March 26, 2006

The Future Marches in LA -- and Denver, Chicago and...

500,000 people marched yesterday in Los Angeles against making being a global economic refugee a felony -- and they were joined by hundreds of thousands more in Denver (50,000), Phoenix (20,000) Houston, and other cities across the country, including Chicago where over 100,000 people marched two weeks ago for immigrant rights.

The march in Los Angeles was the largest political rally in the city's history. This is the future marching. Many of those marching can vote today; many of them will register to vote where they can or when they become eighteen; and even those who can't vote, their children will vote.

There is a historic decision for Democrats to make in the coming year. They can listen to their better angels and fight for the basic principle that those in economic need should not be treated as criminals or they can embrace short-term anti-immigrant expediency and lose both their soul and long-term political advantage.

Some see the issue as whether the undocumented committed an illegal act. But the real question should be whether our current immigration policy is itself moral. Slavery was legal, but that didn't make those who defied it immoral.

The United States has an estimated 12 million people living in our country without legal status. Do we seriously expect to deport that many people in an act of ethnic clensing that would bring global condemnation?

And globalization can't just mean that money has freedom but people don't. If anything, we need more rules for money and fewer for people-- since the ability to walk away from bad job choices is about the only right the poorest of the poor have ever had in this world. Take away the right of mobility from workers and all the rest of their rights largely disappear as well.

The AFL-CIO executive council early this month detailed the problems driving immigrants to the US:

Any viable solution to this crisis must address the reasons why people are coming to the U.S. Most immigrants come from countries where the international development process has failed, and many are from countries where International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and trade policies have weakened countries’ economies and labor protections, causing a devastating impact on all workers. In some developing countries, IMF policies have caused public-sector workers to lose their jobs and their union protections, forcing them into competition in the private sector, where few, if any, jobs are available, driving down wages and working conditions even further. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement undermine the agricultural economies of developing countries, leading workers to leave the fields and consider moving north. Without rising living standards abroad for workers and the poor, the pressure for illegal immigration will continue and escalate.
If we want to slow immgration to the United States, the real way to do it is to end sweatshops in Mexico and the rest of the developing world and end the rising inequality in global wealth within such countries. Mexico, for example, has increasing wealth, but because of the trade deals we created with them, most of that wealth goes to the richest section of the population-- Mexico has 13 billionaires yet working families are left struggling to survive.

To tell such refugees from an economic system the US government helped engineer that they are to blame for their fate is immoral. And progressives should be standing side by side with the labor unions, civil rights groups and religious leaders marching by the hundreds of thousands in the streets to demand decent treatment for those refugees and a more just global economic system.

Posted by Nathan at 08:40 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Dubai: Workers Hell

In all the debates over the Dubai Ports, progressive seemed to miss the key reason to bash the Dubai government-- it's cultivated a workers rights nightmare of plutocratic exploitation of immigrants.

It's an Apartheid of the Arab wealthy-- 500,000 local residents exploiting a 1,000,000 immigrants who do the work without voting rights or rights in the workplace:

[W]orkers have few rights. Visa sponsors and employers typically confiscate their passports and residency permits when they sign on, restricting their freedom of movement and their ability to report abuse...

When they get here, few can leave the country without the permission of their employers, who can block them from working elsewhere in the country if they resign or are fired.

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

Denial of wages is the most common abuse of workers, as contracting companies typically wait to pay their workers until they themselves get paid. In the worst cases, workers have been denied wages for more than 10 months, only to lose the entire salary when the contracting companies go bankrupt, leaving the men destitute and with few options.

And according to Human Rights Watch, the abuse gets worse for women and children::
Migrants, including large numbers of women employed as domestic servants, face intimidation and violence, including sexual assault, at the hands of employers, supervisors, sponsors and police and security forces. Children are especially vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation and denial of basic rights.

"Thousands of children are trafficked to the United Arab Emirates for use as beggars and camel jockeys," Human Rights Watch's Rory Mungoven said.
If the world took labor rights seriously, the Dubai regime would be one of the world's pariah states.
Posted by Nathan at 07:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Median Estate: $29,000

That's it. The majority of Americans receive no more than $29,000 in inheritances, according to the Federal Reserve.

Yet $200 billion annually are being passed on each year in inheritances.

Put those two numbers together and it's clear that the debate on the estate tax is absolutely irrelevant for most families. And one of the reasons is that the main "tax" on middle income estates come before death, in the form of massive health-related expenses that eat away at the nest egg:

RAND calculated that the average person between 60 and 70 would spend 58 percent of his or her wealth before dying.
So maybe progressives should be doing something to fight against the 58% medical care estate tax as an alternative to the GOP campaign over the largely irrelevant "death tax"?

Might be a winner.

Posted by Nathan at 07:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Natalie Portman: Norma Rae

I've liked Natalie Portman in a number of movies -- especially Garden State -- but it's great that she brings good politics to her workplaces and not just to easy celebrity causes:

Producer Joel Silver wanted tough and tender. Who knew he was getting Norma Rae, too?

"I've stood up to producers before, and even a director," Portman says. "I saw them being abusive. A lot of people on the set are scared to say stuff when they're not being treated right."

And while it's chic to like low-budget indie films, Portman notes the "indie cred" of the actors and directors often comes at the expense of the regular staff:
"It's always smart to keep the budget at its minimum to make a good movie, but they spent so that it looks great and everyone is compensated appropriately," she says. "A lot of times everyone applauds for these cheap movies that basically mean everyone involved isn't getting what they're supposed to. Your wardrobe people and hair and makeup people and set designers, they're not getting compensated properly."
It's easy for Hollywood to bash politics far from where they work; it takes courage to challenge Hollywood itself to live up to its obligations for its own employees, especially the ones who never get their names on movie posters.
Posted by Nathan at 08:34 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

March 12, 2006

Democracy In American Workplaces? Joke, right?

By Jordan Barab, Reprinted from Confined Space

No, this isn't America in the 1880's, it's America in the 21st century, if you can believe it:

Above the photographs of Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il of North Korea and an American union president, the full-page advertisement contains a provocative quotation: "There is no reason to subject the workers to an election."

Below the photographs, the advertisement asks, "Who said it?"

For the answer, readers are directed to a Web site, which explains that those words were uttered by Bruce S. Raynor, the union president and the leader of Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant and apparel workers.

In seeking to equate Mr. Raynor with foreign dictators, the business-backed group that ran the advertisement was trying to discredit the most successful strategy that unions have used to try to reverse a decades-long slide in membership.

Now, to the uneducated observer, this ad by the Center for Union Facts (which I wrote about last month) might make some sense. Of course, anyone who knows anything about union organizing compaigns understands that if democracy in American politics looked anything like democracy in the American workplace, we'd be living in a fascist dictatorship

According to a report issued by American Rights at Work,

  • 30% of employers fire pro-union workers.
  • 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, but only 2% actually do.
  • 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.
  • 82% of employers hire high-priced unionbusting consultants to fight union organizing drives.
  • 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.
And the systematic use of legal and illegal tactics impedes union organizing.
  • Aided by a weak labor law system that fails to protect workers’ rights, employers manipulate the governmentsupervised union recognition process in a way that allows them to abuse their power and significantly influence the outcome of union representation elections.
  • In 91% of the union recognition petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the survey, a majority of workers indicated they wanted a union before the process began. In several cases, workers demonstrated more than 80% support.
  • However, unions were victorious in only 31% of the campaigns in which they filed a petition.
Given these facts, it's no wonder that employers associations are horrified at the labor movement's new strategy:
That strategy is known as card checks, a process in which companies grant union recognition once a majority of workers sign cards saying they favor a union. Unions increasingly want to use this procedure to replace the traditional organizing method: secret-ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Many businesses oppose card checks because they say the procedure makes it much easier for unions to secure majority support, often giving management little chance to present its case against unionization. But unions say companies often prevent fair elections by firing and intimidating union supporters.

And, labor leaders complain, elections often become so contentious that nearly half the time unions win, companies fail to sign collective bargaining agreements. Card checks lead much more easily to contracts, union leaders say.

Card checks were used to sign up roughly 70 percent of the private-sector workers who joined unions last year, according to A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials. That compares with less than 5 percent two decades ago.

Through card checks, 150,000 private-sector workers joined unions in 2005. Over the past year, the procedure has been used to unionize 4,600 workers at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino, 5,000 janitors in Houston and 16,500 workers at Cingular, the cellphone company.

In an interview this week, Mr. Raynor again maintained that it was better to use card checks than "to subject workers to an election."

And, of course, the business leaders have their lapdogs allies supporting them in Congress:
Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, is sponsoring legislation that would outlaw card checks. His bill has 81 co-sponsors.

"Union thugs are allowed to confront individual workers on the job and at their homes, and demand the worker sign a card giving the union exclusive rights to representation," Mr. Norwood wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Times.

Union leaders say that coercion is rare.

The National Labor Relations Act gives private-sector workers the right to unionize through card checks or secret-ballot elections. But the act also gives employers the right to insist on elections.

Labor is running its own campaigns -- in the legislative arena, in the boardrooms and in the streets.
Labor unions are backing a bill that would give unions the right to use card checks while taking away the right of companies to insist on secret-ballot elections.

The bill has 210 co-sponsors in the House and 42 in the Senate. But even supporters say it will probably not pass in this Congress because President Bush is likely to veto it.

Meanwhile, unions are using various tactics to persuade companies to accept card checks and are also increasingly pressing employers to pledge not to fight unionization efforts.

Sometimes unions use contract negotiations at one operation — perhaps agreeing to productivity measures — to get a company to agree to card checks at its other sites. More often, unions undertake confrontational campaigns to squeeze employers to agree to card checks.

To pressure Cintas, the giant uniform and laundry company, Unite Here has encouraged workers to bring lawsuits alleging pay violations and racial and sexual discrimination. Cintas has not given in, insisting that secret-ballot elections are fairer.

Because shit like this shouldn't be happening, not in the United States in 2006:
At the Consolidated Biscuit bakery in McComb, Ohio, Bill Lawhorn said more than 70 percent of the workers had signed cards in favor of joining the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union when he led efforts to form a union in 2002.

Nonetheless, the union lost a secret-ballot election, 485 to 286, after Consolidated Biscuit conducted a vigorous anti-union campaign. Two years later a National Labor Relations Board judge found that managers had illegally spied on union supporters and had warned them that the bakery would go bankrupt if a union was voted in.

Mr. Lawhorn was fired the day after the unionization vote. The labor board judge ordered him and six other workers reinstated, ruling that they were illegally fired for supporting a union.

The bakery has appealed. Mr. Lawhorn remains unemployed, hoping the appeal process will uphold his reinstatement.

Posted by Jordan Barab at 06:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

Broken Unions, Depressed Pilots

In the wake of airline busting of unions, wages and benefits have been cut for airline employees.

And the New York Times has a profile of a profession in depression:

One veteran United Airlines captain, who laments that when he retires in a few years his pension will be about one-fourth what he expected, said he had to shut it out of his mind to prevent the distraction from affecting his work...

Dr. Fischbeck, who flew in the Navy and has colleagues who went on to fly for the airlines, said that the change in financial circumstances and job security were good reasons to be unhappy.

But Dr. Fischbeck and others pointed out that the industry culture is such that pilots must face the hardship on their own. Other workers with health plans might seek professional counseling. With pilots licensed by the F.A.A., however, "as soon as you sign up for it, it's on your record, and you're toast."

A US Airways pilot echoed that sentiment: "If it gets reported to the F.A.A., you can forget it, you're not coming back to work, until you go through a lot. The system requires us to deal with it ourselves. That makes it very difficult to go through what we just went through."

How lovely. You've got a lot of depressed pilots who are afraid to seek counseling for fear of being blacklisted.
Posted by Nathan at 07:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 07, 2006

Plan B: How State Laws Changed WalMart's National Policies

After Massachusetts last month ordered Wal-Mart to stock the "Plan B" emergency contraception pill, Wal-Mart this past Friday announced that, effective March 20, all Wal-Mart pharmacies nationwide will carry emergency contraception, reversing the companies previous policy-- part of a trend of Wal-Mart changing its national policies in response to state laws.

Illinois also requires pharmacies to stock the prescription drug and the emerging trend in state laws made Wal-Mart change its policy:

"We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," said Ron Chomiuk, vice president of pharmacy for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart. "Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it."
Adding to the pressure was an announcement last Thursday by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that the insurance plan for 188,000 state employees and retirees should no longer cover prescriptions at Wal-Mart unless the retail giant agrees to stock emergency contraception pills.

This victory reflects the power that states wield to change the policies of even the largest company in the country. This is also reflected in Wal-Mart's scrambling in recent weeks to upgrade health benefits for its employees as states move increasingly to require large companies to provide health benefits.

And in many cases, workers denied overtime or minimum wages by Wal-Mart have used more favorable state labor laws to bring lawsuits against the company-- putting pressure on the firm to improve conditions.

The lesson from the various Wal-Mart campaigns is clear-- progressives don't have to wait for action on Capitol Hill to fight for and win national victories.

Crossposted from PLAN.

Posted by Nathan at 11:38 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 06, 2006

MA: Deal on Health Care Expansion-- But is it Enough?

Cross-post from PLAN

On Friday, legislative leaders in Massachusetts appear to have agreed to a compromise bill that would assess a modest fee on any business with ten employees or more which does not provide health care to their employees-- a key element of a broader plan to move towards universal health care coverage.

Business largely supports the compromise because the assessment is relatively small -- only $295 per employee not covered by health care insurance -- an amount far less than a proposed state House bill. Which explains why health care advocates are only cautiously celebrating.

John McDonough, executive director of Mass. Health Care for All, assesses the deal on the organization's blog here, here, and here. As McDonough writes, while the $295 assessment per business is woefully inadequate -- and allows companies to provide pretty nominal health care coverage and avoid any tax at all -- the deal involves a fundamental victory for advocates, namely establishing the principle that businesses have a legal obligation to provide for health coverage of their employees, either directly or through taxes paid to the state government.

"This is not the end, it’s the beginning," writes McDonough, and with the principle of employer responsibility established, raising the assessment on businesses in the future will be far easier than establishing it in the first place. Massachusetts figures show the state already spends $212 million to provide health care to employees at larger firms -- and the number is no doubt far larger when smaller firms are included -- so the adequacy of the health care assessment will immediately become a key policy debate if enacted, so the debate will still be on advocates' terrain.

The deal in Massachusetts is an incremental victory, but by applying to most businesses in the state, it pushes the debate fare beyond the law recently enacted in Maryland that applies only to large businesses like Wal-Mart. "if you don’t go beyond Walmart," McDonough points out, "you’re not accomplishing much of anything at the end of the day." Starting with Wal-Mart was always an incremental first step for the Maryland advocates, so starting with a more modest assessment on a larger base of businesses in Massachusetts is an alternative first step towards more comprehensive results.

And advocates are not sitting back-- they are ready to go to a ballot initiative if the final bill's details do not extend health coverage comprehensively to the uninsured in the state.

So health care advocates can be proud of a campaign in Massachusetts that is pushing the goal of universal coverage forward.

Posted by Nathan at 09:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 01, 2006

Ex-Clintonista Denies Labor Rights to Janitors

Janitors who clean offices at the University of Miami went on strike today to demand a decent wage for their families.

And who is President of the University of Miami?

Donna Shalala, Clinton's director of the Health and Human Services, who claimed in a recent interview to have "spent much of her public career as an advocate for the poor" but won't stand up for the working poor working at the university over which she presides.

Most of these janitors, who service both the Coral Gables campus and Jackson Memorial Hospital, work for Boston-based UNICCO, a commercial facilities services company that operates in malls, universities, and office buildings across the country. Although UNICCO staff at schools such as Harvard earn between $13 and $14 an hour and have fully paid health insurance, janitors at UM sites earn as little as $6.33 an hour, and are not provided with health insurance for themselves or their families.

The Orlando Sentinel has more on the strike.

Why don't you all call Donna Shalala and ask her to be a responsible community leader and require that UNICCO workers who clean the University’s campus get paid a decent wage. Call her at (305) 284-5155.

Posted by Nathan at 09:06 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack