TrenchNews, Verse 5

I apologize for the missing TN but I’ve had to work the past two weekends, which is when I do this because it takes so much time. I’ve gone over the dozens of links I collected in that time, though, and very few of them are outdated – nothing changes very fast on the labor front, not with the corporatocracy doing its best to mimic the Great Wall of China.

Top Story

The big labor news of the past couple of weeks is, of course, the Employee Free Choice Act. It passed the House, as expected, and now moves to the Senate where opposition from the corporate-puppet Republicans is going to be fierce. They’re promising filibusters and a presidential veto. We’ll begin with a couple of pieces from their side explaining that opposition.

National Review Online
Peter Suderman: “Bad Check

Big labor has never liked a fair fight, so it’s no surprise that with union membership flagging, union leaders have begun to push Congress to give them a major legislative boost in their efforts to recruit new members.

Instead of allowing workers to vote on unionization democratically through secret ballots, labor leaders and House Democrats are advocating legislation that would mandate what’s known as “card check,” a procedure in which workers must publicly declare either support or opposition to unionization — thereby exposing them to union-led peer pressure and intimidation.

That unions would favor such a baldly anti-democratic move speaks to their desperation in the face of quickly declining numbers. They can’t compete, so their response is to get congressional Democrats to change the rules. Democrats, all too aware that labor is a key source of both votes and financial support for their party, are only too happy to oblige.

Nice of them to suddenly be so concerned about democracy. Why is it necessary? Because unions are brutal intimidators.

Labor leaders and House Democrats have touted the law as a way to prevent employees from being subject to employer intimidation, yet tales of bullying tactics by labor organizers are in no short supply. In written testimony to the House Education and Labor Committee, Mike Ivey, a materials handler for the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, called his experience with card-check organizing “abusive,” and said that it created “a hostile work environment” by splitting employees into pro and anti-union camps. Ivey also wrote that workers were subjected to “badgering and pressure” if they declined to sign cards supporting unionization.

Similar stories are easy to find. In other written testimony, Kaiser Permanente employee Karen Mayhew reported being subjected to written and verbal attacks for declining to support unionization during a card-check drive. In an article written for Capital Research Center’s Labor Watch, CEI’s Osorio noted that unions employ tough tactics against employers as well, threatening boycotts and public smears if companies don’t accede to labor demands.

These problems have been exacerbated by the neutrality agreements between unions and employers that accompany card-check organizing drives. Neutrality agreements force employers to remain silent during union drives, and allow union organizers to repeatedly pester employees while at work. Card check works in the favor of labor unions because it opens up the gate to coercive tactics and tosses out worker rights to secret ballot votes, giving union organizers a clear — if decidedly undemocratic — advantage.

It should be noted that CEI is yet another far-right think-tank along the lines of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (they even copied the name: CEI stands for Competitive Enterprise Institute). They specialize, like their brethren, in bogus “studies” proving whatever they’ve decided in advance they’re going to prove, and in dredging up “witnesses” who later turn out to be paid informants. At a minimum, any claim they make – or that anybody makes in their behalf – should be viewed with skepticism if not outright suspicion.

Phil Kerpen: “Big Labor’s Desperate Power Grab

Private-sector labor unions, slipping to an all-time low of 7.4 percent of the labor force last year, are fighting a desperate battle for survival. They face a nearly insurmountable problem: Workers increasingly believe, for good reason, that unions either provide little in return for their dues or work against their interests.

After losing innumerable certification elections and seeing its steady decline in numbers, Big Labor is turning to the U.S. Congress to secure crucial changes that will rig the game in its favor and allow it to force workers into unions. The battle will move to the House floor next week, where Big Labor’s wish-list bill likely will pass. The measure will face stronger resistance in the Senate and President Bush has promised to veto it if necessary. The stakes are high.

***

The world is changing. The economy is more competitive than ever, and companies compete not just for customers but for workers. Unemployment is at historic lows and companies everywhere are recruiting aggressively. The sharp decline in private-sector union membership, down from 20.1 percent in 1980 to just 7.4 percent in 2006, has coincided with a prolonged period of booming economic growth and rising standards of living.

Can unions adapt to make themselves attractive to private-sector workers in the 21st century? If they can, workers will vote for them in federally supervised, secret-ballot elections. If they can’t, they deserve to continue on their slow march to extinction.

And if Congress rigs the rules to force workers to accept unions they don’t want, union bosses will win and workers will lose.

In which alternate universe do companies compete for workers? Either Kerpen is thinking about globalization, wherein workers in Hoboken and Atlanta “compete” with workers in El Salvador and Sri Lanka, or he’s referring to the supposedly low unemployment figures, a result of numbers-monkeying (among other tricks, the Bush Labor Dept simply quits counting people who have given up looking for work) and desperation (the millions who have taken low-wage or part-time jobs because there isn’t much of anything else available). In Kerpen’s world, though, workers and owners are “equal” and unions are unethically trying to tip that delicate balance.

Human Events, Michelle Oddis: “House Dems Seek Passage of Pro-Union Bill

Fresh from successfully passing much of their liberal agenda in the first hundred hours of the new Congress, House Democrats are pushing a bill that would leave employees vulnerable to solicitation and intimidation from co-workers, union officials and employers. The measure is intended to boost union membership in the private sector, reviving a moribund segment of the Democrats’ political base.

The bill, misleadingly named the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), strips employees of their right to a secret ballot election when deciding on whether or not unionize, and leaves a system called “card check” as their only option.

***

Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) told HUMAN EVENTS that EFCA “takes away what we as citizens have come to expect in our country, which is an opportunity that when we have an election or polling that its free and private. Going to the card check-off is neither a producer of freedom nor of privacy.”

Supporters of EFCA flexed their muscle by signing up an overwhelming 232 House co-sponsors including seven Republicans: Chris Shays of Connecticut, Steve LaTourette of Ohio, John McHugh, Peter King and Vito Fossella of New York and Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey.

Co-sponsorship of this bill has proven that several supposedly conservative Blue Dog Democrats are more than willing to embrace the liberal causes of their leadership. Representatives Charles Melancon (D.-La.), Heath Shuler (D.-N.C.), and Brad Elsworth (D.-Ind.), all of whom singed up as co-sponsors, did not respond to HUMAN EVENTS inquiries. “They’re blowing their cover” said conservative activist Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform.

When you start quoting Grover Norquist as a labor expert, you’ve already lost the argument.

The last two in our little series offer a whole new argument: what do we need unions for, anyway? One of them comes from a surprising source.

LA Times, Russell Roberts: “Workers are fine with fewer unions

The Employee Free Choice Act, now before Congress, aims to reverse that trend by making it easier for unions to gain certification and stiffening penalties for interfering with a unionization drive. After all, supporters argue, without union representation, how can individual workers have the bargaining power needed to get their fair share of the economic pie?

But maybe unions aren’t so crucial to worker well-being. When more than 90% of the private-sector labor force isn’t unionized, why do 97% of us earn above the minimum wage? If our bargaining power is so pitiful, why don’t greedy employers exploit us and drive wages down to the legal minimum?

The simple answer is that bargaining power comes from having alternatives. Even in the absence of unions, employers have to treat workers well to attract and keep them. In a workplace as dynamic as that of the United States, where millions of jobs are destroyed and created every quarter, a company’s ability to exploit workers is greatly limited by how easy it is to find another job.

Ultimately, it is competition among employers that protects us from exploitation. Even those who would seem to be the most vulnerable — immigrants who struggle to speak English, for example — can earn much more than the minimum wage simply because of competition for their skills. Cleaning people routinely earn $20 an hour, more than most cities’ so-called living wage.

Look at workers’ share of the nation’s income. In 1950, employee compensation was 53% of gross domestic income. In 2005, that number was 57%. Somehow, as unions’ strength dwindled over the decades, employees’ share actually grew. And it’s a share of a dramatically larger pie, the result of the incredible economic boom of the last half a century.

Given that every legitimate study on the subject has shown workers’ wages remaining stagnant or even falling for the past quarter-century while executive compensation has grown by some 4000% in the last 6 years alone, the only way Prof Roberts (he’s a professor of economics at conservative George Mason University and a Fellow at GM’s Mercatus Institute, another conservative think-tank paid for by corporations – Exxon alone donates $40,000 a year and in return gets studies from Mercatus “proving” that global warming is over-hyped and anyway, if it does occur it will be “beneficial”) could come up with those numbers is to include executive pay in the “employees’ share”, an inclusion so unjustified one would be forgiven for calling it a “trick”.

The second to make this bogus argument is genuinely disappointing.

George McGovern: “The end of ‘more’

Delphi Corp., the biggest auto parts supplier in the country and the employer of 34,000 hourly workers, is bankrupt. One big reason is that the company’s unionized workers earn $64 an hour in wages and benefits — more than twice what some of its competitors pay.

General Motors and Ford — the companies that have epitomized high-paying unionized jobs over the last several decades — have stated that they will lay off 30,000 workers each. The United Auto Workers, General Motors and Delphi recently announced an agreement to offer voluntary buyouts to the UAW-represented employees at the companies. Wall Street thinks these are just the first steps.

Airlines have come under similar pressure. The bankruptcy stories associated with legacy carriers are driven in large part by the compensation packages and work rules that unions have won for their members, which are too expensive compared to more recent entrants such as Southwest. “More” has, unfortunately, become “too much” in a global and far more competitive economy.

***

It can be galling to hear companies argue that they have to cut wages and benefits for hourly workers — even as they reward top executives with millions of dollars in stock options. The chief executive of Wal-Mart earns $27 million a year, while the company’s average worker takes home only about $10 an hour. But let’s assume that the chief executive got 27 cents instead of $27 million, and that Wal-Mart distributed the savings to its hourly workers. They would each receive a bonus of less than $20. It’s not executive pay that has created this new world.

I understand the attraction of asking business — the perceived “deep pockets” — to shoulder more of the responsibility for social welfare. But there are plenty of businesses that don’t have deep pockets. And many large corporations operate with razor-thin profit margins as competitors, both foreign and domestic, strive to attract consumers by offering lower prices.

The current frenzy over Wal-Mart is instructive. Its size is unprecedented. Yet for all its billions in profit, it still amounts to less than four cents on the dollar. Raise the cost of employing people, and the company will eliminate jobs. Its business model only works on low prices, which require low labor costs. Whether that is fair or not is a debate for another time. It is instructive, however, that consumers continue to enjoy these low prices and that thousands of applicants continue to apply for those jobs.

I never thought I’d see, not in a million years, George McGovern embracing the corporate “race to the bottom” globalization strategy, but that’s what he’s doing here. Embracing and defending. Very sad. I shouldn’t have to point out to a George McGovern that his reasoning is specious and his examples both cherry-picked and misleading. Target and CostCo both do just fine without manhandling their workers or paying poverty-level wages, and the auto and airline industries have both been incompetently managed for over 40 years, so badly managed that it’s a wonder they survived this long. Actually, the auto industry probably wouldn’t have if it were not for a compliant Congress adding many levels of protectionist laws to keep them going. Workers’ wages had nothing to do with either.

Come on, George. This kind of sloppy thinking is beneath you.

At this point, we need a little reality check.

Salon, Joe Conason: “Time for regime change for American workers

Nobody talks about the democratic way more fervently than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have so often proclaimed that the historic mission of the United States is to expand liberty around the world. The Bush administration frequently denounces governments that suppress free speech, intimidate citizens and tamper with elections, expressing outrage over violations of human rights and self-determination in states such as Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

So what would our great advocates of democracy say about a regime that routinely deprives people of their livelihood for speaking out freely on public issues? What would they say about a place where citizens are forced to listen to propaganda — or where voters have to run a gantlet of armed police to enter a voting booth? How would they describe a system that distributes bribes, spies on dissidents and threatens everyone who dares to vote the “wrong” way with the direst possible consequences?

If they told the truth, they would be forced to admit that those awful conditions still exist on American soil, oppressing millions of workers whose employers use such tactics to prevent them from forming or joining a labor union.

***

Why do fewer and fewer workers belong to unions if most of them would prefer to bargain collectively? Global economic change has decimated the old industrial unions, but that doesn’t explain why workers in the newer service industries remain largely unorganized.

The reason is simple and ugly, as Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein explained three years ago when he looked at Wal-Mart’s labor policies. Since 1935, he wrote, the right to organize “has been whittled away by legislation, poked with holes by appeals courts and reduced to irrelevancy by a well-meaning bureaucracy that has let itself be intimidated by political and legal thuggery. As a result, any company willing to use intimidation and delaying tactics will never have to sign a first contract with a union, even if employees really want one.”

That well-meaning bureaucracy is the National Labor Relations Board, which back then was mulling over some 250 cases of alleged unfair interference with workers’ rights by Wal-Mart executives that had languished in its files for up to a decade. Like other anti-union employers, the retailing behemoth has used every dictatorial tactic to prevent unionization, from threatening workers with loss of benefits and pensions to imposing psychological tests, conducting surveillance on workers who meet with labor organizers, and bribing employees with increased wages just before a representation vote. The most typical tactic is to use any feeble excuse to fire any worker suspected of leading a union drive — which is wholly illegal but happens hundreds of times every day.

Wal-Mart is the biggest foe of unions but hardly the most brutal. Meatpacking and other agricultural companies have inflicted beatings and harassment as well as firings on workers who dare to challenge their absolute and abusive power. At a Smithfield Farms plant in North Carolina, the company actually formed its own police force, in cahoots with the local sheriff, to scare away the union with guns. The Wagner Act was supposed to end that kind of corporate criminality more than 70 years ago, but it is still happening today.

It should be getting clearer why employers like “secret ballots” these days: they’ve figured out ways to use them to intimidate workers when they vote. The card-check law would cut through all that. They’d have to come up with whole new intimidation tactics.

As I said in the post linked above, this law wouldn’t even be on the table if the Labor and Justice Depts were doing their jobs but they aren’t. Both are, under Bush/Cheney, wholly-owned corporate subsidiaries who don’t just do the corporatocracy’s bidding but advise them on how to break the labor laws more successfully. In Bizzaro BushWorld, the Labor Dept works against labor and the Justice Dept works against justice. EFCA can’t fix that but it can help unions slip past their most powerful enemies.

Other Stories

The Weekly Toll: “Death In The American Workplace

A partial list of workplace fatalities over the past few weeks.

College of the Mainland efforts for the $2 million BP match

Katherine Rodriguez is currently on the College of the Mainland Foundation Board of Directors and has volunteered to be the chairwomen of the fundraising efforts for the $2 million match by BP. Katherine needs your help to raise the matching funds for the memorial scholarship established by Eva Rowe.

Dockworkers

Reports have been received indicating that a fatal accident involving dockworkers occurred this evening at the Port of Miami.While online media reports were nil, it is our understanding that a 66 year old ILA checker was struck and killed by a container toploader at around 11:00 PM. It is alleged that the checker was, at the time, a pedestrian.

Norwegianity, Mark Gisleson: “Gerrymandering minimum wage

The House version of the minimum wage bill punts on the topic of restaurant employees. Probably necessary, but sooner or later our government is going to have to deal with the nasty underbelly of our economy: tipped workers.

Yeah, yeah, I know the drill. Tons of money made off the books, quite the racket, etc. But it’s odd how you never see wait staff vacationing in the Bahamas, and they never talk about how the few rules now in place totally ream rural waitpersons. The IRS now assumes a 15% gratuity, and taxes wait staff based on that projected income.

That’s bullshit and they know it. Rural wait staff rarely see 15% tips, and since they get paid at a sub-minimum wage, they end up paying taxes at a rate far higher than their actual income.

Boston Globe, Robert Weisman: “Study forecasts offshoring to hit Hub, Lowell harder

Boston and Lowell are among 28 US metropolitan areas likely to suffer higher than average job losses between 2004 and 2015 because of the overseas migration of service jobs, a Brookings Institution study warns.

The accelerating practice of foreign outsourcing, known as offshoring, is projected to claim 3.1 percent to 4.3 percent of jobs in the Lowell area and 2.6 to 3 percent of jobs in the Boston area during the 11 years, the report says.

The impact of offshoring has been evident for years, but the Washington think tank’s study, titled “The Implications of Service Offshoring for Metropolitan Economies,” represents one of the first attempts to examine how specific locations will be affected.

WaPo, Stephen Barr: “Retiree Health Care Back on Hill Agenda

It’s a classic pocketbook issue.Since 2000, federal employees have been able to pay their health insurance premiums on a tax-free basis. Many federal retirees think they should get similar treatment.

But extending “premium conversion,” as it’s called, to retirees would require a change in tax law, and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and others, who have pushed for that change in the last three congressional sessions, are back at it.

“We’re talking about a modest amount of money, but to those on fixed income, this could have a real impact,” Davis said as he again introduced a bill to extend the tax break. The bill would result in average savings of $820 a year for federal retirees, he estimated.

Under the bill, federal civil service and military retirees would pay their monthly health-care premiums through a pretax deduction from their annuities. The bill also would permit active-duty military personnel to deduct from their taxable income certain supplemental premiums or enrollment fees for Tricare, their military health insurance.

Bush to Seek 3 Percent Raise For Civil Service and Military

President Bush will propose a 3 percent pay raise for federal employees and military personnel in his fiscal 2008 budget, scheduled for release on Monday, a senior administration official said yesterday.

Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said the president’s civil service pay advisers and Pentagon officials had acted independently in coming up with their pay recommendations. If accepted by Congress, the raises would take effect next January.

Under current practice, most of the money for the annual civilian pay raise is allocated across the board, as a nationwide increase, and a small portion is parceled out by locality to reflect labor market conditions. The new budget will propose using an additional factor — recruitment and retention needs for special occupations — in distributing raises, officials said. This would give Bush more leeway in salary adjustments.

Nice of him. Do you suppose that hefty 3% is in addition to a cost-of-living adjustment or instead of?

Jim Hightower: “THE WORKPLACE BODY SNATCHERS

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is learning the hard way that workers don’t like bosses snooping on them.

Hizzoner the Mayor has taken $180 million from the city’s meager treasury to buy a state-of the-art electronic system to track the comings and goings of city employees. He’s already introduced the spy system in one agency, and it has created an uproar of protest, particularly over forcing employees to have their hands electronically scanned every time they enter or leave their work pods. Called biometrics, this system digitally records workers’ hands, faces, irises, or other unique body parts, then use your own uniqueness to track them like sheep.

The mayor’s spokesman says workers should be grateful, for this computerized system lets administrators monitor each employee’s attendance, time, and leave more efficiently. Oh, well, okay then – if it’s more efficient, feel free to take my handprint, or why not just implant an electronic tag in my brain? (Before you scoff at that last item, let me note that nurses in a Brooklyn hospital are already required to carry radio-frequency ID tags that allow all of their movements to be tracked.)

The mayor’s wholesale invasion of workplace privacy is made more outrageous by the fact that top managers are exempt from the digital scanning. Also rankling is that this biometrics contract went to SAIC, a corporation infamous for doing high-tech snooping on us citizens for the Pentagon and CIA.

AFL-CIO Now, James Parks: “U.S. Economy Setting Wrong Kinds of Highs

The expanding American economy is breaking records—including the wrong kinds. While the Bush administration touts the expanding job market and economic growth, the truth is that “millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ continues to widen,” according to an analysis of 2005 U.S. Census Bureau figures by McClatchy Co.

Tony Pugh, the McClatchy reporter, says the percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high. Nearly 16 million people are living in severe poverty—making do on less than $9,903 a year for a family of four with two children or less than $5,080 for an individual. The McClatchy analysis found:

* About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female-headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor.
* Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Latinos of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Latino whites to be in deep poverty, while Latinos are roughly twice as likely.

To read the whole report, click here.

The Bush White House doesn’t have to look far to find poor people. McClatchy reports:

Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, has the highest concentration of severely poor people—10.8 percent in 2005, topping even hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, with 9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Nearly six of 10 poor District residents are in extreme poverty.

But it’s not just the poor whose numbers are rising. Millions of working families are one paycheck away from poverty, are drowning in debt, often using up their retirement savings to get by, while the richest people in the country are getting richer.

No real news here but the report confirms what we’ve been saying for years. Here’s a small sample from Pugh’s article for McClatchy.

Bradenton Herald, Tony Pugh: “U.S. economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation’s “haves” and “have-nots” continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 – half the federal poverty line – was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That’s 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy’s review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn’t confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people into deep poverty – the highest rate since at least 1975.

Immigration and Labor

WaPo, Spencer S Hsu: “Janitorial Service Officials Charged in Sweep of Illegal Immigrants

Three top executives of a janitorial service used by such national restaurant chains as Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone face charges of tax evasion, fraud and harboring illegal immigrants, U.S. officials announced yesterday, after overnight raids in 18 states netted about 200 undocumented workers.

Authorities unsealed a 23-count indictment returned Feb. 15 by a grand jury in Grand Rapids, Mich., against co-owners Richard M. Rosenbaum, 60, and Edward Scott Cunningham, 43, and controller Christina A. Flocken, 59, of Rosenbaum-Cunningham International Inc., of Palm Beach, Fla.

The trio allegedly failed to pay $18.6 million in federal employment taxes on $54 million in custodial and grounds-keeping contracts between 2001 and 2005 at the chains, which also included House of Blues, Planet Hollywood, Dave and Busters, Yard House and China Grill, U.S. officials said. The restaurants’ parent companies were not charged.

Raids targeted 63 locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia, from California to Florida and New York, including ESPN Zone restaurants in Washington and Baltimore, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said. Illegal workers face administrative charges and deportation.

Globe, Yvonne Abraham: “Patrick to penalize use of illegal workers

Governor Deval L. Patrick issued an executive order yesterday imposing penalties on contractors who hire undocumented workers for state projects.

Under the executive order, effective immediately, employers who contract with the state will be required to sign a document certifying that they will not knowingly use illegal immigrants to work on their state jobs. The agreement will also require employers to certify that they will verify the immigration status of all workers assigned to the contract and to state that they will not alter documents or accept fake documents from workers.

“I understand how most undocumented immigrants enter Massachusetts seeking opportunities, jobs, and a better way of life, and I support balanced immigration reform,” Patrick said in a statement released yesterday afternoon. “But undocumented workers cannot work on state contracts, and we must enforce that law.”

On the Wilder Side, Kimberly: “Love Thy Neighbor: Immigrant Worker Support Demo

February 10th Visit by a national anti-immigrant group to Farmingville, and the peace community’s repsonse

Thursday, at 11:43 am, someone posted info about an anti-immigrant demo on www.631politics.com

Friday, at around 8 am, we saw it and posted it to the Suffolk Progressive Vision web-site and spread the word to pro-immigrant colleagues and press to counter demonstrate.

Saturday, we got together enough people so that there were more pro-immigrant demonstrators than anti-immigrant demonstrators.

There was no professional press. But, one Public Access producer did interviews, and Ian got footage for Youtube. And, there was one other press person, see below.

Our main sign was “Love Thy Neighbor” with mini flags attached to the poles on the end. It made it loud and clear who we were. And, I think the flags made people from both sides honk at us. Other signs said, “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights” in Spanish and English, and “All work dignifies labor.”

At 9 am, there were only 4 of us pro-immigrant demonstrators. A lot of the time there were 6 to 7 of us. But, by the end of the day, the anti-immigrant side had only had 11 people in total, and we had a little more than a dozen shift through. So, all and all, we won in numbers!

NYT, Steven Greenhouse: “Low Pay and Broken Promises Greet Guest Workers

To a rice farmer from Thailand making $500 a year, the recruiter’s pitch was hard to resist — three years of farm work in North Carolina that would pay more than 30 times as much as he earned at home.

The pitch was so persuasive that the farmer, Worawut Khansamrit, put his farm up as collateral to pay the recruiter $11,000 to become a guest worker. “The amount of money they promised was very attractive,” said Mr. Khansamrit, a slight, soft-spoken 40-year-old with a 15-year-old daughter he wants to send to college.

But after he arrived in North Carolina with 30 other Thai workers, he found there was only about a month’s work. He was then taken to New Orleans to remove debris from a hotel damaged by Hurricane Katrina — work he says he was never paid for. This month, he and other Thai workers filed a federal lawsuit asserting that they were victims of illegal trafficking.

A peek into the worker exploitation that’s been going on under the covers of Bush’s “reconstruction” of New Orleans after Katrina.

Iraq and Workers

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Will Edwards: “Small businesses struggle to fill gap left by workers fighting in Iraq

Five days’ notice is all Anthony Jimenez got. His technology-services company near Washington, D.C., lost an engineer in Georgia whose National Guard unit was suddenly deployed to Iraq.

The call-up last year turned costly for Jimenez’s MicroTech LLC. He paid double the going rate to have a hard-to-find replacement flown in from Indianapolis and put up in a hotel. MicroTech lost about $30,000 on the network-support job.

“It has an impact in small business,” Jimenez, 50, said. “It puts us in a bind.”

Almost four years into the war in Iraq, military needs are stretching the ability of companies to compensate for the loss of employees whose reserve units have been activated. Businesses are spreading out tasks, paying more for temporary employees and retraining returning soldiers when the jobs they left evolved.

President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops into the conflict may be heightening employer anxiety.

“With the proposed surge, it’s becoming even more of a concern among employers,” said Harold Coxson, an attorney at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC in Washington. He specializes in labor and employment law, including cases involving reservists.

“We’re getting more calls, and the reason is now you have people coming and going,” Coxson said. “Employers are asking what they’re required to do when a person has been gone three or four or five years.”

Good question.

Majikthise, Lindsey Beyerstein: “American and Iraqi forces raid Iraqi trade unions in Baghdad

US and Iraqi forces raided the offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers on February 23, according to an official statement by the GFIW. This raid may be the latest episode in the long and adversarial relationship between American occupying forces and Iraq’s secular, anti-Baathist trade union movement.

It is not surprising that Iraqi trade unions leaders have been targeted by both insurgents and occupying forces. Iraqi unions have undergone a resurgence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, union power is a potential threat to both fundamentalist clerics and the international corporations seeking to privatize Iraq’s oil industry.

So shoot ’em.

Wherever we go, we spread the corporate, anti-union, anti-democratic message in the name of spreading democracy. No wonder they hate us.

Strikes and Negotiations

AP: “Unions at Pittsburgh Paper Ratify New Contract With Pay Cuts

The final unions to vote ratified a new contract with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, agreeing to a deal that includes staff reductions, net pay cuts and changes in health care.

The newspaper’s owners had said they were losing money and threatened to sell the paper if a new labor deal was not reached.

The newspaper’s editorial union approved the deal Thursday, and the last unions voted in favor of the 39-month contract Saturday. The unions had been working under the terms of five-year contracts that expired Dec. 31.

Under the new contracts, all 14 bargaining units will have wages frozen over the life of the contract, and employees must divert 5 percent of their wages toward health care.

Globe Business Report: “Contract talks continue today at Stop & Shop

The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. and the United Food & Commercial Workers union agreed to continue to negotiate today on a labor contract after a contract extension expired last night.”

Both parties agreed to extend the deadline,” said Faith Weiner, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, a Quincy-based chain with 385 stores in the Northeast. “We remain hopeful for a resolution.”

Child Labor

Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman: “Child Labor: The Hidden Ingredient to the Billion-Dollar Chocolate Industry?

Along with flowers and jewelry, Valentine’s Day is the holiday of chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, caramel-filled chocolate, chocolate hearts, chocolate kisses. On Valentine’s Day, chocolate is the currency in which people are supposed to trade their love. Little do they know that chocolate might have been made with slave labor. Over 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, the primary ingredient in chocolate, comes from West African nation of the Ivory Coast. The State Department estimates that over one hundred thousand children in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor.”

Some ten thousand children are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. These child workers labor for long, punishing hours, using dangerous tools and facing frequent exposure to dangerous pesticides as they travel great distances in the grueling heat. Those who labor as slaves must also suffer frequent beatings and other cruel treatment. While the Ivory Coast supplies more of the world’s cocoa beans than anywhere else, Americans, for their part, are some of the world’s biggest buyers ­ spending some $13 billion dollars a year on chocolate. And US chocolate manufacturers continue to purchase and reap profits from child labor. Brian Campbell is an attorney with the International Labor Rights Fund. He joins me from Washington DC. We invited a representative from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association to join us but they declined our invitation.

Not so sweet. Below this short intro is a revealing interview with Brian Campbell, a lawyer with the International Labor Rights Fund.

Miscellaneous

NYT, Milt Freudenheim: “Some Employers Are Offering Free Drugs

For years, employers have been pushing their workers to pay more for health care, raising premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses in an effort to save money for the company and force workers to seek only the most necessary care.

Now some employers are reversing course, convinced that their pennywise approach does not always reduce long-term costs. In the most radical of various moves, a number of employers are now giving away drugs to help workers manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression.

Major employers like Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, the carpet maker Mohawk Industries and Maine’s state government have introduced free drug programs to avoid paying for more expensive treatments down the road.

Companies now recognize that “if you get people’s obesity down, cholesterol down, asthma down, you save a lot of money,” said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University.

AlterNet, Robert Nathan and Jo-Ann Mort: “Hollywood Flicks Stiff the Working Class

Here are some words you are unlikely to hear in any of the movie clips shown during the Academy Awards this year:

Ladies and gentlemen, the textile industry, in which you are spending your lives and your substance … is the only industry in the whole length and breadth of these United States of America that is not unionized. Therefore, they are free to exploit you, to lie to you, to cheat you and to take away from you what is rightfully yours — your health, a decent wage, a fit place to work.

“Unionized” isn’t a word you hear in many American movies. “A decent wage,” now there’s a phrase that doesn’t crop up too often. As for the evocative “your lives and your substance,” poetic descriptions of the human condition aren’t generally found in contemporary entertainment.

This speech is from Martin Ritt’s classic 1979 film Norma Rae, delivered in an impassioned sermon by Ron Leibman in the role of an organizer for the Textile Workers Union of America, a real union at the time and a predecessor to the current trade union UNITE HERE. Norma Rae is an aberration in recent Hollywood history. The movie portrays a realistic union-organizing campaign and the fierce corporate response at the fictional O.P. Henley textile mill in the fictional town of Henleyville. As everyone knew at the time, the mill and the town were unambiguous stand-ins for J.P. Stevens and its sixteen-year war against union organizers in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and the movie accurately depicted the state of American labor in 1979.

The situation has not improved much since.

Warren Reports – TPM Cafe, Chris Robertson: “Congress Weighs Paid Time Off for America’s Workers

Senator Ed Kennedy has proposed [He means “Ted”, of course – MA] a bill that “would require employers with 15 or more employees to offer seven sick days to their workers, who could use the days for a medical condition or to take care of a sick family member.” He’s onto a real problem. In our ongoing study of people losing their homes to foreclosure, we are finding that missing work for medical emergencies is one of the primary causes. (The lost wages may be even bigger than the medical expenses themselves.)

Kennedy’s bill might just be the gap-filler that people need between full employment and disability insurance, which may come too late.

Citizen Journalist Review: “Charleston, SC ILA Union hosts Senator Edwards Town Hall Meeting

Senator Edwards explained that although he was there to discuss his Universal Health Care Proposal, after he did that, he would take questions from the audience on any topic they chose to discuss. Then he explained that under the Edwards Plan:

•Families without insurance will get coverage at an affordable price.

• Families with insurance will pay less and get more security and choices.

• Businesses and other employers will find it cheaper and easier to insure their workers. He intends to make health insurance more affordable by creating new tax credits, expanding Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and reforming insurance laws.

The post includes an interesting video of the speech, though you have to wade through a couple of minutes of hugging and applause before you get to it.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the EFCA run-down. Brilliant.

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