, their fight to prevent cuts to public spending will continue for at least the next two months.

“We were successful in the short run,” said Mary Kusler, NEA’s director of government relations. “Time will tell if we’re successful in the long run.”

“I think we were largely successful in the goals we set out,” said Bill Samuel, director of government relations for AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation. “We set out to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; to prevent another tax cut for the richest 2%; and to prevent any additional job-killing spending cuts.”

NEA, AFL-CIO, and other major American unions played an aggressive role in fiscal cliff negotiations. The leaders of AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, and NEA met privately with President Obama shortly after the election. Over the following  months, they staged a national day of action, ran ads targeting Republican and conservative Democratic legislators, and flew members to Washington, D.C. so that they could lobby their representatives directly. Organized labor’s top priorities were simple: Prevent cuts to the social safety net, and eliminate the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year.

Read the source story here.

Gregoire emerges as top contender to boss EPA

Seattle PI
President Obama is about to nominate outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a very private prediction from a very senior source in Washington’s congressional delegation.

Gregoire was director of Washington’s Department of Ecology before being elected Attorney General in 1992.  The future governor made her reputation by negotiating a Hanford nuclear waste cleanup agreement with the first Bush administration, which has held up in court through efforts by the feds’ to wiggle out of their commitments.

Read the source story here.

CNA and NUHW Join Forces Against SEIU in California

In These Times
Today, the California Nurses Association (CNA) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) announced a formal affiliation, solidifying an already potent alliance. Two of the biggest strikes against concessions in the last 16 months were conducted by members of the CNA and NUHW. Their target each time was Kaiser Permanente, the giant California health care chain that made $6 billion in profits since 2009 but still wants union job cuts and contract givebacks.

Last August, CNA and NUHW formed an “Alliance of Kaiser Unions” dedicated to “raising standards for Kaiser caregivers and protecting Kaiser patients.” In its founding statement, the Alliance blasted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the SEIU-dominated Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) for choosing “to partner with Kaiser to increase the corporation’s profitability at the expense of their own members and patients.” The CKPU includes both AFL-CIO and Change To Win affiliates.

On January 3, CNA and NUHW took their recent workplace collaboration a step further, unveiling NUHW’s formal affiliation with CNA at a press conference in Oakland attended by activists from both unions. CNA and NUHW will now jointly seek decertification of SEIU in a unit of 43,000 service and technical employees at Kaiser.

Read the source story here.

SPEEA charge: Boeing surveillance is illegal

The Stand
The Boeing Co. was charged Wednesday with Unfair Labor Practices after company personnel photographed members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, marching at its Everett factory to support efforts to negotiate new labor contracts.

The specific charges relates to Boeing taking surveillance photographs of engineers and technical employees marching inside and outside the factory on Dec. 12 and after. Employer surveillance of union activities has consistently been ruled illegal because it has a tendency to intimidate employees into not exercising their rights to engage in union activities.

SPEEA and Boeing are scheduled to resume negotiations Wednesday, Jan. 9. Federal mediators called for a break in talks before the holidays. The two sides started meeting in April to negotiate new contracts for 23,000 engineers and technical workers. In October, engineers rejected Boeing’s initial offer by 95.5%. Technical workers rejected the company’s offer by 97%.  Existing contracts expired Nov. 25.

Read the source story here.

Battles of the Budget

Paul Krugman, The New York Times
The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.

For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war.

The fight over the fiscal cliff was just one battle in that war. It ended, arguably, in a tactical victory for Democrats. The question is whether it was a Pyrrhic victory that set the stage for a larger defeat.

Why do I say that it was a tactical victory? Mainly because of what didn’t happen: There were no benefit cuts.

Read the source story here.

Newly Elected Republican Says Government Should Be Less Involved In Disaster Relief

Think Progress
Newly-elected Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), who ran his campaign on a pledge to cut spending and reduce the debt, said on Friday that he would vote to increase borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program by $9.7 billion to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, but argued that disaster relief is best left to the private sector.

Appearing on CNN, Radel explained that government does have a role to play in the aftermath of natural disasters, but argued that people are too dependent on Washington for federal funding …

Read the source story here.

The GOP’s Geographical Divide

Political Wire
John Judis notes “there is a regional division in the party between the deep South, which contains many of the diehard House Republicans, and the Republicans from the Northeast, industrial Midwest, and the Far West. In the House vote on the fiscal cliff, Republican House members from the deep South opposed it by 83 to 10, while Republicans from the Northeast favored it by 24 to one, and those from the Far West by 17 to eight.”

Read the source story here.

Harvey: Oppose Labor Rights to Blunt ‘Pro-Abortion and Pro-Homosexual Activism’

Right Wing Watch
Mission America head Linda Harvey encouraged Ohio Republicans to push anti-union right-to-work legislation on her radio bulletin today, and like always linked it back to her zealous anti-gay activism. Harvey maintained that Religious Right supporters should rally behind so-called right-to-work efforts because “unions support all aspects of pro-abortion and pro-homosexual activism and have no problem truly with students opting for these life-altering practices” and promote “politically correct agendas.” She went on to falsely assert that without such laws workers are forced to join labor unions and also made the discredited claim that unions can compel non-members to pay for political activities.

Read the source story here.

Eyman’s I-517 would require vote on all qualified initiatives

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman turned in signatures Thursday for his latest effort, a measure that would set penalties for harassment of signature gatherers and signers and allow more time for signatures to be collected.

Eyman’s initiative also would require that voters be allowed to vote on any initiative that qualifies for the ballot, even if a lawsuit has been filed against the measure.

Read the source story here.