September 30, 2004

Stripping for labor

How hard core are you? In the case of the Pension Action Group, all the way down to their birthday suits:

Hundreds of workers who have lost some or all of their company pensions will stage a demo outside the Labour conference in Brighton today to draw attention to their plight. They plan a march and a "Full Monty" striptease on the beach.

Those taking part will include employees of steel firm ASW, who lost out after the company went bust.

They will be joined by workers from car parts firm Turner & Newall, whose £1bn pension scheme looks likely to be wound up. As many as 17,500 T&N staff could lose up to 70% of their promised pensions while a further 22,000 pensioners would not receive inflation-linked rises.

"The group is protesting about the insufficient amount proposed by the government to resolve our pension robbery. We are not asking for assistance - we want the restoration of our pensions that we have paid for," said a spokesman.

Posted by RT at 07:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

Bell South: New Tech Jobs to be Union

From the Daily Labor Report $$$, the new CWA agreement with Bell South includes modest wage increases, but the big focus was on preserving health benefits and making new tech jobs union:

New technology services such as Voice-Over Internet Protocol, wireless networking, and video sales and support, which previously were performed outside the bargaining unit, will now be performed by bargaining unit employees. Also, BellSouth and CWA agreed to discuss an effort to bring telemarketing, designated service line (DSL) help-desk work, and other work now performed by outside contractors into the bargaining unit.
It's not as large an expansion of union jobs as might be hoped, but it's progress.
Posted by Nathan at 08:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hotel Strike Begins in SF

HERE UNITE began a two week strike today at major San Francisco hotels.

I'm curious to hear the strategy behind the two-week limit on the strike.

Posted by Nathan at 02:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

Machinists to Leave AFL-CIO?

Opponents of the New Unity Partnership are now firing some shots across the bow, as the Machinists approved a resolution threatening to leave the AFL-CIO over actions by the NUP leaders (from BNA Daily Labor Report- $$$):

Delegates to the International Association of Machinists quadrennial convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution Sept. 24 that could pave the way for the large industrial union to withdraw its affiliation from the AFL-CIO.
The resolution "is intended to send a message" regarding the union's concerns about "the potential direction of the so-called reform movement" within the AFL-CIO, Machinists' spokesman Frank Larkin told BNA Sept. 27.

It was the "cumulative effect" of statements and actions by the leaders of that movement, rather than any one event, that prompted the union leadership to propose the resolution, which was submitted to delegates by the IAM's Executive Council, he added.

The executive council will defer any subsequent vote on the motion to withdraw from the labor federation until after the presidential election, Larkin said. At this point, the union wanted to "send a loud signal," before embarking on "a course of action," he explained.

The Machinists' resolution takes to task actions by Bruce Raynor and John Wilhelm, leaders in the newly merged UNITE-HERE union, Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, and the presidents of the Laborers International Union of North America and the Carpenters and Joiners of America, who have joined together in a "New Unity Partnership"

The main issues sites are over jurisdictional battles over various units and mergers, but it's a prelude to the battle royale that may break out after the November elections.
Posted by Nathan at 07:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How Unions Help Nonunion Workers

Occasionally you'll hear someone say that unions don't do anything-- they make just as much as a union worker and they don't have to pay dues.

But they often owe that paycheck to the unions, as this story on the state of unionizing hotels in Washington, D.C. illustrates. Unions haven't been very successful in organizing new hotels in the district, largely because the hotels match the union wage scale:

I think that as hoteliers, we try very, very hard to ensure that we are competitive, offering competitive salaries and benefits to our nonunion employees to discourage them from feeling they have to organize . . . ," said Mike DeFrino, general manager at the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group Inc.'s Hotel Monaco. "The idea of a happy workforce is not just because happy employees make happy guests, but also because it's an important element if they're approached to consider organization."
Only 13% of the US workforce is unionized today, but a far greater number of workers benefit from the wage standards set by those unionized workplaces and by the threat that a union organizer might show up at their workplace.

Non-union workers are often freeloaders, not paying their share of the strike funds and organizing war chests that preserve the wage standards which they enjoy. They may think they owe their paycheck to the kindness of their employer but they really owe it to the union organizer who the employer worries might show up if wages are cut too much.

Posted by Nathan at 12:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Homeland Security as Union Busting

Tucked into the new House bill on 911 intelligence reform is another round of union busting. Having used the first Homeland Security bill to remove union protections from employees who are primarily engaged in intelligence, investigative and national security work.

But the new bill would add "homeland security" to the list of functions that the president can deem exempt from union representation. It would also remove a provision that prevented units transferred into the Homeland Security department from losing union protection without the President giving notice to Congress.

No legislator is claiming personal responsibility for this provision, but it's a taste of the subtle anti-union attacks that the GOP continually folds into legislation.

Posted by Nathan at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

Mine Safety Becomes West Virginia Election Issue

Just got back from a weekend in West Virginia where it is assumed that Republicans will prevail on November 2, campaigning on "God, Guns and Gays." But the United Mine Workers of America and America Coming Together, a nationwide group trying to mobilize Democratic voters in swing states, are showing how to use workplace safety issues in the Presidential election.

They have delivered petitions containing 1,100 signatures calling for increased funding of federal coal mine safety programs in petitions delivered to President Bush's state campaign offices

As of Sept. 1, with three months remaining in the year, West Virginia has experienced eight coal mining fatalities, more than any other state, compared with nine during all of 2003 and six in 2002, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Nationwide, there have been 17 coal mining fatalities in the first nine months of 2004. The nationwide total in 2003 was 30. West Virginia and Kentucky had the most fatalities with nine each. In 2002, Kentucky also had nine fatalities, while West Virginia had six, and the nationwide total was 27.

The petitions circulated in West Virginia stated that the Bush administration has allowed funding for coal mine safety programs "at a static $115 million ... despite the fact that deaths of coal mine workers increased from 2003 to 30 from 27 in 2002."

"Every budget submitted by the Bush Administration from 2001-2004 proposed reductions or streamlining both the ... Occupational Safety and Health Administration and ... Mine Safety and Health Administration programs," petition said. The petition called on Bush to "Protect West Virginia. Make our coal miners' health and safety your top priority."

Posted by Jordan Barab at 11:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

Hotel Unions Negotiate for Future

Right now, unions in San Francisco, LA and Washington, D.C are coordinating strike threats to put pressure on national chains in contract negotiations. Given a history where hotel workers in each city have generally fought individual battles against the multinational hotel chains, this is an impressive ramping up of national strategy.

But the real power of the move is that a key demand of negotiations in each city is for a two-year contract. Why?

Because in 2006, a large number of other city hotel contracts-- including in New York, Boston, Chicago and Toronto--will also be up for renewal.

That would mean that hotel workers would be in the position to fight and negotiate for national contracts. The four largest hotel companies (Marriot, Hilton, Starwood and Hyatt) now account for 22% of total sales in the industry. Within the top 15 lodging markets, 75% of the rooms are affiliated with national or global companies.

The hotels obviously would rather be playing divide-and-conquer games against unions in different cities, but the unions have enlisted strong national allies to build a national bargaining strategy:

"The hotel corporations are saying, in effect, that their employees can be separate but equal," says Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO, NAACP. "We know from history that separate can never be equal. NAACP members will stand together with hotel workers in this important fight for equality."

"Americans know full well who does the hard work in hotels throughout the country; there is a relationship between the struggle for equity which we in the civil rights community fight every day, and the efforts of these hotel workers to gain equal footing at the negotiating table,” explains Raul Yzaguirre, President, National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization.

Unions can't win just by being tougher in these fights; they have to change the game and build new forms of solidarity-- between unions in different cities, between unions and the community, and between nations.
Posted by Nathan at 09:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Conference on Feminism, Labor and Working Class History

For those of you interested in the intersection of labor and feminism, this conference will be a major event...

Call for Papers Labouring Feminism and Feminist Working Class History in North America and Beyond

A Conference at the University of Toronto 29 September 2 October 2005
We are pleased to provide an update on the conference on Labouring Feminism
and Feminist Working Class History in North America and Beyond , to be held at
the University of Toronto, 29 September 2 October 2005, and to issue an open
Call for Papers .

Aim : The central aim of the conference is to bring together a wide variety of
feminist scholars working on aspects of labour history, broadly defined, to
share their research, to dialogue across generational, theoretical, national,
and disciplinary boundaries, and to engage in collective discussions about how
to re-conceptualize working-class history in more inclusionary ways.

Focus : The focus is on North America within broadly comparative and
international contexts. We invite transnational, diasporic, trans-border,
race-critical, and global perspectives as well as critical re-assessments of
the dominant US paradigms in the field. We also invite comparisons with South
America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Papers on migrant, immigrant, ethnic
(including Francophone) Aboriginal, and racialized subjects in the United
States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are particularly welcomed; so too are
papers that explore the interconnections between such categories as class,
race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture, identity, resistance, and radical
and revolutionary ideologies.

Contact Information : Labouring Feminism Conference, c/o Centre for the Study
of the United States, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of
Toronto,1 Devonshire Place
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7, CANADA

Posted by Leo Casey at 11:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Should We Make Of The New Unity Partnership

The direction of the New Unity Partnership group spearheaded by Stern of the SEIU is becoming the focus of discussion over the future of the labor movement, especially with suggestions in various media that it may develop into a split from the AFL-CIO roughly modeled after the CIO split from the AFL. It is a complicated and complex discussion...

because there is a clear need for action to reverse the long-term decline of American labor, but the solutions to that decline are not entirely clear. [It is worth noting that the decline of the American labor movement is not unique to us, but part of a general tendency throughout the developed North. The one exception to that rule appears to be Scandanvia, where the labor movement was always the most developed, economically and politically; they have maintained, and even extended, their dominant position. The decline of labor throughout the developed North is clearly linked to transformations in the global economy that no national labor movement has successfully figured out.]

Stern's NUP proposes a single-minded focus on organizing the unorganized and on strengthening labor's political action, but that was also the platform of the current AFL-CIO leadership team of John Sweeney, and if nothing else, Sweeney's ten year tenure demonstrates how hard that it is to accomplish. If NUP had a plan for taking on Wal-Mart that was a lot more substantial than the one being developed by the current AFL-CIO leadership then maybe one see them as more credible, but all that we have seen to date is the strategic idea that it is important to develop union density in an industry and in a region, and the notion that organizing needs to be taken away from the more reluctant internationals and given to the central federation. Yes, many AFL-CIO international unions are doing little by way of organizing, and others seem to be much more interested in organizing graduate students than there own core industry, but the fact of the matter remains that it is a lot easier to organize the service sector, where SEIU has made real gains, and the public sector, where my own union, the AFT, has done impressive work, than it is to organize the manufacturing sector and the private sector. I am not convinced that taking organizing away from the internationals and giving it to the central federation will change all of that. And a number of internationals affiliated with NUP have a record of being less than progressive on a number of questions, starting with internal union democracy.

But activists and intellectuals in the labor movement will want to pay attention to the growing debate over the NUP program. Labor Notes has just set up a web page which contains their own pieces on the subject, together with a number of articles from Business Week. That is not the full range of discussion one would like to see on the topic, especially given the Labor Notes tendency to have a Johnny one-note response to every labor issue [organize and activate the rank and file], but it is a place to start for those who want to learn about the issues. And for those around the metropolitan New York City area, the Labor Resource Center at Queens College, which publishes the informative New Labor Forum, is organizing a Labor At the Crossroads conference at the CUNY Grad Center on December 2 and 3.

Posted by Leo Casey at 10:20 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 22, 2004

OSHA Cites Cintas -- Again

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cintas, a Cincinnati-based laundry and uniform rental company, for numerous workplace safety violations, many of which had been cited before at other Cintas plants. UNITE/HERE is engaged in a bitter organizing campaign with the company, attempting to organize over 17,000 Cintas drivers and production workers.

OSHA cited Cintas for 29 violations, including: failure to offer hepatitis vaccinations to workers who handle blood-contaminated laundry; exposing workers to the risk of being crushed between a wall and giant industrial washing machines when the machines tilt up for loading and unloading; exposing workers to live electrical parts; and providing workers who handle contaminated garments with inferior, disposable masks instead of approved respirators. Seven of the 29 violations were repeats of violations OSHA cited Cintas for last July at the company’s Branford, Conn., or Bedford Park, Ill., plants.
The union has made health and safety issues a central part from the beginning of its campaign to get the company to recognize the union. And some workers have been paying the ultimate price:
The fines are a vindication for former Cintas worker Keith Crawford. Cintas fired Crawford in July from his job unloading delivery trucks at the Rochester plant after he repeatedly raised concerns about unsafe conditions. Crawford says Cintas managers failed to lock the huge industrial washers in place before sending workers to clean behind the machines. “Someone could easily come along and tilt a machine up to start putting clothes in it and kill another employee cleaning behind the machine,” Crawford reports. UNITE HERE has recently filed an OSHA complaint charging that Cintas fired Crawford partly in retaliation for his safety-related protests. The union has already filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board claiming the firing was also linked to Crawford’s support for organizing Cintas workers.
More information on health and safety issues at Cintas here, here and here. More on the organizing campaign here.
Posted by Jordan Barab at 09:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Say It Ain't So, Amy!

Say It Ain't So, Amy!
It seems that another once upon a time left academic, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Guttman, has joined Columbia's Ira Katznelson in the ranks of university union-busters.

When Bush's NLRB Board came down with its decision to reverse its own precedent and declare that graduate students were not employees with the right of unionization, Guttman felt compelled to express her approval of that decision in a formal statement which indicated that she would not recognize or negotiate with the Penn union, GET UP. For those who of us who read and admired her Democratic Education, in which she wrote of the positive contribution of teacher unions to education, this turn of events has to count as a bitter disappointment. If one ascends to such positions of authority in the academy only to join in the corporate mode of fighting any restrictions on the exploitation of graduate student and adjunct labor, what is the point of the whole exercise? Say it ain't so, Amy.

Posted by Leo Casey at 11:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2004

Some Good Labor News for a Change

Two good pro-worker decisions in state courts announced in the last couple of days.

First, the Minnesota Court of Appeals announced that an employer could not sue workers whose goal in being hired was to organize the employer's workforce, even if they lied on the application about previous employment at union firms. The court declared that the law protects the right of so-called union "salts" to conceal activity involved pro-union activity under federal labor law. Instead, the NLRB has exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee has suffered unfair retaliation and the employer has no right to use state courts to supersede the authority of the NLRB. (See BNA - registration required).

The second labor win was by undocumented workers in the unlikely location of the Georgia Court of Appeals. The 12-member court ruled that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which bars employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers, does not preempt Georgia's workers' compensation laws. So injured immigrant workers have the right to be compensated when injured, whether in the US legally or not. As the judge's decision stated:

"To allow an employer to reap the benefit of an employee's services (even when such services are rendered by an illegal alien), without holding the employer responsible for the payment of workers' compensation benefits when the employee is injured on the job, would break the social contract between the employer and its employee and undermine the entire purpose of Georgia's Workers' Compensation Act."
We can dwell on the bad decisions-- and there are a lot of them-- but through good political work in a lot of states, these kinds of decisions make a big difference in workers lives.
Posted by Nathan at 10:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

One Good Song Is Worth 10 Speeches

This is sort of an advertisement, but in a good way.

Mike Konopacki, of Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons has published a book of "songs for regime change," titled Hit the Road Bush.

Here's one of my favorites:

Overtime (Tune: Summertime)

Overtime -- Bush's plan is so sleazy
My paycheck's slumpin' while the rent is sky-high
His friends are rich; poor folks he's overlooking'
A working-class family can't get by

Now here's a warning -- we're gonna' come out swinging
Gonna spread the word that this scheme just won't fly
Four more years? It's a thought that alarms us
So Bush, kiss your overtime good-bye

(Words by Julie McCall)

The songs are put together by labor activist/songwriter Julie McCall and friends and dedicated to the proposition that, "As veteran labor troubadour Joe Glazer once proclaimed, 'one good song is worth ten speeches.'"

Copies of the book can be ordered from Collector Records, 9225 Wendell St., Silver Spring, MD 20910-3533

$5.00 per songbook plus $2 shipping.

Posted by Jordan Barab at 10:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why the NLRB Is Pretty Worthless

Why do organizing unions try to avoid the NLRB route? Exhibit J comes from a recent NLRB ruling.

On July 19, 2004, the NLRB found this Los Angeles nursing home [Mid-Wilshire Health Care Center] guilty of coercing, threatening and, in effect, bribing its employees into signing a decertification petition to do away with their union. The violations started when the workers' union representative, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), attempted to renegotiate their contract with Mid-Wilshire in 2001. According to the NLRB decision, workers were met with fierce resistance and a host of illegal anti-union tactics, including: withholding wage increases, suspending and firing pro-union workers, and pressuring employees into signing a decertification petition.

In order to obtain enough support to trigger a decertification election, Mid-Wilshire exploited the fears of its employees. In the NLRB's findings, the company threatened to report workers to the INS if they did not sign the decertification petition. According to testimony, a supervisor urged two employees to sign the decertification petition, because "they didn't have immigration papers, she had helped their friends, and they needed to help her."

In another instance of Mid-Wilshire's pressure tactics, Maria Guadalupe Garcia was advised by a supervisor about the decertification petition and told to "Sign 'no' to the Union. Garcia and the supervisor then entered an elevator with Martin Perez, an employee who was circulating the petition. The supervisor stopped the elevator mid-floor and demanded Perez to "give her the paper [because] Maria is going to sign 'no' to the Union." Held captive in the elevator, Garcia was intimidated into signing the petition.

The NLRB decided this behavior was just a wee bit out of bounds, so they decided to intervene. They prevented the decertification. And they enacted a terrible punishment:

Mid-Wilshire was only ordered to post a notice saying they will not coerce employees into signing a decertification petition.
How long did it take them to rule? Three years. Three long years. Eliot Ness ain't got nothin' on these Bad Boys.

This is also a good example of why the recent NLRB moves to abolish card check are so potentially devastating. Organizing unions try to use card check instead of standard NLRB elections because the NLRB is about as effective at ensuring fair elections as poll watchers were during El Salvador's death squad days. Without card check, almost all the cards are in the hands of the backstabbing, Law-breaking employers.

For more information, check out a terrific, relatively new organization, American Rights at Work.

Posted by RT at 07:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Big Union Win for NC Farmworkers

This is awesome! Farmworkers have no protection under federal labor law, so every campaign is a dirty, hard struggle.

But farmworkers in North Carolina won an agreeement with the Mt. Olive Pickle Company that will improve conditions for thousands of farmworkers and actually produce the largest single unionization result in North Carolina history.

Parts of the agreement include:

  • Mt. Olive will raise the price it pays farmers for cucumbers by about 10 percent over three years. Part of that increase will be passed to workers who pick cucumbers.
  • Growers who supply Mt. Olive will be encouraged to allow union organizers to visit workers without interference.
  • The N.C. Growers Association, which uses a federal program that supplies foreign labor to about 1000 farms, will recognize the union run by the organizing committee, including some farms that don't supply Mt. Olive.

    It's this last provision that will bring the most change, according to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which struggled for and won the agreement.

    The success also highlights what is possible when religious and community groups support a union drive, as the Council of Churches and the United Methodist Church did in supporting a boycott of Mt. Olive pickles.

    So a nice bit of good labor news from down South!

    Posted by Nathan at 05:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
  • September 16, 2004

    NLRB: Disabled Workers Separate & Unequal

    Well, this NLRB is raring to deny labor rights to as many groups as possible. Having said grad student employees had no right to organize, despite teaching the same kinds of classes as other academic workers, the NLRB by a 3-2 vote has now declared that disabled workers in vocational programs have no NLRA rights (see the BNA report in the extended entry below):

    "Although the disabled clients work the same hours, receive the same wages and benefits, and perform the same tasks under the same supervision as the nondisabled employees, they work at their own pace, and performance problems are dealt with through additional training rather than discipline," the majority said.

    The board overturned a regional director's July 2000 decision allowing the disabled workers to vote in a representation election to determine whether the Transport Workers Union would represent a unit of janitors, custodians, and leadpersons working for Brevard. It is unclear whether the union will still seek an election for a unit that excludes the disabled workers.

    Dissenting, Members Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh asserted that the disabled workers "easily meet" the National Labor Relations Act's broad definition of employee. Citing federal law and policy designed to provide equal opportunity to disabled persons, the two members urged their colleagues to "abandon doctrines that were based on outdated notions about the place of the disabled in society" and to end "the needless segregation of those workers."

    This is not just an assault on labor rights, it's a general attack on the idea that accomodation of the needs of the disabled should not turn them into second-class citizens with fewer rights.

    It also converts the disabled into a source of potential scabs who have no rights under the law and are therefore dependent on management for any privileges they might wish to offer or withdraw from them.

    All in all, one of the nastier decisions by the NLRB recently.


    BNA Daily Labor Report
    Thursday, September 16, 2004 Page A-1

    NLRB 3-2 Rules Disabled Workers
    In Vocational Program Not NLRA Covered

    Disabled workers in a vocational program who are paid for providing janitorial services and work alongside nondisabled workers are not employees covered by federal labor law, the National Labor Relations Board ruled 3-2 (Brevard Achievement Ctr. Inc., 342 N.L.R.B. No. 101, 9/10/04 [released 9/15/04]).
    A board majority consisting of Chairman Robert J. Battista and Members Peter C. Schaumber and Ronald Meisburg found that the disabled workers' relationship with the nonprofit Brevard Achievement Center Inc. is "primarily rehabilitative" and not economic. "Although the disabled clients work the same hours, receive the same wages and benefits, and perform the same tasks under the same supervision as the nondisabled employees, they work at their own pace, and performance problems are dealt with through additional training rather than discipline," the majority said.

    The board overturned a regional director's July 2000 decision allowing the disabled workers to vote in a representation election to determine whether the Transport Workers Union would represent a unit of janitors, custodians, and leadpersons working for Brevard. It is unclear whether the union will still seek an election for a unit that excludes the disabled workers.

    Dissenting, Members Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh asserted that the disabled workers "easily meet" the National Labor Relations Act's broad definition of employee. Citing federal law and policy designed to provide equal opportunity to disabled persons, the two members urged their colleagues to "abandon doctrines that were based on outdated notions about the place of the disabled in society" and to end "the needless segregation of those workers."

    Brevard Has Federal Government Service Contracts

    Brevard, located in Rockledge, Fla., provides various training, educational, and rehabilitative services to disabled adults. One program involves service contracts with the federal government pursuant to the Javits Wagner O'Day Act. The contracts require that at least 75 percent of the direct-labor work hours be performed by individuals with severe disabilities.
    Brevard has a JWOD contract to provide janitorial services at Cape Canaveral Air Station and employs about 53 disabled "clients." Most of the disabled workers are either mentally impaired or have severely disabling mental illnesses. The rest have physical disabilities. Brevard also employs five nondisabled leadpersons and two nondisabled regular workers to work at Cape Canaveral. Each leadperson is assigned a team of eight to 12 workers. The disabled and nondisabled workers perform the same janitorial duties, work the same hours, and receive the same wages and benefits.

    A Brevard trainer comes to the site three days a week to train disabled workers who are new to the job and retrain those whose performance has regressed. A mental health counselor is available every day to provide counseling to the disabled workers on an as-needed basis. Brevard provides financial assistance to disabled workers who need outpatient mental health services that are not covered by the health insurance plan.

    A progressive discipline policy applies to the nondisabled workers, but disabled workers are not disciplined for any conduct related to their disabilities. A trainer works with them to correct deficiencies or assigns them to a different team. Although all the workers are assigned the same amount of work and are expected to meet the same quality standards, disabled workers are allowed to work at their own pace. Brevard annually evaluates the disabled workers to determine if they have progressed enough to work in a competitive employment environment and therefore no longer qualify for the program.

    Following a Nearly Half Century Practice

    "For nearly half a century, the Board has declined to assert jurisdiction over employment relationships, such as sheltered workshops or rehabilitative vocational programs, which are primarily rehabilitative in nature," the board majority said. It explained that the board examines the nature of the relationship between the disabled individuals and their employer.
    "If that relationship is guided primarily by business considerations, such that it can be characterized as 'typically industrial,' the individuals will be found to be statutory employees; alternatively, if the relationship is primarily rehabilitative in nature, the individuals will not be found to be employees," the board said.

    Factors the board considers include "the existence of employer-provided counseling, training, or rehabilitation services; the existence of any production standards; the existence and nature of disciplinary procedures; the applicable terms and conditions of employment (particularly in comparison to those of nondisabled individuals employed at the same facility); and the average tenure of employment, including the existence/absence of a job-placement program."

    "That approach is consistent with the overall purpose and aim of the Act," which "contemplates a primarily economic relationship between employer and employee, and provides a mechanism for resolving economic disputes that arise in that relationship," the board said. It found that courts consistently have affirmed the validity of the typically industrial/primarily rehabilitative standard.

    In Goodwill Industries of Tidewater, 304 N.L.R.B. 767, 138 LRRM 1271 (1991), and Goodwill Industries of Denver, 304 N.L.R.B. 764, 138 LRRM 1211 (1991), "the Board concluded, on facts similar to those in this case, that disabled individuals who were performing janitorial and merchandise-stocking work at government military bases pursuant to contracts obtained by the employers under the JWOD Act were not statutory employees," the board said.

    Although Brevard's disabled and nondisabled workers "work the same hours, receive the same wages and benefits, and perform the same tasks under the same supervision," the company "provides training and counseling services to its disabled clients," responds differently to the performance problems of disabled and nondisabled workers, and allows disabled workers to work at their own pace, the board said. It found "[t]hese policies support a determination that the relationship between [Brevard] and its clients is primarily rehabilitative, not motivated principally by economic considerations."

    "[W]e find, contrary to the Regional Director, that the absence of precise evidence as to each disabled client's tenure of employment does not militate against a finding that [Brevard's] program is rehabilitative in nature," the board said. It found that some clients stay with Brevard for several years, while some move on within a few months. This "supports the rehabilitative quality" of the program, the board concluded.

    Dissenters Cite Evolution Regarding Disabled Workers

    "Modern Federal law and policy have moved steadily toward assuring disabled persons the same opportunities available to everyone else in our society, including the chance to participate fully in the workplace," Liebman and Walsh said in their dissenting opinion.
    "This case presents the Board with the perfect opportunity to revisit longstanding precedent governing disabled workers in light of a legal and policy landscape that has evolved dramatically in the last 15 years," the dissenters said. "By excluding disabled workers from the protections of the [NLRA] because they may also receive rehabilitative services from their employers, the majority continues the needless segregation of those workers."

    The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the NLRA's broad definition of covered employees includes "any person who works for another in return for financial or other compensation," the dissenters said. They found that Brevard's disabled workers "easily meet the statutory definition."

    "[E]conomic activity need not be the sole, or even dominant, purpose of a cognizable employment relationship," the dissenters said. "All the Act requires is that there be an economic aspect of the relationship." The statute "simply contains no exemption based on an employee's receipt of rehabilitative assistance from his employer," they said.

    In talking to the union president about the benefits of collective bargaining, "the disabled janitors asked whether the Union could negotiate for more full-time positions, whether the Union could bargain for better health insurance, and whether the Union could obtain mileage reimbursement for employees who use their personal vehicles at work," the dissenters said. "Needless to say, these interests mirror those routinely in conflict between management and labor generally."

    "[D]enying these disabled workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether they desire collective bargaining ... contravenes contemporary federal policy to eliminate the barriers to disabled workers' full participation in the workplace," the dissenters said. They asserted that "the 'typically industrial--primarily rehabilitative' framework is rooted in the same dated, stereotypical assumptions about the disabled that contemporary federal policy seeks to undo."

    Posted by Nathan at 08:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Guys Have It Tough...

    Have Feminazis taken over our country? Not even close, says a new DOL study. On average, working women spend twice as much time as working men do taking care of their family and doing chores.

    The average working woman, for example, spends about an hour and a half a day caring for other members of the family, the average working man barely 50 minutes. Likewise, the average working woman spends more than 1 hour 20 minutes on household chores, the average working man less than 45 minutes.

    Almost as many women as men hold jobs, the Labor Department said: about 78 percent of women, compared with 85 percent of men. But two-thirds of all women said they prepared meals and did housework on an average day, compared with only 19 percent of men who said they did housework and 34 percent who said they helped with meals or cleanup.

    When I was a teenager, the feminist movement was just taking off. If someone had told me that three decades later we would have made so little progress in some areas, I wouldn't have believed them. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another 30 years before we get something like equality.
    Posted by RT at 07:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    September 15, 2004

    China Labor Shortage?

    China may be in the midst of a mass migration to the cities, but according to an article about a new Chinese government report, at the same time China's export sector is suffering from a labor shortage.

    Low pay and poor working conditions are among the chief reasons for China's puzzling shortage of migrant workers in parts of the southern and coastal manufacturing hubs, according to an official investigation warning that a minor shake-up in the 'factory of the world' could be on the cards...

    "Some of these factories are in a bind. They will go into the red if they raise wages, but if they do not raise wages to ease the labour shortage, they cannot produce enough goods."

    You have to wonder, at what point do the wheels fall off the system?
    Posted by RT at 01:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 14, 2004

    Screwing Workers in Bankruptcy Ct.

    Bankruptcy court is a weird beast in a capitalist system. Essentially, businesses that have failed and are refusing to honor contracts with various other economic actors are allowed to keep in business, while selectively being allowed to default on payments owed to various creditors.

    Now, US Airways is getting special help from the federal government to continue its operations. The judge in the proceedings is alllowing the company to use a portion of its $750 million federally guaranteed loan to fund its continuing operations.

    But not included in its proposed operations are the payments it owes to workers pensions, which the company is asking the court for permission to no longer pay:

    The airline told Mitchell at a hearing yesterday that it considers a $110 million pension contribution due Wednesday to be a debt incurred before its filing Sunday, making the payment unnecessary under bankruptcy law.

    The company said in a court filing it may freeze or terminate the pension plans, a move that could make its already tense labor relations more difficult. Mitchell scheduled a hearing on the pension issue for Oct. 7.

    Unions are stiffening their resistance to givebacks under the threat of bankruptcy. Airlines have been using bankruptcy courts in recent years to drive down wages throughout the industry, so unions may face a choice of driving US Airways out of business and using the sale of its assets to pay off as much of the pension obligations owed them as possible.

    That strategy would leave current US Airways workers unemployed-- although hopefully many would get fired by other airlines-- but it might deter this kind of misuse of the bankruptcy courts by other airlines. Back in the 1980s, workers at Eastern Airlines faced union-busting by the notorious Frank Lorenzo, who similarly used bankruptcy courts abusively. Rather than let him destroy standards in the industry, the workers struck and put the company out of business-- an act that deterred airlines for the next decade or so from similar attacks on the airline unions. A similar lesson -- based on sacrifice by workers at a major airline -- may be needed to preserve standards in the rest of the industry.

    Unfortunately, the unionized airlines face low-wage competition from the new budget airlines like Jet Blue, so the survival of high wage standards in the industry is going to be tough no matter what. But the bankruptcy courts should not be aiding the union-busters.

    Posted by Nathan at 06:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Bush NLRB Moves to Cancel Card Check

    The Bush NLRB is moving to stop card check before it gains any ground legislatively. (See this LA Times story.) The National Right to Work Committee is doing everything possible to make sure workers can't have a real choice about forming unions.

    (Oddly enough, those fine folks at the National Right to Work Committee probably aren't going to do much to protect this woman's right to work.)

    Posted by Brendan Sexton Never Died at 12:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 13, 2004

    A Liberal-Left Without Unions?

    That's what Mark Schmitt wonders on his Decembrist blog, in response to a David Broder column noting how the labor movement's influence on national legislation has diminished.

    Schmitt is a very savvy guy, but his experience is centered on legislative warfare. Not surprisingly, he's concerned about the absence of powerful labor lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

    That's a valid concern, but as someone else points out the real loss for the larger liberal-left if there aren't strong unions is the lack of any mobilization out in the all of those swing states and base states.

    Posted by Brendan Sexton Never Died at 11:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    September 12, 2004

    Mass Migration in China to Cities

    Some things are so big you can't fully notice them, you can't fully incorporate their significance into your analysis. That's China most days of the week, but the mass exodus of workers from rural areas to its booming cities is almost beyond the imagination:

    China, by official count, has 114 million migrant workers who have left rural areas, temporarily or for good, to work in cities, and that doesn't include tens of millions of family members who moved with them. Government experts predict the number will rise to 300 million by 2020, eventually to 500 million.
    And the exploitation they suffer is similarly out of proportion to even the exploitation suffered by migrant workers in other places:
    In September, Zeng Peiyan, a member of China's state council, or cabinet, announced that migrant workers at thousands of construction projects, many of which are authorized by the government, were owed $43 billion in unpaid wages. "Some have remained unpaid for up to 10 years," he said, according to state media. But they keep coming because poverty in the countryside is hopeless.
    You therefore have hundreds of millions of workers being introduced into the global economy with virtually no labor protections at all. This is a threat not just to working conditions in the United States, but to workers in Indonesia, Mexico, Cambodia and other countries which had already flled the "low-wage exporting niche" in the world economy, but will soon find even more exploited Chinese workers taking jobs from them.

    Either China begins to meet international labor standards or those standards will become completely meaningless throughout most of the globe.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    September 11, 2004

    8(f) and 9(a)

    A note for those of you -- lawyers or otherwise -- who ever have to deal with the question whether a construction-industry bargaining relationship is 8(f) or 9(a). (If this is greek to you, don't worry, and skip this post).

    This week's weekly summary from the Board includes a memo from the office of general counsel (pdf file here) that might be useful to you. Long story short, the D.C. Circuit held in March that even when a collective bargaining agreement recites that it is a 9(a) relationship, the Board must nonetheless treat it as an 8(f) relationship, for all the purposes in which the distinction matters, if there is "unrebutted evidence" that would contradict the contract's recitation. The memo says:

    "Accordingly, if a charge is premised on a claim that contractual language created a Section 9(a) relationship with an employer in the construction industry, the investigation should include an inquiry into whether there is evidence that contradicts the contractual language. Relevant evidence would include evidence that when recognition was granted there was no representative complement of employees, or that employees who were employed opposed union representation, or that the union made no showing or offer to show majority support."
    Be prepared to "rebut" any such evidence so that it's not "unrebutted."
    Posted by Sam Heldman at 07:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 10, 2004

    House of Representatives Endangers Health Care Workers

    Nathan related the good news in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill below, but there was also a bit of bad news for health care workers in the bill. Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS) succeeded in adding a legislative rider prohibiting OSHA from forcing hospitals to annually "fit test" employees who wear respirators to protect them from tuberculosis.

    Annual fit testing of respirators must be done to assure that they protect workers and that their effectiveness does not deteriorate. OSHA's new respirator standard, issued in 2000, required all workers who wear respirators to receive annual fit tests, except for heatlh care workers exposed to TB who were to be covered in OSHA's new respirator standard. Unfortunately, time ran out on the Clinton administration before the standard could be issued and late last year, OSHA killed it.

    To its credit, however, OSHA then decided that health care workers would be covered under the main respirator standard, and must then recieve annual fit tests just like every other American worker who must wear a respirator.

    The American Hospital Association and the Association of Professional in Infection Control went berserk, fiercely lobbying OSHA and Congressman Wicker to repeal the fit-testing requirement. Wicker, one of the main forces behind OSHA's withdrawal of the TB standard, was only too happy to comply, adding the language to the House Labor/HHS appropriations bill that was passed today.

    The language has not been introduced in the Senate which has not yet considered the Labor/HHS Appropriations bill.

    Stay tuned.

    Posted by Jordan Barab at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 09, 2004

    High Priest Fires at Free Trade Orthodoxy

    Paul Samuelson is the economist's economist: more undergraduates have probably learned introductory economics from his textbooks than any other.

    So when he announced that free trade between countries does not necessarily improve the lives of people in both countries, the economic establishment reacted, as this NY Times article recounts.

    Samuelson's point is actually pretty intuitive. While it makes sense that everyone gains when tropical islands trade bananas for copper mined in mountainous regions, it's less clear that the United States will gain from sending high tech jobs to countries like India. Essentially, he argues that average wages across the world will very likely drop faster than prices for global goods we import:

    But doesn't purchasing cheaper call-center or programming services from abroad reduce input costs for various industries, delivering a net benefit to the economy? Not necessarily, Mr. Samuelson replied. To put things in simplified terms, he explained in the interview, "being able to purchase groceries 20 percent cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for the wage losses."

    The global spread of lower-cost computing and Internet communications breaks down the old geographic boundaries between labor markets, he noted, and could accelerate the pressure on wages across large swaths of the service economy. "If you don't believe that changes the average wages in America, then you believe in the tooth fairy," Mr. Samuelson said.

    I have no love for protectionism as an alternative. Developing nations should move into better paying jobs as they are able to, but the process should not be designed to increase the profits of multinational companies at the expense of pay of US workers.

    At the moment, economic orthodoxy is justifying the bloated profits of those multinationals with the fairy tale that US workers will come out all right in the end. If American workers recognize that this is an illusion, we can have a more serious debate about how to support global economic development that benefits workers here and abroad. If even a portion of those excess multinational profits were diverted to better wages for all workers in the world, there is no reason that trade can't benefit everyone-- but only if current "free trade" orthodoxy is abandoned.

    Posted by Nathan at 07:34 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    House Votes to Kill Bush Overtime Regs

    Tom Delay lost control of the moderates GOPers today. 22 Republicans went off the reservation and voted to block the Labor Department from implementing the overtime rules recently approved by the Bush administration.

    In May, the Senate, by a 52-47 vote on a different bill, approved language stating that no worker who currently qualifies for overtime should lose that eligibility, so it's likely that the Senate will join the House in the vote. However, even if the Senate agrees with the House and votes as well to kill the overtime rules, the GOP leadership has made clear that they will disregard these democratic votes:

    House GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he expected that the provision would be removed when the House and Senate meet to work out the final version of the bill.
    This is a particularly evil innovation of the GOP-- removing provisions approved by both chambers in conference, effectively making actual votes irrelevant.
    Posted by Nathan at 07:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


    The DC Labor Film Festival is this weekend, at the AFI theatre in Silver Spring, which is reputed to be a great place to see a movie. Check it out.

    Posted by Sam Heldman at 06:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 08, 2004

    A Labor/Jobs Agenda for PA

    How have the Bush years treated working families in the swing state of Pennsylvania? According to The State of Working Pennsylvania 2004 , a report by the Keystone Research Center, it's been a rough ride:

    In July 2004 Pennsylvania had 81,300, or 1.4%, fewer jobs than when the recession began in March of 2001.... employment in the state’s high-wage industries has fallen by 5.6% while employment in low-wage industries has grown by 2.9%

    Manufacturing in particular has gotten creamed, "losing 151,600 jobs since March 2001, a loss of 17.9 percent." This is why an August poll "found that 48% of respondents identified economic issues as the most important problem facing the state."

    But this report isn't all doom and gloom. It ends with a great list of recommendations for how to rebuild Pennsylvania. If you feel a bit irritated every time you hear Kerry give his wimpy economic solutions, here's a list that might be more to your liking -- and a good example of what labor can aim for when we fight at the state level after November:

    • Raise the wages of Pennsylvania’s lowest-paid workers by... raising its minimum wage above the federal level of $5.15 per hour. If the state does not act, local governments should enact their own minimum wages, as San Francisco, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Madison, Wisconsin have done.
    • Help retain Pennsylvania jobs by strengthening preferences for Pennsylvania- and other U.S.-made goods and services.
    • Establish rules to ensure that economic development dollars create good jobs in the places that most need them.
    • Require disclosure of job quality, financial assistance per job (from all sources of state and local assistance), the site of the location where business assistance will be used, and the land-use characteristics of the site.
    • Establish standards for wages and benefits that ensure that the companies receiving assistance pay well above the minimum wage and decently by the standards of their respective industries. The state should also limit total assistance per job and strengthen provisions that require companies to pay back money when they fail to deliver on job and wage promises.
    • Direct economic stimulus, other state and local economic development subsidies, and tax breaks to older, higher-unemployment communities. For example, the General Assembly intended tax increment financing (TIF) districts to attract new businesses into blighted urban areas by giving generous tax breaks. Too often TIFs are now misused to promote development in upscale outlying areas, on farmland, even on trout streams. TIFs should be restricted to redeveloping, reusing, or revitalizing previously developed industrial or commercial property. Similarly, business subsidies and capital budget outlays should strengthen incentives for “infill” projects in abandoned industrial space and shopping centers.
    • Increase state investment in the formation of multi-employer industry partnerships that bring together employers, unions, local governments, and community organizations, usually within a local area, to solve important problems facing employers and workers within an industry.8 Multi-employer partnerships can address common skill, marketing, and employee benefit needs. Partnerships can also promote learning about job retention, organizational practices, and innovation in ways that benefit every member in circumstances where individual employers may lack the economic incentive or knowledge to acquire such information on their own. Just two of the many such partnerships already operating in Pennsylvania are: the Southwestern Pennsylvania Partnership on Aging (SWPPA) which promotes high-quality care and better jobs in long-term care; the Building Trades Apprenticeship Initiative in Reading which helps urban youth to obtain the academic and practical skill needed to enter building trades apprenticeship programs.
    • Enact personal exemptions that eliminate state and local income and wage taxes on the first part of income. Modifying the state constitution to permit personal exemptions was part of a comprehensive state tax reform package put forward by a “PA21” business-labor tax project in a report released in April. With no change in total tax revenue, personal exemptions combined with a higher flat income tax rate would make it possible to reduce the taxes paid by Pennsylvania’s low- and middle-income households. Such a shift would also increase federal income tax deductions claimed by higher-income taxpayers who itemize federal deductions. Both shifting the tax burden away from low- and middle-income taxpayers and increasing federal income tax deductions claimed by Pennsylvanians would stimulate the Pennsylvania economy.
    Posted by RT at 12:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 07, 2004

    EPI State of Working America

    The Economic Policy Institute annually publishes its State of Working America, so I thought I'd highlight some of the most important facts on inequality they document:

  • Incomes: Real median family income declined 1.2% per year from 2000 to 2002, a two-year drop of $1,300 in 2003 dollars. . .2002 set the record for the slowest growth in nominal income growth for the median family since 1954.

  • Jobs: As of June 2004, the economy was still down 1.2 million jobs from the March 2001 peak. . . The employment gain during the latest recovery was only 0.2%. On average, employment increased by 9.5% in the previous nine economic recoveries.

  • Shrinking Middle Class: The middle-earning group of households, defined as those with income from half to twice the median, shrunk to 60.7% in 2002 from 68.0% in 1979.

  • Minimum Wage: In 2003, the minimum wage was worth just 34% of what an average worker earned per hour, the lowest point for this ratio in 40 years. This ratio was about 50% in the late 1960s, about 45% in the mid-1970s and about 40% in the early 1990s.

  • CEO Pay: From 1992 (the first year of data for all but the average CEO) to 2003, the median CEO received an 80.8% raise. In contrast, the median workers’ hourly wage rose 8.7%. . . In 2003, it took a CEO one and a half workdays (260 in a year) to earn what an average worker made in 52 weeks.
    Posted by Nathan at 05:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
  • September 06, 2004

    Introducing the Labor Blog

    Enter a new group blog on labor issues.

    Why? Well, for those of us in and around the labor movement, it's because we think what people do 8+ hours per day, 5+ days a week is where the fate of the nation and the world rests. When workers have power in the workplace, they end up with power in the political world, just as employers use power in the private economy to leverage privileges from the public sector.

    That's the simplest message for many of the political folks who frequent progressive blogs, but the importance of unions goes beyond this year's election to whether there will democracy not just every four years but every day when people go to work. A union is about having a chance to vote on what your benefits will be, whether you have child care or have time to stay home with the kids when you want to, and, at the most basic level, whether you have the dignity of a voice at work.

    But there is a more immediate need for a broad discussion on labor issues. Major changes are coming in the labor movement, as this Business Week article highlights. Some unions are even discussing breaking off from the AFL-CIO to more effectively organize new workers, but whatever happens, there needs to be a broad ranging debate among unionists and progressive allies on what it will take to revive the labor movement and expand the ranks of union members.

    This effort is a work in progress. You'll be seeing additional authors in coming days and while you'll also be seeing additional features soon-- more links to labor resources for example-- the core of the blog is going to be the various voices involved. Please add yours to the comments and join the dialogue.

    BTW as soon as the global databases catch up, this blog can be reached directly at

    Posted by Nathan at 11:07 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

    Labor Day Roundup

    Big Think Pieces in the Media

  • Start with Business Week's Can This Man Save Labor about SEIU's Andy Stern and the debate on the future of labor. (Note the big news that the Carpenters Union is rejoining the AFL-CIO, partly so it can support the Stern-led NUP movement).
    The Nation asks Will Labor Come Back?
  • James Lawson of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference talks about Liberation and Labor Day.
  • From a Canadian perspective: Unions Take Aim at Wal-Mart.

    Unions and the 2004 Election

  • 40,000 unionists protest in New York City.
  • And on the night of Bush's acceptance speech, 15,000 unionists across the country were knocking on doors with an alternative pro-labor message. See here and here and here for stories.
  • John Sweeney is spending the long weekend campaigning for and with John Kerry.
  • Mass mobilization of labor in Pennsylvania to support Kerry.
  • Unions announce plans to monitor election for fraud in cities across the battleground states.

    The Economy

  • The Economic Policy Institute releases its annual State of Working America and the results are not pretty. As the BBC summarizes, many working families still feel no benefit from the US economic recovery.
  • Or as the AFL-CIO simply states, ten million US workers are unemployed or have given up looking. Add in the increases in poverty and those lacking health insurance and the numbers look even grimmer.
  • Part of the reason is the disappearance of call centers, as jobs are sent overseas.
  • Mike Davis writes about the death of the textile industry in the South and around the United States.
  • But CEO pay soars at companies that send jobs to low-wage countries.

    Organizing Campaigns

  • Cintas signs labor agreements at Arkansas and Missouri plants, with the assist of the postal unions.
  • The Steelworkers have joined SEIU and the AFL-CIO in setting up an associate membership system for people without a union in the workplace who still want help from the Steelworkers for fighting for their rights.
  • Independent truckers, denied the right to unionize, are fighting with the support of the Teamsters at the Tacoma port to restore pay due to low rates paid by shipping companies.
  • Labor Notes has a series of article on why and how the UAW should be mounting its campaign to organize Toyota workers in the US.
  • The state government recognized a union for 1200 grad student employees at the University of Illinois at Chicago following a majority of students submitting cards under the state card check system; grad students at University of Pennsylvania intend to keep organizing a union, despite the recent NLRB ruling denying them labor rights under the federal NLRA.
  • Decade old pact between hotels and unions in San Francisco threatens to come apart as bargaining heats up.

    Bargaining and Benefits

  • Due to slashed budgets at the state and local level, public employees salaries are dropping as inflation increases faster than pay.
  • Pilots union weigh abandoning traditional pensions for younger workers, replacing them with 401Ks and similar plans.

    Internal Union Politics

  • Morty Bahr, President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), announces retirement.

    Law and Policy

  • California passes bill to ban outsourcing of taxpayer-funded work to foreign countries.
  • Unions use Presidential campaign to promote the Employee Free Choice Act , which would allow workers to join a union through card checks.

    Unions around the Globe

  • Volkswagen becomes center of German employer fight against the 35-hour work week; street protests are hitting the government for its threat to scale back social welfare spending.
  • Indonesia NGOs and unions are mounting protests against criminal defamation charges brought against a newspaper for attacking a prominent businessman-- a threat to press freedom and union organizing campaigns.
  • Asian Labor News does a roundup of news from China and southeast Asia.
    Posted by Nathan at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
  • Big Is Beautiful

    In November, after the election's over, our next big fight begins -- the WWF Smackdown/Jell-O wrestling match over the future of the AFL-CIO, aka the Coalition of the Dwindling. In one corner: the New Unity Partnership (NUP) tag team of HERE-UNITE, SEIU, the Laborers, and the Carpenters, who say unions have to radically change if we're going to survive.

    Of all of NUP's proposals, the one that's most ticked off unionists is its focus on "union density" -- creating bigger locals and unions that can influence entire industries. While some of this angry reaction is just petty turf fights masquerading as concern over members, there are plenty of progressives who think NUP's focus is a recipie for disaster . But too many of these attacks have used a legitimate issue -- whether NUP takes union democracy seriously enough -- to dodge an important question: should building larger, stronger locals and unions be a priority? I'm a strong believer in union democracy, and I also think Big is Beautiful. Here's why.

    I used to think small was beautiful. Then I had the experience of belonging to small unions.

    The first union was Exhibit A that a small union can be just as undemocratic and out of touch with its members as any large union.

    The second was a great example of union democracy at work. I loved being involved so much that eventually I overcame my severe allergy to spending lots of time in meetings and joined our local's executive board.

    But in the end, I stopped being active. It just got too hard to convince members that our local could make real difference if they got involved. Even if all of our members were ready to storm the barricades, we would still get our asses kicked on almost any issue we really cared about. We just didn't have the numbers.

    What finally swung me into the Big column was getting a job at a large union. It wasn't that I couldn't see the problems of Big -- take me out for a beer and I'll tell you stories that'll make your skin crawl. But I also got to see up close what you can do when you have tons of members working together.

    The first advantage is obvious: lots of active members + lots of money from dues + a decent strategy = big wins. With this kind of resources, you can take on large corporations who would otherwise stomp you into the ground or simply wait you out. You can organize tens of thousands of new members. As the NUP argues, this also means can organize entire industries -- and with that, you can have the leverage to make real gains in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. And speaking for myself, I'm much, much more likely to get active in my union if I know we've got the numbers to really win.

    OK, you say, there's strength in numbers. But why not just have lots of smaller unions work together? What's so great about a bigger union with larger locals?

    My answer: fewer Penis Wars.

    One thing we progressives don't like to talk about is that one of the reasons people -- wonderful, amazing people who have made a real difference -- become leaders is because they want to be the Big Dog. Small locals and union have at best a handful of power positions, which gives people with ego a lot less room to play nice. As a result, you find yourself in the position that UFCW faced in their California Safeway strike, where 13 local presidents had to work together. What are the odds that 13 leaders, each with their own independent power base, will put aside their ego enough to come up with a coherent strategy and message?

    With larger locals, there's a whole lot more constructive room for ego. Sure, you may not get to be the local president or treasurer, but you can be the organizing director or political director or one of their deputies -- someone who's got as much influence on the world as the president of a small local. And speaking from experience, it is much, much easier to get people to work together when there's more room for people to have power without creating lots of tiny, wholly independent fiefdoms.

    Are there dangers with bigger unions? Absolutely. And the easiest way to ensure a big union stays accountable is to build it on a model of mobilizing members.

    As unions learned the hard way in the 80s, it doesn't matter how big your piggy bank is if members aren't willing to hit the streets. And no matter how big a union is, if member don't feel a real sense of ownership, if they don't feel like the union is speaking for them, they aren't going to knock on doors or turn out to rallies or phone bank or do job actions. With the enemies we're facing today, that means that if a large union wants to grow, its members have to feel that the union belongs to them.

    And unlike small unions, large unions don't have any excuses. In a small local, you can be undemocratic and unaccountable but pretend everything's ok -- at the end of the day, you can't be expected to win much. That's the game the leadership of my first union played. But if a large local it isn't able to mobilize a lot of its members and win real victories, its leadership has nowhere to hide.

    If you disagree, if you think small is beautiful, here's what I'd like to know. Where has small really worked? I'm not talking about a handful of courageous folks in one factory who temporarily staved off the boss. I'm talking about hundreds of thousands of new people joining our ranks. I'm talking about winning real increases in wages and benefits for tens of thousands of people.

    Maybe there are plenty of examples where small has won major victories. But until I see the evidence, I'll stick with Big.

    Posted by RT at 10:44 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

    Happy Labor Day

    Happy Labor Day, everyone. This week, we are told, Democrats are supposed to be panicking about the Presidential election. Not me.

    Every day, unions and their members show that it is possible to win an election against tactics like those that the Bush campaign is using. Swift Boat, Zell Miller, Dick Cheney nonsense is nothing new to those of us who have had any part in organizing campaigns. Employers, like the Bush Administration, don't want an honest discussion of the facts – particularly not of the facts about economics. They rely instead on the same sorts of rhetoric that the right wing uses. "Democrats aren't good old folks like you and me, they're elitists who blah blah blah" – "The union is a bunch of fatcats who just want your money and blah blah blah." "Democrats won't keep you safe from the terrorists" – "The union will make you go on strike and you'll lose your job." And when the demonizing and the threats aren't doing the trick, they turn to the plain old lies.

    Can these tactics work? Sometimes. But they can be countered, and countering them has been the lifeblood of labor, of the civil rights movement, and of other organized communities. It's all about organizing.

    In future posts, I'll be talking specifically about developments in labor law and so forth, and I hope to be able to provide information rather than just spouting off. But for now, Happy Labor Day.

    Posted by Sam Heldman at 08:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Bush's War on Workplace Safety

    If I were a Kerry campaign strategist, I'd make up a million copies of that Times story, put a label on it inspired by the one found on cigarette boxes: "Warning: Voting Republican can cause serious risks to your health." Then I'd hire an aircraft to drop them over the length and breadth of West Virginia's coal country.

    David Rossie, Binghamton, NY Press & Sun-Bulletin,

    Rossie is referring to a recent New York Times investigative article describing and all-too-familiar theme of the Bush administration: the selling of workers' interests - in this case their very health and lives - to the administration’s corporate allies. The Times details how, while two or three coal miners are killed every month in mining accidents and hundreds continue to die each year of Black Lung disease, workplace health & safety and environmental regulations are weakened by government officials who are former executives and lobbyists of mining companies that are major contributors of campaign funds to the Republican party.

    But the Times report on selling out coal miners is only small part of the story of the Bush administration's war against the safety and health of American workers.

    Only a week after the mine industry article, the New York Times and Washington Post published articles on the same day describing how the Bush administration, through almost unnoticed changes in regulations, have made OSHA, MSHA and other government agencies charged with protecting our health and safety more friendly to business interests and more hostile to workers' safety, consumer safety and the environment.

    None of this is new to anyone who has been following the grand themes and secret moves of the Bush administration over the past three and a half years. In fact, the very first major piece of legislation signed by George W. Bush in March 2001 was the repeal of OSHA's ergonomics standard -- the first time in OSHA's 30-year history that an existing workplace safety and health standard had been rescinded.

    Rolling, Rolling, Rolling Back Regulations...

    The ergonomics standard was only the first of many regulatory rollbacks of the Bush administration. During Bush's first two years in office, OSHA abandoned work on 21 standards. The administration withdrew a standard to protect workers against tuberculosis, despite a recommendation by the National Institute of Medicine that the standard be issued. And the administration has stalled another standard ready to be issued at the end of the Clinton administration, that would have required employees to pay for employees' personal protective equipment, such as gloves and boots.

    Meanwhile, the Bush administration and the Republican congress have adopted measures to undermine the science behind workplace health and safety (and environmental) standards by downgrading the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and implementing the Data Quality Act which gives industry new tools to challenge new (and old) protections.

    As a substitute for mandatory, enforceable standards, OSHA has significantly expanded its voluntary activities in an effort to transform the agency from an enforcement body to an advisory organization. Alliances with industry associations are the newest program developed under the Bush administration as a substitute for issuing enforceable standards. While OSHA has engaged in voluntary activities since the Reagan administration, Bush's Alliances are the first time that labor unions have been almost completely excluded.

    A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that while participants in the voluntary programs reported them to be successful, no one was collecting any comprehensive data that would enable OSHA or the GAO to assess the real effectiveness of the program. Furthermore, the GAO warns, OSHA's planned expansion of these unproven programs threatens to cut further into OSHA's already inadequate enforcement budget.

    Enforcing Safe Workplaces

    An area in critical need of federal intervention is the growing workplace fatality rate among immigrant workers, particularly Hispanics. A recent Associated Press investigation showed that in the mid-190's, Mexican workers were about 30 percent more likely to die in the workplace than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely to die.

    Yet instead of addressing the issue head on, Bush's Department of Labor recently held a one-day Hispanic Summit in Orlando that served primarily as a press opportunity to give away money to Hispanic organizations in the battleground state of Florida. Unions and community groups who work closely with immigrant workers were not invited and even NIOSH dropped its co-sponsorship because it was so frustrated with DOL's refusal to invite grass-roots organizations to discuss the problems and work collectively on developing solutions. In fact the only sponsors of the Summit were two Bush-backing Hispanic business associations.

    Of increasing concern, especially if George W. Bush is re-elected, is the fate of OSHA's budget and enforcement capability. There are currently 2,240 federal and state OSHA inspectors responsible for enforcing the law in 8.1 million workplaces. According to an AFL-CIO analysis, at its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 106 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.

    Labor observers fear that planned across-the-board budget cuts will further shrink OSHA's pie, while growing voluntary activities take ever-larger slices away from enforcement and new standards.

    In addition to the low probability that any given workplace will ever be inspected, OSHA's penalty structure remains a laughing stock. A hard-hitting New York Times series at the end of 2003 revealed that 93 percent of all fatalities caused by willful violations of OSHA standards are not prosecuted as criminal violations. In other words, knowingly putting a worker into a situation where he or she is killed almost never results in a penalty worse that fines which often amount to a few thousand dollars and rarely more than $100,000 even to large companies. Despite bills proposed by Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Congressman Major Owens (D-NY) that would make it easier for OSHA to impose criminal penalties and jail time on employers for willful violations of OSHA standards that result in the death of a worker, the Bush administration has declared that it sees no need to change the law.

    What Is to be done?

    Almost 6,000 workers were killed in workplace accidents in 2002 - far more Americans than were killed on September 11, 2001 and (so far) in the war in Iraq combined. Another 50,000 - 60,000 workers die each year from occupational disease caused by asbestos, pesticides, solvents and other chemicals. Yet no Bush speech on the economy is complete without trashing "regulations" that allegedly impede economic growth.

    So, why aren't the Democrats making Bush's attacks on workplace safety and health major campaign issues, especially in blue collar areas that suffer the most traditional workplace hazards, or among health care and service sector worker who suffer the most ergonomics injuries?

    Clearly, there are other, more important "crimes" of the Bush administration to focus on -- the misguided war in Iraq, unemployment, tax cuts for the walthy, lower living standards and the loss of pensions and overtime to name just a few.

    But almost everyone who votes also goes to work, many in construction sites, factories, hospitals, highways, coal mines and offices that threaten their health -- and even their lives -- every day. The connection that workers need to make, (and that Democratic politicians fail to promote) is that their likelihood of coming home safe and sound after work is directly affected by what happens in the voting booth.

    It’s not hard to see why these connections are not being made. First, as the Post and Times series made clear, many of the regulatory attacks that affect workplace safety (as well as the environment and consumer safety) happen behind the scenes, far away from the headlines of local newspapers or the 11:00 news. In addition, there are fewer and fewer reporters -- in large or small papers -- who understand even the most basic labor issues, much less the intricacies of workplace safety or regulatory law.

    While workplace fatalities often garner a few short paragraphs in the local news, reporters generally rely on the employer’s explanation that the accident was an unforeseen act of God, instead of looking into the precautions and regulations that were ignored – often not for the first time. By the time the ineffective penalties have been handed down by OSHA, the press is no longer paying attention. No connection is made between OSHA's ineffectual response and the actions of politicians and industry associations in far away Washington D.C.

    Only when workers are educated about the root causes of unsafe workplaces –- causes that reside not only in management failures to make the workplace safe, but also in politicians’ actions that further weaken government oversight; only when workers start questioning the politicians and candidates about why their safety is under attack and what they're going to do to change it; and only when unions recognize the full organizing potential of workplace safety issues; only then will we see workplace safety rise onto the radar screens of political campaigns.

    There are a few signs of progress. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is campaigning across Ohio with John Kerry. In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, Sweeney noted that

    Union members have their own independence and make up their own minds....They are influenced by other members in their households, their communities and their workplace. But we are finding that people recognize how anti-worker, anti-union this administration has been with regard to overtime, safety and health, ergonomics and the lack of attention to the minimum wage.
    I'm not quite as confident as John Sweeney is about how many people recognize how anti-worker the Bush administration has been with regard to safety, health or ergonomics. I think we still have some way to go to make the connections that will move people beyond the platitudes and into the issues that actually affect their daily lives.

    How do we get there? What are you doing for the next 60 days?

    ** Jordan Barab is the author of Confined Space: News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics He has worked for labor unions and federal OSHA on workplace safety and health issues for more than 20 years.

    Posted by Jordan Barab at 07:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 01, 2004

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