TrenchNews, Verse 2

Before we get going here, a short word from not our sponsor:

Tammy, from USMWF (United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities), used to do the “Weekly Toll” feature at Confined Space. She’s determined to keep it going and to that end has set up a special site for it here (or click the link on the sidebar). It’s still called Weekly Toll, but unlike the CS version, it looks like it’s going to be able to concentrate on single cases per post, which I think could make it stronger as a more focused voice for families hit by the unnecessary deaths of loved ones in their workplaces.

It’s been a little slow getting off the mark because Tammy had to deal recently with a terrible personal tragedy of the kind that turns your world upside-down and makes all other concerns seem trivial by comparison. Despite that, the first post is up now and it’s a heartbreaker – a father of six accidentally killed by his son.

Marquez worked the overnight shift six days a week, where he hand-sorted pieces of metal and concrete from the giant piles of debris. It was a grueling but solid living with union benefits, and two of his sons worked there with him.

Early Friday, just a couple of hours after his shift started, Marquez was run over and killed by a Payloader driven by one of his sons, Luis Marquez.

TrenchNews, Verse 2

Thomas Nephew, newsrack blog: “New ICE age for labor?”

Thomas catches ICE Director Julie Meyers sounding like she thinks Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a corporate subsidiary that ought to be investigating unions for “harboring” illegal aliens. Thomas replies:

[T]he notion makes little to no sense. Earth to Myers: unions don’t employ, they organize. It’s companies that employ — and under federal law (the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, or IRCA), they’re the ones who are (theoretically) on the hook for knowingly hiring illegal alien workers; the same law specifically exempts unions, which organize workers after they’re hired.

Another Bush lawyer who doesn’t know the law? Shocked is what we are.

NYT: “An Island of Moguls Is Latest Front in Union Battle

The report (written by our old friend Eduardo Porter) has some elitist fun with the notion that a union would have the audacity to invade a haven of massive wealth off the coast of Florida, but SEIU’s assault on this bastion of privilege was motivated by the stark difference between the classes there.

Amid mounting political attention to the substantial widening of the income gap over the last two decades, the service employees union hopes that Fisher Island — where a share in the golf club costs $250,000 and dues run to $20,000 a year while workers tending the grounds or washing linens can make as little as $8.50 an hour — will serve as a rallying cry for low-wage service workers across the nation.

“This is a symbol of what’s wrong and a beacon of what could be right,” said Stephen Lerner, director of the union’s property services division. “There’s a growing feeling in the country that something is a little out of balance when workers live in poverty in the middle of incredible wealth, and it can and should be fixed.”

Al Kamen, WaPo: “Aide at Labor Found Budget’s Weaknesses, So Democrats Don’t Have To

David James, an aide to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, sent an e-mail Wednesday to various Labor and White House officials titled “DOL Budget Highlights and Low-Lights for . . . Budget Roll-Out.”

One part of the e-mail highlighted “Vulnerabilities/Democrat Attacks.” One budget proposal is to “consolidate and streamline” four training programs, the e-mail said, but “Democrats portray this as simply a cut on worker training” and oppose it.

Maybe because that’s what it is? Call me crazy, but…

There’s more in the memo as Jones accidentally nails every one of the Bush Administration’s real reasons for its anti-labor actions.

AP: “Strike Shuts Down Harley-Davidson Plant

YORK, Pa. — Union workers began a strike Friday at Harley-Davidson Inc.’s largest manufacturing plant, with small groups quietly picketing each entrance of the York facility.

In anticipation of the strike, the company shut down production at the plant on Thursday.

More than 50 workers gathered as the strike began at midnight, said Tom Boger, a union representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 175.

Boger said the company installed cement barricades to block access to all gates, even empty parking lots.

The strike came two days after unionized workers rejected the company’s contract offer and authorized a walkout.

“We are obviously disappointed by the union’s decision,” Fred Gates, general manager of Harley-Davidson’s York operations, said in a statement Thursday. “The proposed contract was structured to help manage future costs that could be detrimental to our business over the long term.”

But union members said they felt the contract represented a step backward because it contained a two-tier wage system they said would penalize new hires. It also contained a requirement for employees to contribute toward health insurance premiums and pension concessions, they said.

BBC News: “Union calls off British Airways strike action

A planned two-day strike by British Airways cabin crew has been called off.

The airline now expects to fly a full programme of domestic and international flights on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Marathon talks between BA and the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) had been going on to try to avert the series of stoppages.

BA executives and union leaders said an agreement had been reached on the key issues of pay, pensions and the management of sickness absence.

Two potential 72-hour strikes earmarked for February have also been called off.

Those damn Brits. Instead of installing cement barricades, they actually had the nerve to negotiate with those union scum. Now, instead of disruption of service and $$millions$$ in lost revenue – far more than settling would have cost – everything’s going back to normal. What’s the world coming to?

The Globe: “Build-up of chemical vapors cited in Danvers blast

Federal investigators have reached the preliminary conclusion that the build-up of chemical vapors inside a paint and ink factory in Danvers was the fuel that ignited a massive explosion in November that essentially destroyed a neighborhood in seconds, officials said yesterday.

The lead investigator from the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board also said that research is still underway into the possibility that natural gas collected inside the building.

But John B. Vorderbrueggen, the board’s lead investigator, stressed that the most likely cause is solvent fumes building up inside the structure on Water Street that was used by two companies — CAI Inc., a privately held company that manufactured inks, and Arnel Co., Inc., a custom paint maker. Both companies used highly explosive chemical solvents in manufacturing, he said.

“If you can’t control the vapors, then you minimize them,” he said. “In this situation, we apparently had neither of those features. We didn’t minimize the vapors, and we didn’t control the vapors. We didn’t ventilate it safely out of the building. And then it found an ignition source.”

Another “accident” caused by employer disinterest in safety?

Center for Economic and Policy Research: “Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings
During Union Election Campaigns
” by John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer (.pdf file)

Using the conservative methodology proposed by LaLonde and Meltz(1991), we estimate that by 2005, pro-union workers involved in a union-organizing campaign faced an almost two percent chance in being fired. After applying an inherently conservative adjustment for the effects of cardcheck campaigns, we estimate that pro-union workers involved in union-organizing campaigns that year faced a 1.4 percent chance of being fired. Since employers have a strong incentive to fire union organizers and activists, these figures translate to very high probabilities that organizers and activists will be fired in any given unionization campaign. If one-in-ten union supporters is an activist or an organizer, our calculations suggest that in 2005, union organizers and activists face a 15 to 20 percent chance of being fired.

Those numbers may seem small but firing somebody for union organizing is illegal. That employers get away with this so often is a disgrace.

Truly Equal: “America’s Slave Labor

Most people think slave labor is dead, or that it is mostly confined to places like China (why people don’t care about this is material for another posting). Of course, we have slave labor right here in America: our prisons have become the equivalent of slave plantations. Instead of picking cotton, inmates recycle computers….

Hot Government Documents & Issues: “Organisational downsizing and increased use of psychotropic drugs among employees who remain in employment

* Employees who remained in work were at increased risk of being prescribed psychotropic drugs after downsizing.
* In men, downsizing was associated with increased psychotropic prescription rate among both non-manual and manual groups.
* In women, this was the case only for non-manual groups and the effect was substantially smaller.

Jeffrey Massie, This is not my blog: “A working class hero is something to be

Jeff has a dynamite video of Teddy on the floor of the Senate going ballistic on the Pubs for filibustering the minimum wage bill. It’ll do your heart good.

American Federation of Teachers: “Why Teacher Unions Are Good for Teachers and the Public” by Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University

We live in an era when leaders in business and the media demand that schools function like businesses in a free market economy, competing for students and staff. Many such voices say that such corporate-style school reform is stymied by the teacher unions, which stand in the way of leaders who want unchecked power to assign, reward, punish, or remove their employees. Some academics blame the unions when student achievement remains stagnant. If scores are low, the critics say it must be because of the teachers’ contract, not because the district has a weak curriculum or lacks resources or has mediocre leadership. If some teachers are incompetent, it must be because of the contract, not because the district has a flawed, bureaucratic hiring process or has failed to evaluate new teachers before awarding them tenure. These critics want to scrap the contract, throw away teachers’ legal protections, and bring teacher unions to their collective knees.

It is worth recalling why teachers joined unions and why unions remain important today. Take tenure, for example. The teacher unions didn’t invent tenure, despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. Tenure evolved in the 19th century as one of the few perks available to people who were paid low wages, had classes of 70 or 80 or more, and endured terrible working conditions.

On the Wilder Side: “Union Rates Fall in 2006, Drop in Manufacturing

The decline of unions within manufacturing was severe and will likely persist. In 2006, the number of unionized workers in manufacturing was nine percent lower than in 2005, a loss of 190,000 union members. Buyouts and early retirements of unionized auto workers throughout 2007 will lead to additional losses in union members, as will continued weakness in the manufacturing sector. Because of these declines, it is no longer accurate to view manufacturing work as a “union job.” Manufacturing workers are now less likely to be in a union than is the average U.S. worker.

It’s a pretty dismal picture of labor’s decline in the Age of Bush with the only surprise – to me – being that the one classification of workers whose percentage of union membership hasn’t changed (or not much) is African Americans.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

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One Response

  1. This is an amazing feature. Thanks for publishing it.

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