September 30, 2005

Crony Capitalism at our Nuclear Facilities

What could be worse than our nation's hurricaine response being left in the hands of incompetent Bush cronies?

How about the safety of our nuclear plants handed over to an incompetent GOP corporate crony, a company which has repeatedly botched security drills and lied about it to cover up its incompetence.

This is Wackenhut, the foreign-owned security firm that guards many army bases and US nuclear facilities, a company that has:

So why does Wackenhut keep getting these security contracts?   Because of the usual government revolving door, where ex-government officials leverage their connections to get contracts for substandard privatization.  Just look at this list of ex-GOPers on Wackenhut's board:

Admiral David E. Jeremiah - Board Chair.  Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Gulf War, president of one defense contractor and director of several others; paid consultant for Boeing regarding the Air Force's tanker acquisition.

John S. Foster - Director.  After career in the Defense and Energy world, member of a range of advisory bodies, defense company boards, and neocon causes.

Troy Wade - Director.  Assistant Secretary for defense programs at DOE during the Reagan Administration, former Deputy Manager of DOE's Nevada Operations Office, and a member of President Bush's Transition Advisory Team on Energy, where Ken Lay -former CEO of Enron - served as a co-member.

As Public Citizen has written, the Bush administration has resisted improving security at our nuclear facilities because it "has a fierce ideological aversion to regulation, and two, the administration is heavily indebted to the nuclear industry and electric utilities for generous campaign contributions."

In fact, as a National Academy of Sciences report detailed, the administration has been systematically withholding information on potential security lapses by companies like Wackenhut.

SEIU International union has been birddogging these problems at their Eye on Wackenhut site, revealing how corporate cronyism is undermining our nuclear safety programs.

Posted by Nathan at 09:50 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Britain's Minimum Wage to $8.89 per hour

How pathetic is the US minimum wage of $5.15 per hour compared to the United Kingdom, where the minimum wage will increase to $8.89 per hour on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Predictably, business is bleating about the cost and supposed employment effects. However, the United Kingdom had no official minimum wage until 1999, but studies have shown no adverse employment effects from its introduction.

In fact, since introducing its quite high minimum wage, the United Kingdom has seen better job growth than the United States and in 2003 (according to OECD comparison), had a higher percentage of its working population employed than the United States.

So if the UK can employ more people with a minimum wage so much higher than the US, it shows that the arguments against raising our minimum wage are empty.

Posted by Nathan at 12:42 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

2006: National Showdown in the Hotel Industry

In San Francisco, a number of hotels have caved into union demands to have a new union contract expire in 2006, next year.  This follows most Los Angeles hotels agreeing a few months ago to a contract that expires next year.

These two cities will therefore join simultaneous contract negotiations in New York, Boston, Honolulu, Chicago and Toronto, a total of 75,000 hotel workers around the country-- and the opportunity to negotiate not just city-by-city but to establish a national contract with the major hotel chains.

What is this critical? The reality of the hotel industry is that there are a few cities like New York, Las Vegas, and San Francisco where most of the major hotels are unionized, and there are a vast number of smaller cities and towns where only a handful or no hotels have a union-- -- and those cities have the low pay to prove it.

National negotiations open up the possibility of not just leveraging greater national pressure to raise standards in already unionized cities, but to negotiate national agreements for "card check" and "neutrality" provisions that would make organizing in non-union cities far easier.

Now, the national chains recognized this and have fought like hell against a convergence of contract expiration dates.  But except for a few holdouts in San Francisco (who may yet cave), it looks like 2006 is set to be a national showdown in the hotel industry of potentially epic proportions.  

Similarly, SEIU recently was able to force card check deals for janitors in Houston using pressure from around the country on national chains, just as CWA has used its negotiations with its Bell companies like SBC to leverage organizing in previously non-union cell phone divisions-- adding thousands of workers in the South to the union.

Using power established in already unionized areas to leverage new organizing in non-union areas of the country is one of the critical tools needed for labor revival.

The hotel workers are set to make 2006 the year they bring that strategy to bear on the major national chains, so progressives need to recognize the stakes in this coming fight and prepare to help in whatever way they can.

Posted by Nathan at 11:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005

Nurses to Join AFL-CIO

Even as a bunch of unions have headed for the door, the California Nurses Association is seeking to join the AFL-CIO. The irony is that the CNA clashed with the AFL unions, particularly SEIU, over various strategies in the health care industry, but just as SEIU leaves the AFL, CNA rejoins.

Posted by Nathan at 11:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Free Trade with Rich Rapists

When union advocates demand that labor rights be included in trade agreements with other countries, the typical response is that it's unfair to impose rich countries' standards on poor countries.

Even putting aside why poor countries can't afford basic human rights to speak in the workplace, what will be the excuse of the "free trade" crowd in defending a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, one of the wealthiest nations per capita on earth?

As this report in the NY Times details, this is also a country with some of the most savage abuse of workers in the world:

Of the one million Dubai residents, fewer than 200,000 are citizens...The United Arab Emirates has earned the dubious distinction of having some of the worst labor conditions. Human Rights Watch has cited the country for discrimination, exploitation and abuse. Many foreign workers, especially women, face intimidation and violence, including sexual assault, at the hands of employers, supervisors, and police and security forces, the rights group said, while children are especially vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation and denial of basic rights.

Unionizing is forbidden, and most workers have no recourse other than the Labor Ministry.

The story highlights one case where the Labor Ministry actually helped out one small group of workers, no doubt a small gesture to declare to the US public that conditions are improving, but help that will no doubt disappear the day after a trade agreement is signed.

Unless binding commitments to respect labor rights are included in the agreement, with enforcement mechanisms included where workers, not just governments, can bring a case for decision.

Such a mechanism is not going to happen under this President, but if we can't even say No on a trade agreement to rich emirs raping their employees, when will we ever say no to worker abuse?

Posted by Nathan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

Clinton's Pro-Labor Politics

Mickey Kaus has decided to, in his description, play Bill Clinton in bashing labor unions as compared to paleoliberals like Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias (Matt knows how funny I find that characterization of him :) who are defending Davis-Bacon wage standards.

Except that Kaus is either disingenuous or an idiot, since Clinton enacted some decidely pro-labor policies. Yes, he supported NAFTA, but on the issue of government contracts, Clinton passed a series of policies to make sure federal contracts would go to unionized companies, including

  • Defending Davis-Bacon from Republican attack.
  • Passing an executive order banning any company using replacement workers in a strike from receiving federal contracts -- unfortunately overturned by the conservative DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Enacting regulations to require new federal contractors to retain existing workers from previous contractors (repealed under Bush).
  • Creating regulations to ban environmental and labor lawbreakers from receiving federal contract (repealed under Bush).

    In other areas of labor protection, Clinton also:

  • Vetoed the Republican attempts to legalize company unions (the so-called TEAM Act).
  • Enacted ergonomic regulations to stop repetitive stress injuries (repealed by Bush).
  • Supported legislation to completely ban the use of permanent replacement workers by private companies (filibustered by the GOP).
  • Created new regulations to streamline claims of workers suffering from black lung disease (repealed under Bush).
  • Appointed members to the National Labor Relations Board who extended labor rights to graduate student employees, temp workers and a range of other workers-- and generally ruling in favor of union rights.
  • Blocked mergers in the telecom industry by anti-union MCI and Sprint, thereby encouraging the surival of mostly unionized companies in the industry.
  • Signed the Family and Medical Leave Act and enacted a series of regulations with strong enforcement components.

    Labor and Clinton had some serious disagreements, as noted on trade especially, but even there Clinton came around to supporting strong labor standards, as in the Jordan free trade agreement and at the 1989 WTO trade summit.

    And that's because he understood, unlike Kaus, that no progressive policy is possible without workers having their own voice at work. The true insanity of Kaus's position is captured in this quote of his:

    In the real world, if we want worker protections, unions are an increasingly obsolete way of delivering them; it's generally better to guarantee worker safety through OSHA, for example, than unions
    Go read Jordan Barab's blog, Confined Space, where, day after day, he documents the ongoing failure of OSHA to protect worker safety and health. Seriously, go scroll down Jordan's blog and see if you can stop giggling uncontrollably at Kaus's idiocy.

    The reality is that without a union in a workplace, workers are afraid to enforce their rights for fear of losing their jobs. It is a delusion of liberals that the government by itself can overcome the autocratic power of employers over their employees. Workers need a voice IN THE WORKPLACE to enforce their rights, which is why real progressives support labor rights.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
  • September 22, 2005

    Katrina Refugees Used as Scabs in SF

    About a dozen evacuees from Hurricane Katrina are filling in for striking workers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, hospital officials said Saturday.

    The workers -- among them janitorial staff and nursing assistants from the storm-ravaged gulf -- are employed by a temporary employment agency, CPMC Medical Director Allan Pont said.

    Not only is Bush trying to use Katrina to repeal wage standards in the Gulf Coast, they seem to be placing the refugees in scab jobs to undercut union wages in other cities.

    Maybe the Katrina refugees just happened to all end up at one temp agency on their own, but given the Bush record, I'll assume this was deliberate until we can find proof otherwise.

    Posted by Nathan at 09:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 21, 2005

    OSHA Nominee A Gift to Workers From A Union Busting Law Firm

    Reprinted From Confined Space

    So it turns out that the nomination of Edwin Foulke as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA last week is looking more and more like a typical Bush administration move: Appoint a Republican political operative to head an agency that he's spent most of his career working to undermine. Except in this case, there's an extra twist. Foulke is not just a Republican mover and shaker in South Carolina, he's also a partner at Jackson-Lewis, one of the most notorious union-busting lawfirms in the country. How appropriate for a Bush Administration Assistant Secretary of Labor.

    I realized that when I wrote the original post that Jackson Lewis resided on the dark side, but I didn't have time to do much research that evening. Little did I know how easy the research would be. Just Google "Jackson Lewis" + "union busting" and you come up with 322 hits. Substitute "union busting" with the more polite phrase "union avoidance" and you get 304 hits.

    Jackson Lewis publishes a newsletter called Preventive Strategies and one of their main Practice Areas is Labor Relations, including Preventive Practices"

    Committed to the practice of preventive labor relations through issue assessment, supervisory training, policy development, and positive communications, Jackson Lewis has assisted many employers in winning NLRB elections or in avoiding union elections altogether. (emphasis added)
    Much of Jackson-Lewis's evildoing, or "preventive labor relations" came to light nationally in a New York Times article last year that described how Enersys, a company that had hired Jackson Lewis to help it "avoid" a union, sued the law firm for malpractice, accusing Jackson Lewis of advising it to engage in illegal behavior.

    You've really got to read the entire article. It's a nightmare about how the workers at the plant chose to organize with the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE), despite the anti-union campaign organized by Jackson Lewis for the company. The company then fired a union steward and broke numerous other labor laws leading to an NLRB complaint citing 120 violations of federal law, among them wrongly firing union leaders, assisting the anti-union campaign, improperly withdrawing union recognition and moving production to nonunion plants as retaliation. The company then refused to sign a contract and threatened layoffs unless the union agreed to a "gainsharing program," that would provide bonuses based on productivity increases. The company never provided the bonuses and it was later discovered never had any intention to. (More on Enersys here.)

    Even Tonight Show host Jay Leno doesn't think much of union busting firms like Jackson, Lewis:

    Unionists have a good reason to watch "The Tonight Show". Its host, comedian Jay Leno, just busted the number-one union busting law firm, Jackson, Lewis, out of a lucrative deal.

    Leno was scheduled to appear at the Society of Human Resource Management's annual convention in Las Vegas on June 25-28 - that is until union research Rick Rehberg found out about it. Rehberg, a corporate researcher for the Food & Allied Service Trades, an AFL-CIO department, kept coming across Jackson, Lewis in the 25 or so union campaigns he's worked on.

    That's not surprising since the notorious law firm has defeated organizing drives in over 30 states. And they've done it mean and dirty. For example, the New York Daily News reported the law firm was responsible for setting up armed guards at factory gates in at least three states to stop union organizing campaigns. And Jackson, Lewis routinely advises companies to set up forced overtime when union meetings are scheduled, watch workers during break time to detect potential organizing drives, and prohibit workers' communication to thwart the distribution of union material.

    Companies pay big money to Jackson, Lewis and other union busters for exactly that kind of information. In fact, union busting is a billion dollar industry. Jackson, Lewis charges $1,200 to $1,600 a person for running seminars titled, "How to Stay Union Free in Today's Era of Corporate Campaigns" and "Best Employer Practices to Stay Union Free in the Millennium". But thanks to Leno, Jackson, Lewis, won't be garnering a hefty check at this year's SHRM conference.

    You can also find stories about J-L's participation in notorious campaigns against the unionization of Borders Bookstores, Berlin Health & Rehabilitation Center in Berlin, Vermont, Episcopal Church Home, nursing home in Rochester, NY, and Patient Care in New York City and many, many more. Infuriated after losing a 2002 election at Saint-Gobain Abrasives factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, Jackson Lewis even went so far as to file an unfair labor practice suit against Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) because he told workers that they should vote for the union (which they did.)

    Foulke isn't directly part of J-L's union-busting practice. He belongs to the "Workplace Safety Compliance, including Violence Prevention" practice:

    To assist in compliance efforts and to reduce the likelihood of a citation, we advise employers in developing safety programs and conducting preventive self-audits to pinpoint and remedy potential legal vulnerabilities.
    Yes, you read that right. The purpose of Jackson Lewis's safety programs and self audits is not to protect workers from getting injured or killed, but to "pinpoint and prevent potential legal vulnerabilities." We all have our priorities.

    And then there's the Violence Prevention part, which from J-L's perspective seems to be instruction in how to lay off troublesome employees without having them come back in and blow your head off. No mention is made of the overwhelming cause of workplace violence like retail store robberies and assaults of mental health and social service workers.

    Foulke was also a member of J-L's Management Training practice, which includes programs on "maintaining union-free status."

    Whether or not Foulke participated directly in Jackson Lewis's union busting activities, he certainly didn't have a whole lot of good things to say about one of labor's priorities throughout the 1990's, OSHA's ergonomics standard that was repealed by the Bush administration in 2001:

    "It should be called the OSHA Lawyers' Full Employment Act," says Edwin Foulke, himself an attorney who specializes in OSHA-related issues for the Jackson Lewis law firm based in Washington, D.C. "I would have liked to have seen voluntary guidelines. Most employers want to do the right thing, but this will just be a big record-keeping exercise."

    Foulke and other skeptics claim there isn't enough science yet to prescribe precise fixes for problems....

    While Foulke was basically J-L's OSHA guy, questions need to be asked (preferably by Senators at his confirmation hearing) about what Foulke thinks about workers' right to organize. Was he in sync with the union busting activities of Jackson Lewis? Are union organizing campaigns that focus on health and safety issues a healthy sign of worker involvement or a sign of trouble? What does he think about behavioral safety programs that blame workers for accidents?

    What does he think about the role of the "worker representative" as described in the OSHA law? Is it a good thing if workers exercise their rights to push management into improving safety conditions? Coming out of such a virulently anti-union firm, will he be able to work with unions? Unlike any other Republican administrations since OSHA was created in 1971, the Bush appointees have refused, with rare exceptions, to work seriously with unions. Will he continue this practice?

    So what does all this mean for OSHA over the next 3 ½ years?

    The bottom line is that we’re somewhat lacking in actual health and safety expertise in OSHA's front office. We now have attorneys in all of the top three jobs: Foulke, an attorney from a union busting lawfirm, a local Republican Party chairman and an officer in the Republican National Lawyer’s Association; Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare, a former Texas political operative, member of the Republican National Lawyer’s Association and former lobbyist for Metabolife, maker of the killer drug ephedra; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Steve Witt, an attorney who has worked at a variety of positions in OSHA's Washington headquarters since 1985.

    What all this means is no major regulations except those ordered by the courts, more emphasis (if that’s possible) on costly, unproven voluntary programs like VPP and alliances, continued frosty relations (or no relations) with labor unions, enforcement will continue muddle along increasingly strained for resources and there will be little, if any, Congressional oversight unless the Democrats take back one house of Congress next year.

    In other words, status quo.

    Posted by Jordan Barab at 07:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 18, 2005

    Arnie Officially Declares War on Unions

    Making official what everyone knew was true in the background, Schwarzenneger has made passage of the anti-union Prop. 75 part of his agenda.

    Prop 75 would hobble public employee unions by forcing them to get written permission every year for political donations. Corporations of course will remain free to spend shareholder money on politics without ever getting permission.

    As the article linked to emphasizes, Arnie has been the shadow presence behind the proposition from the beginning:

    Schwarzenegger adviser Joel Fox took a major role in qualifying the measure for the ballot and the governor's chief strategist, Mike Murphy, has said its passage would be "great for our re-election."
    Of course, none of the other propositions Arnie is backing even rate majority support in the polls. Proposition 75 had been trending towards passage, but a great irony would be if the governor's endorsement kills it.

    If the attack on public unions is seen for what it is, a GOP political tactic, some of the support for the initiative from moderates who might have bought it as a "fair" chance for union members to get a yearly say over political money, will recognize that it's really a way to tilt the political balance towards completely unaccountable corporations and the GOP.

    Posted by Nathan at 03:38 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    A Corporate Criminal Robbing Workers & Taxpayers

    In a just society, this man would be in jail, instead of let loose to victimize more Americans:

    Robert Miller is a turnaround artist with a Dickensian twist. He unlocks hidden value in floundering Rust Belt companies by jettisoning their pension plans..

    As chief executive of Bethlehem Steel in 2002, Mr. Miller shut down the pension plan, leaving a federal program to meet the company's $3.7 billion in unfunded obligations to retirees...

    Now Mr. Miller is at Delphi, the auto parts maker that was spun off by General Motors in 1999. If past is prologue, one of the most powerful turnaround tools at his disposal will be his ability to ditch Delphi's pension fund.

    Let's be clear about what these kinds of financial moves are about. Companies made contracts over many years committing them to pay for the pensions of their workers over many years. The employees did that work and the pension money owed is their money.

    Defaulting on those obligations for the benefit of private profits is nothing more than theft. It may get dressed up with a suit and the robbery is done with a pen, but these are the "looters" who should be on the front page of our newspapers in the crime section.

    Posted by Nathan at 09:02 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    September 16, 2005

    Did Davis-Bacon Suspension Violate the Law?

    It appears based on this Congressional Research Report that Bush violated the 1976 National Emergencies Act in failing to follow proper procedures in suspending Davis-Bacon wage regulations.  Dems at the Education and Workforce Committee are denouncing Bush for this illegal behavior.

    Now, whether Bush said the right "magic words" may not matter to any court that could potentially rule on the issue.

    But here's the important clause in the National Emergencies Act (NEA) (50 USC 1622(b)) that could land "moderate" Republicans between a rock (Delay & Bush) and their constituents:

    (b) Termination review of national emergencies by Congress

    Not later than six months after a national emergency is declared, and not later than the end of each six-month period thereafter that such emergency continues, each House of Congress shall meet to consider a vote on a joint resolution to determine whether that emergency shall be terminated.

    Why is this key?

    Because in six months, a bunch of Republicans in swing districts who claim to be pro-labor may have to vote on whether to continue the suspension of Davis-Bacon.

    If they vote with Delay, this could be the vote to knock a number out of them out of office.  And if they vote with labor, it would be a massive national defeat for Bush and Delay.

    The GOP has been able to control the agenda and prohibit most votes that might embarass those "pro-labor" Republicans (or give them a chance to rebel).  But the NEA may require a mandatory vote.

    Avoiding this possibility may be why Bush didn't want to formally invoke the NEA.

    Whether there's a loophole for Bush and Delay to avoid that vote in six months in unclear at this point, but it's an enticing idea to have an up-or-down labor vote in the Spring right before mid-term elections. In any case, it gives all of us a good reason to begin quizzing these swing Republicans on where they stand on whether US reconstruction money should be going to sweatshop contractors.

    Posted by Nathan at 07:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 15, 2005

    Is Davis-Bacon Racist?

    Professing a newfound horror at employment discrimination, conservatives like and Cato Institute are reviving the hoary argument that Davis-Bacon is racist. Instead of giving my own response to their argument, let me quote Bayard Rustin, the great civil rights organizer, in his response to Nixon's suspension of Davis-Bacon a generation ago. (Don't know who Rustin is, shame, shame, and read here and here.)

    Here was Bayard Rustin's scathing view of the gambit of Republicans of trying to pit the interests of unions against African Americans in his famous Harpers article, The Blacks and the Unions, a piece that also raked over liberals who bought into their arguments:

    The truth about the situation of the Negro today is that there are powerful forces, composed largely of the corporate elite and Southern conservatives, which will resist any change in the economic or racial structure of this country that might cut into their resources or challenge their status; and such is precisely what any program genuinely geared to improve his lot must do...
    Of all the misconceptions about the labor movement that have been so lovingly dwelt on in the liberal press, perhaps none is put forth more often and is further from the truth than that the unions are of and for white people...the percentage of blacks in the unions is a good deal higher than the percentage of blacks in the total population...

    [T]he President's approach to the problem of inflation in construction costs cannot succeed since he has made the typical businessman's error of identifying wages as the major inflationary factor...The concern with increasing the supply while reducing the cost of labor is what motivated the Nixon administration's most recent act in the construction field-the suspension of the 1931 Davis-Bacon and financing, not labor, have been the major causes of inflation in construction. Nevertheless, the President continues his crusade against "wage inflation."

    The suspension of the Act will not directly affect the wages of unionized workers who are protected by their contract. It will, however, enable contractors to cut the wages of nonunion workers, and this, in turn, should encourage the employment of these workers instead of the higher paid unionists. Thus, there will be fewer jobs for organized workers (there is already an 11 per cent unemployment rate in the construction industry), and the bargaining power of the unions will be weakened. Since many of the unorganized workers are nonwhite, it might be argued that this is a boon to their fortunes since they will be more likely to find work. Aside from the fact that they will be working for lower wages, the question is again raised whether it is in the interests of blacks to let themselves be used by employers to hurt unions. I do not think that it is. Their interests lie in becoming part of the trade union movement...

    The blacks have a choice. They can fight to strengthen the trade union movement by wiping out the vestiges of segregation that remain in it, or they can, knowingly or unknowingly, offer themselves as pawns in the conservatives' game of bust-the-unions.

    Rustin was not blind to the continued discrimination in parts of the building trade union sector. But he saw the attack on the unions by the rightwing as obviously opportunistic given their lack of action in other areas of non-union discrimination:
    Racial discrimination exists in the building trades. It is unjustifiable by any moral standard, and as to the objective of rooting it out there can be no disagreement among people of good will...

    Why, in fact, would a President who has developed a "Southern strategy," who has cut back on school integration efforts, tried to undermine the black franchise by watering down the 1965 Voting Rights Act, nominated to the Supreme Court men like Haynsworth and Carswell, cut back on funds for vital social programs, and proposed a noxious crime bill for Washington, DC, which is nothing less than a blatant appeal to white fear-why indeed would such a President take up the cause of integration in the building trades?..

    The advantages to the Republicans from this kind of strategy should be obvious. Nixon supports his friends among the corporate elite and hurts his enemies in the unions. He also gains a convenient cover for his anti-Negro policies in the South, and, above all, he weakens his political opposition by aggravating the differences between its two strongest and most progressive forces-the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

    With small modification, this whole piece could be reprinted to highlight how a Bush administration, oblivious to continued racism in a range of industries, suddenly uses Katrina and the supposed discriminatory impact of Davis-Bacon to launch an assault on decent wages in the construction industry down South.

    But the bottom-line of Rustin's piece remains. The problems of black poverty will not be solved by dividing work into a larger number of ever lower-paid jobs, but through a commitment to full employment of all workers at decent wages that can be a ladder to the middle class.

    If Katrina opens up a building boom of jobs at decent levels, its Reconstruction can be the basis of building a new expanded middle class of black workers in the South, with the wages and training to continue in the building trades and associated high-skill services for the future.

    Or it can be the conversion of the building sector into a permanent sweatshop sector that ends up being not a ladder, but a trap-door to permanent poverty wages for all in the sector.

    With an estimated $200 billions to be spent on reconstruction, the choice between those two options is stark. Bayard Rustin was clear on the cynical purposes of the rightwing GOP in promoting the latter approach.

    One wonders if liberals will be vigilant enough to make fighting for the first option the centerpiece of their fight in the Katrina aftermath.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 14, 2005

    Bush: Suspend Wage Rules for Service Workers

    Having suspended prevailing wage rules for construction work under the Davis-Bacon Act, the Bush brigade now wants to suspend rules requiring decent wages for service workers:

    Labor Department and White House officials are examining a similar move for service workers covered by the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act, which extended prevailing wage rules to service workers. Administration officials are concerned that workers on demolition and debris removal jobs could protest that even with construction wage supports lifted, they should be paid prevailing wages because their work is more service-related than construction-related.
    Here is where the administration desire to subcontract everything in sight hoists them on their own petard.  Since support services will probably get distinct contracts from obvious construction efforts, they are stuck with a lot of employment that demands prevailing wages under the Service Contract Act.

    But the Bush folks face a problem in suspending the Service Contract Act.

    Davis-Bacon has a specific provision allowing the President to suspend it during a national emergency.

    The Service Contract Act does not, and its suspension may be unprecedented, labor experts say.
    Given that the government may be running a whole range of support services for reconstruction efforts, if service workers are getting prevailing wages and the construction workers are not, you can expect hell to pay by those construction workers.

    But the Bushies will be immediately in court if they suspend the Service Contract Act.

    Do they really want a full-blown court case highlighting their attacks on decent wages, even as the working poor in Louisiana and Mississippi, led by groups like ACORN, are protesting their callousness?

    Posted by Nathan at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Katrina Workplace Safety and Health Resources

    Reprinted from Confined Space

    Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Keeping Workers Safe During Clean Up and Recovery Operations Following Hurricanes

    And although you wouldn't know it from OSHA's hurricane-related materials, workers have a number of rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act
    National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Hurricane Katrina Response: Storm and Flood Cleanup

    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' (NIEHS) Worker Education and Training Program (WETP): Hurricane Katrina Resources

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Hurricane Katrina Response

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Hurricane Katrina Health & Safety

    Department of Homeland Security, which also includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)


    Effect Measure has a number of good postings on Katrina-related public health issues like mosquitos, Information about infections, E. coli and God's role in the disaster.

    The Labor Department has a webpage addressing Hurricane Recovery Assistance, including information about recovery jobs and Disaster Unemployment Assistance

    Finally, the New Orleans Times Picayune is still publishing from a college dorm room after its offices were inundated by the flood. Check it out.

    Posted by Jordan Barab at 07:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 13, 2005

    That AFL-CIO Split? Maybe Not Such a Big Deal

    Teamsters & CWA to Jointly Represent Agents at Merged Airline

    Well, worries that the disaffiliation of unions from the AFL-CIO would undermine the ability of unions to work together in the workplace seems to have been overblown.

    The Teamsters, one of the disaffiliators, and the Communication Workers of America, one of the more vocal AFL loyalistist unions, have agreed to an innovative plan to jointly represent passenger service agents at US Airways when the merger of America West and US Airways is completed.

    CWA represents 6,000 passenger agents at US Airways currently, and IBT represents 3,500 agents at America West. The employees work as reservations, ticket and gate agents, and also staff hospitality clubs at airports and assist handicapped passengers.

    "By working together, we can build a strong, unified passenger service group and protect and improve conditions for employees that both unions represent at US Airways," said CWA's [President Larry] Cohen.

    "This joint effort will result in strong representation for all workers at the newly merged airline," {Teamster's President James] Hoffa said

    The plan creates a very integrated association of the members of the two unions for purposes of bargaining and other company-wide purposes, although each union will continue to represent their former members on a day-to-day basis.

    But it's a pretty impressive testament to the continued ability of unions to innovate cooperation even after the "split" in the AFL-CIO.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    The Joke that is the Bush NLRB

    Here's why unions are doing everything possible to avoid elections supervised by the anti-union clowns running the Bush NLRB:

    In an election held last year at Werthan Packaging company, supervisors ran a campaign of intimidation against workers to convince them to vote against the union. One supervisor approached a worker wearing a union button and told them to vote no on the union or they'd lose their job. Another worker was told tthat it would be in "her best interest and in her family's best interest" to vote no, the threat very clear. Similar approaches were made in front of other workers to twenty-five other employees. The union ended up losing the 2004 election by 11 votes.

    A front-line hearing officer for the NLRB found the intimidation so egregious, with intimation of over 25 employees more than the 11 vote union loss, so he ordered the election set aside and a new election held.

    But on August 26, the majority on the national NLRB board overturned the case officer's decision in its Werthan Packaging, Inc. decision.

    Here's what the majority said:

    Contrary to the hearing officer, we cannot conclude that Adkisson’s statement to Stokes that it was in Stokes’ and her family’s best interest that the Employer wanted her to vote “no” constituted an impermissible threat. An employer’s telling an employee that it would be in that person’s or family’s “best interest” to vote against the union, unaccompanied by threats, is too vague to warrant a finding that the employer was threatening the employee.
    Workers may testify that they understood the implied threat, but the Bush NLRB has now said that all an employer need do is play games with language to code their threats and they are scott-free under the law.

    Oh, and those twenty-five other workers approached? Since the hearing officer didn't have testimony from each one, the fact that other workers observed them being interogated was irrelevant:

    there is no evidence concerning the content of the conversations Adkisson had with the 25 employees she talked with after speaking to Stokes. All Stokes witnessed was Adkisson approaching employees, and then writing something down on a clipboard.
    So right after interrogating one worker, and writing down their pro-union status, that same supervisor approaches other workers, then writes down something on the same clipboard, but you can't conclude anything about what the supervisor was doing?

    What a farce.

    As the one Democratic member on this 3-member panel argued -- two of the five members of the NLRB board are nominated by Democrats -- this decision is in sharp contrast to an NLRB decision, Harborside Healthcare Inc., where the board readily set aside an election where supervisors made PRO-union statements. As Liebman wrote in dissent to Werthman:

    The majority’s approach stands in sharp contrast to the Board’s recent decision in Harborside Healthcare, Inc., 343 NLRB No. 100 (2004). There, the majority inferred that a prounion supervisor threatened certain employees, based solely on the supervisor’s statements to other employees...Harborside is instructive on this point. There, the majority found that statements made by a pro-union supervisor to three employees were objectionable. It then observed that it was “not unreasonable to infer that when [the supervisor] . . . spoke to . . . other employees, she did not limit her remarks to permissible expressions of opinion about the Union.”
    But this double standard is to be expected from the Bush-dominated NLRB. Any hint of pro-union bias by a supervisor must be punished, but documented threats against pro-union workers are nothing to worry about.

    And do remember, 20,000 workers are punished or fired EVERY YEAR for pro-union activity. That's according to the NLRB's own records. Given that corporate crime wave, it's hard to argue that workers wouldn't understand exactly what a supervisor means when he says it's in the workers "interest" not to support the union?

    Posted by Nathan at 08:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 09, 2005

    Help Nurses on the Ground in N.O.

    Here's another good place to donate. Put union nurses on the ground to assist the victims.

    The National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association has sent over 100 RNs to assist the victims of Katrina and has hundreds more hoping to go.

    $1,000 will pay the way for an RN to spend 10 days in Louisiana or Mississippi; $500 pays her airfare; $200 pays for much-needed supplies. Every dollar spent will go directly to RNs on the ground in the area. You can donate at; by calling 888-397-0346; or by sending a check to California Nurses Disaster Relief, c/o CNA, 2000 Franklin St., Oakland, CA, 94612.

    There's a nice writeup of the union efforts in this Biloxi Sun Herald article.

    So help those in need and build the infrastructure of progressive outreach for the long haul.

    Posted by Nathan at 03:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    More on Bush Using Katrina to Gut Worker & Enviro Protections

    See this MSNBC article.

    Some waiving of rules are reasonable, but others like the Davis-Bacon suspension are clearly based on advancing the rightwing agenda, using Katrina as an excuse to further worsen the lives of those least able to protect themselves from corporate abuses.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:54 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Bush: Let's Keep Louisiana Poor Poor

    Yep, he did it. Bush suspended Davis-Bacon , the law requiring prevailing wages for public construction contracts, under the provision allowing him to waive the law during a national emergency. Rep. George Miller and Senator Kennedy both denounced the action:

    "The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," Miller said.

    "One of the things the American people are very concerned about is shabby work and that certainly is true about the families whose houses are going to be rebuilt and buildings that are going to be restored," Kennedy said.

    So we can expect big contractor profits, bad wages and the same kind of shoddy cut-rate approach that we saw in the Bush-led preparations for Katrina.

    If you want to understand why Davis-Bacon and the union wage standards required for public works are so important, I recommend that you check out this page of resources from the AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Department.

    Part of the line of the Bush administration is that allowing low-rent, low-wage contractors into public contracts will save the taxpayers money. But the reality is that decent wages translates into better quality and less costs down the road, as a range of studies linked to on that page highlight. If we should have learned anything from Katrina, it's that short-term cost savings translate into long-term costs.

    But aside from the stupid economics of the decision, it's just an insult to the poor of the region to say that they should get paid bottom-basement wages, rather than reconstruction being a step up to a decent life for their families.

    You have to wonder if Bush intends to suspend the super-profits of the vultures circling to benefit from the tens of billions to be spent? Somehow, I guess not.

    Posted by Nathan at 01:04 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    September 08, 2005

    Sweatshop Katrina Recovery Work

    Tasini has the scoop on Republican asking President Bush to use emergency powers to suspend Davis-Bacon for recovery projects post-Katrina-- meaning publicly funded work could go to sweatshop employers instead of union wage employers as required by federal law.

    So instead of Louisiana and Mississippi refugees coming back to decent-paying jobs while they help reconstruct their communities, they end up in low-wage jobs while Bush-allied contractors get their profits subsidized on the public dole.

    As Tasina says, Have they no shame?

    Posted by Nathan at 11:27 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    Next Katrina: Privatized Army Base Security

    Around the country, it turns out that the private security firm Wackenhut, using a cynical alliance with an Alaskan Native Corporation, has taken over security at army bases from regular military police and the results have not been pretty.

    A new report, with testimony from the new private security guards themselves prepared by the Service Employees International Union, reveals a litany of security dangers that leave soldiers – and sensitive military installations – vulnerable to potential threats.

    These include:

    • Felons were granted access to base facilities before they had security clearances.
    • Guards were forced to use rusted weapons and old ammunition.
    • Broken gates, no searchlights and old radios with dead batteries.

    There were complaints in 2003 when the government decided that they would hand security at our army bases over to private rent-a-cops, and even more when the contracts were handed out in no-bid deals.

    Here's how the game worked. Officially, the Army awarded the base contracts to Alutiiq, a minority-owned firm in Alaska. But Atlutiiq then subcontracted most of the work to multinational security firm, Wackenhut, who have a consistent record of mismanagment of other facilities, including nuclear facilities where Wackenhut has a record of ignoring security concerns raised by both the public and its own guards.

    As I say below, Katrina is the result of Bush systematically dismantling the government's civil service in favor of cronies and private contractors. All of these folks are loyal not to the American people but to the political needs of Bush or to their own economic self-interest. And the result is inevitably the endangerment of public safety.

    This is the challenge to the Left. Not just demanding accountability for Katrina, but looking systematically at every vulnerable facility or area in the country, and highlighting the hacks and scoundrels Bush has put in charge of our security.

    Because SEIU has labor disputes with Wackenhut, they've put the energy into exposing these other problems with the company, so it's a great place to start the investigation. Check out their Eye on Wackenhut site for more.

    In the context of Katrina, Dana Milibank also has this story about how private security guards from Wackenhut blocking press access to an HHS building, despite a decision by HHS officials to give them access. As Milbank said, "Thus was the true hierarchy within the federal government revealed: DHS outranks the White House, and Wackenhut trumps them all."

    Which of course is no joke. Of course, the private corporate donors to the GOP, who loot the public treasury through their privatization deals, outrank the White House. As with any feudal system, it's the folks with the money who run the system. Government officials, and that applies to Bush, are only their useful vassals.

    And the losers are the public who have to live -- and die -- based on the competence of folks like Wackenhut who have been entrusted with the security of our most vulnerable facilities.

    Posted by Nathan at 09:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Max Weber Predicted the Katrina Aftermath

    As I'm coincidentally preparing readings for a class on government and bureaucracies, I came across this piece by Max Weber, the early 20th century sociologist, who outlined what was needed for a well-functioning bureaucracy.

    Office Holding is a Vocation: That is the office is a vocation finds expression, first, in the requirement of a prescribed course of training...Furthermore, it finds expression in that the position of the official is in the nature of a "duty"...Entrance into an office, including one in the private economy, is considered an acceptable of a specific duty of fealty to the purpose of the office in return for the grant of a secure existence. It is decisvie for the modern loyalty to an office that, in the pure type, it does not establish a relationship to a person, like the vassal's or disciple's faith under feudal or patrimonial authority, but rather is devoted to impersonal and functional purposes...The political official -- at least in the fully developed modern state -- is not considered the personal servant of a ruler.
    Guess what was lacking at FEMA, with its untrained hacks acting not with duty to their office, but as vassals to Bush's political needs?

    The story of Katrina is not of individual incompetence but a more fundamental breakdown in the operations of our nation's civil service. Step-by-step, Bush has been dismantling every rule and every law that they can that would ensure loyalty by government employees to the public, rather than to the political needs of the incumbent. From the destruction of union rights in Homeland Security to the privatization of services to allied political cronies, a Katrina disaster became inevitable.

    Weber describes what a functioning "modern developed state" looks like. If Katrina made our response look like a third world nation, it's because while our technology and wealth may be the top in the world, our political institutions are sinking back into feudalism.

    Posted by Nathan at 09:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Workplace Safety vs. Savage Capitalism

    Reprinted from Confined Space

    We live in an increasingly brutal 19th century economy of savage capitalism, dominated by transnational corporations who roam the world looking for the most vulnerable workers and the most compliant governments. They succeed by playing countries off against one another and by pitting workers against one another as well. This economy affects not just workers in manufacturing and service industries, but has and will affect construction workers everywhere.
    Linked here is an outstanding speech by Garrett Brown, Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network who concisely explains why foreign debt, trade treaties, immigrant rights and union rights are health and safety issues.

    Garrett made this speech to a group of building and construction trades workers who were attending an annual "skills enhancement" seminar held in San Diego, with a field day in Tijuana, Mexico. Despite their initial hostility to immigrant workers in the U.S., they ended up giving him a standing ovation for an essentially "pro-immigrant" speech.

    A little education can go a long way toward confronting the emotional hostility generated by the bigots in this country and focus peoples' energy toward addressing the real problems. The points he makes here are essential to understanding the economy we live in and strategically addressing the problems facing workers.

    NAFTA and other trade agreements, for example, have not only been a disaster for American workers, but they've been a bigger disaster for Mexican workers, contributing to the illegal immigration problem in this country:

    One of the inescapable byproducts of the new global economy and its trade rules are, as we have discussed today, massive immigration. The case of Mexico is quite clear: millions of farmers driven off the land, increased unemployment in the cities, deepening poverty throughout Mexico. The only place for starving people to go is wherever there are jobs – and that means to the U.S.

    It’s worth thinking about what we – you and I – what would we do in these circumstances? I think we would do just the same as Mexican workers and farmers have done – we would come north looking for whatever work we could find to keep our families and communities alive.

    Immigration has become essential for Mexico’s survival. In 2004 the “remittances” – or money sent by immigrant workers in the U.S. to their families in Mexico – amounted to $16 billion. Remittances are now the second greatest source of foreign income for the country – second only to oil sales and ahead of tourism and the maquiladoras for Mexico. Without these remittances, Mexican families would not survive, their towns and communities would not survive, and the country would be even poorer than it is now.

    And the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), muscled through the Congress recently by Tom DeLay and friend will bring a similar disaster to Central America.

    In the United States, according to Brown, the global economy has affect American workers in three ways: increased competition among workers for scarce jobs, more concessions by city and regions to attract business, and an accelerated “race to the bottom," putting pressure on wages and working conditions, and increased pressure from business to weaken workplace safety protections.

    So what can we do about it?

    • Educate: Workers need education not just about technical health and safety issues, but also
      a second kind of education, also essential, which is fundamentally political in nature. This is education about what workers’ rights are and how they can meaningfully exercise these rights; and also to understand the global context of occupational safety and health and what impacts it.
    • Organize: Not only do we need to organize the 40-50% of American workers who say they would like to belong to unions, but we can't overlook the organizing potential of immigrant workers:
      Many of the immigrant workers coming to the U.S. – especially those from Central America – have had extensive union experience at home, and in an atmosphere where union activism can result in your death. So these workers represent a great potential resource for U.S unions.

      Moreover, the cold, hard reality of the global “savage capitalism” will be the greatest recruiter for unions offering real protections for workers. Health and safety issues have long been recognized as one key way to organize workers in their own defense. It is increasingly recognized and documented that there is a positive “union effect” on workplace health and safety when there is a union on the job.

      In fact, one of the most important health and safety measures in any workplace is to have informed and active workers as part of a member-controlled union on site.

    • Solidarity among all working people in the global economy, which will be difficult with all the anti-immigrant feelings being generated in this country.
      Our future depends on us seeing Mexican or Chinese workers – in the U.S. or in their countries – as “fellow workers” with the same problems and goals as us; fellow workers with the same employers and the same enemies as us; fellow workers with the same dreams for themselves and their families as us; and fellow workers with the same future as us.
    • Political Action: Only through political action can we ensure that we have protective regulations are enforced, and workers who are educated about health and safety conditions, as well as their rights.

      We also need political action to cancel the crushing foreign debts in Mexico, Central and South America, Asia and Africa

    The biggest threat to workplace safety in the developing world is the unpayable (actually already paid many times over) foreign debts owed by countries like Mexico, which makes promulgation and enforcement of occupational health regulations economic suicide and a political impossibility.

    Read the whole thing and pass it around.

    Posted by Jordan Barab at 07:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 06, 2005

    US Buys an Airline in Bankruptcy Court

    This is actually a good idea:

    A federal bankruptcy judge on Friday approved a settlement between US Airways Group and the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. that resolves about $2.7 billion worth of claims.

    The settlement gives the pension agency an ownership stake in the airline...

    If we are going to have the federal government take over the pension obligation of companies that run to bankruptcy court, the taxpayer should at least get an ownership stake that recoups some of the costs if the company returns to profitability.

    This may add up to very little value depending on the final details of the likely merger of the company with American West airlines, but the principle is the right one. If companies get bailouts from the government, the government should get an ownership stake to share in potential future profits.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 05, 2005

    What Unions are Doing Right

    While Labor Day is rightly overshadowed by the tragedy in New Orleans, I still want to peek out from the sometime gloom of handwringing over the fate of Labor to highlight what's going right with the labor movement.  

    I'm teaching a class on labor at Bard College this semester and I commemorated Labor Day with an assignment to watch the heart-breaking movie AMERICAN DREAM about the P-9 meatpackers strike and read sections of Thomas Geoghegan's WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON, both reminders from the early 1990s of how really dark prospects for labor looked back then.

    People will ask me why I'm so optimistic for the future given that the overall percentage of the workforce in union is declining, but the difference now than then is that back then almost nothing was working and a lot of people were predicting the complete disappearance of the labor movement by now.

    It didn't happen. And it's because a lot of great organizers across the labor movement changed what they were doing and won some significant fights.   Good criticism is essentially for reviving and strengthening us, but so is pointing out what's going well and replicating that.  So that's what this post will do and feel free to add your own examples in comments. The UAW:  The fact that General Motors is begging the Auto Workers to pay a bit more for their health care is a testament to the union's success in taking care of their members better than almost any large union in the history of the world.  And where many other previously strong unions got outmaneuvered by employers, the UAW pulled off some amazingly smart strikes, using the automaker's own "just-in-time" inventory systems to paralyze their whole operations with small local strikes, both to preserve strong benefits for existing workers and put pressure on suppliers to allow UAW organizers in under neutrality agreements.  See here, here and here.

    Communication Workers at IBM:  A lot of folks talk about the strategy of organizing in a company without waiting to get a majority recognized in a union.  But CWA organized Alliance@IBM to mobilize IMB workers and was one of the first voices to raise alarms about companies underfunding pension plans and screwing workers through gambits like "cash benefit" conversions.  See their site here.

    SEIU and HERE have created a joint project to organize the giant service contract companies, Sodexho, Compass and Aramark, and have used innovative global alliances to pressure the three companies to sign neutrality agreements.  This project is poised to potentially organize the tens of thousands of employees that these three companies employ in the United States.

    AFSCME's Anti-Privatization Organizing has highlighted the fact that public employees often can beat private contractors in efficiency and challenged the conservative anti-government message across the country.  They've created a whole range of "power tools" to fight privatization, from effective messaging to local ordinances that expose the costs of contracting out for both workers and the community.

    CWA at Cingular Wireless:  Using a strong bargaining relationship with SBC telecommuncations, CWA successfully bargained for card check agreements that adds tens of thousands of wireless workers to the union rolls.  See here.

    I'll add a few more to this list later, but I'd love to see others added in comments.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 03, 2005

    Back in Iraq: Unions About to Be Destroyed

    The Bush administration has been actively hostile to the trade unions in Iraq-- even keeping old Saddam Hussein laws in place to restrict union rights -- but a new decree 875 by the new government promises an even worse crackdown or even elimination of labor union independence in that nation.  

    See this post from Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFTU), which details a letter from the government accompanying the decree which reads:

    "The Decree No. 3 issued by the Governing Council in 2004 led to the  ormation of a government Committee responsible for Labour and Social Rights headed by Naseer al-Charderdi. This Committee is no longer have the responsibility and. In its place a new Committee is established comprising the Ministers of Justice, the Interior, Finance, the Minister of State responsible for the Transitional Assembly, the Minister for Civil Society, and the Minister of National Security.

    "This Committee must review all the decisions taken to oversee the implementation of Decree no. 3 since its publication in 2004 and must take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing any such monies.

    "In addition I am proposing a new paper on how trade unions should function, operate and organise."

    Signed Dr Fahdal Abass (Cabinet General Secretary)

    Emphasize the bolded text.  What this means is the nationalization of the trade unions -- all to common in the region -- where the government controls the money and makes the unions responsible to the government, not to workers.

    The International Transport Workers' Federation is one of the first global union bodies to condemn this decree:

    "We are concerned that control of Iraqi trade unions' monies might lead to the weakening of the Iraqi unions' capabilities," and added: "This is considered a clear breach of the International Labour Organization (ILO) core labour standards on freedom of association and a direct attack on human rights in Iraq."
    The new Constitution is moving to destroy women's rights and now that government is looking to destroy independent unions as an alternative to religious dominance of civic society in Iraq.  

    Global unions are already up in arms over this issue; I hope that other progressives concerned about human rights in the new Iraq will also take up the cause.

    Posted by Nathan at 04:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack