TrenchNews, Verse 9


Supreme Court Decides to Favor Discrimination Against Women Workers

The Bush SCOTUS seems to get less friendly to non-corporate non-oligarchs every day. After last week’s insulting of both women in general and a doctor’s ability to make medical decisions not in line with the beliefs of James Dobson, they’ve gone after women again, this time women who work.

A Supreme Court once again split by the thinnest of margins ruled yesterday that workers may not sue their employers over unequal pay caused by discrimination alleged to have occurred years earlier.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that Lilly Ledbetter, the lone female supervisor at a tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in the timely manner specified by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This court is so anti-female that it’s impossible to figure out whether they would have reached a different decision had it been a man who overshot the deadline, but it has been so pro-corporate and anti-worker that it’s reasonable to assume they would have made the same decision on that basis.

IAC, the ruling, though it sticks strictly to the specific limitations in the law, is so divorced from actual realities of the workplace that it amounts to a travesty. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read an angry dissent from the bench.

The decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to read a dissent from the bench, a usually rare practice that she has now employed twice in the past six weeks to criticize the majority for opinions that she said undermine women’s rights.

Speaking for the three other dissenting justices, Ginsburg’s voice was as precise and emotionless as if she were reading a banking decision, but the words were stinging.

“In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination,” she said.

Read the rest of this entry ->


Modern Employment

Associated Press: “Bribery Claimed in NY Slave Labor Case

The mother of a woman accused of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves tried to bribe a victim’s relative to make the case go away, prosecutors said.

The accused woman, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, were being held in jail on Friday, a day after the new charges arose at their arraignment.

The millionaire couple — who operate a worldwide perfume business out of their Long Island home — pleaded not guilty to federal slavery charges.

They were arrested last week after one of the servants, wearing only pants and a towel, was found wandering outside a doughnut shop in Syosset, on the region’s so-called Gold Coast. Authorities concluded she escaped the Sabhnanis’ nearby Muttontown home when she took out the trash.

Unable to speak English fluently, she showed her wounds and Indonesian passport to a shop worker and said, “Mister, mister, I want to go home — Indonesia,” said Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo.

Prosecutors said Thursday that Varsha Sabhnani’s mother, who lives in Indonesia, tried to make the case go away by bribing a son-in-law of one of the servants with the equivalent of $2,500. They also said Varsha Sabhnani had earlier told the other victim that her husband, who still lives in Indonesia, would be arrested unless she followed orders.

“The defendants operated a torture house,” federal prosecutor Mark Lesko said. “They are capable of acts of violence.”

This horror was going to be our Top Story until I saw that Barbara Ehrenreich had already seized on it to point out that it isn’t as unusual as you might think.

This is hardly an isolated case (see my book, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, co-edited with Arlie Hochschild.) If the new “top” involves pay in the tens or hundreds of millions, a private jet and a few acres of Nantucket, the new bottom is slavery. Some of America’s slaves are captive domestics, like the Indonesian women in Long Island. Others are factory workers, and at least 10,000 are sex slaves lured from their home country to American brothels by promises of respectable jobs. CEOs and slaves: these are the extreme ends of American class polarization. But a parallel kind of splitting is going in many of the professions. Top-ranked college professors, for example, enjoy salaries of several hundred thousand a year, often augmented by consulting fees and earnings from their patents or biotech companies. At the other end of the professoriate, you have adjunct teachers toiling away for about $5000 a semester or less, with no benefits or chance of tenure. There was a story a few years ago about an adjunct who commuted to his classes from a homeless shelter in Manhattan, and adjuncts who moonlight as waitresses or cleaning ladies are legion.

Similarly, the legal profession, which is topped by law firm partners billing hundred of dollars an hour, now has a new proletariat of temp lawyers working for $19-25 an hour in sweatshop conditions. On sites like this, temp lawyers report working 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded basements with inadequate sanitary facilities. According to an article in American Lawyer, a legal temp at a major New York firm reports being “corralled in a windowless basement room littered with dead cockroaches,” where six out of seven exits were blocked.

When even lawyers are treated illegally, you know things have hit rock-bottom. Go read the rest.

Bloomberg News: “Ex-Wal-Mart employee claims executives took gifts

A woman who was fired by Wal-mart supposedly “for alleged conflicts of interest” says she was actually fired because she blew the whistle on WM executives’ accepting gifts from corporations that wanted to do business with them.

Julie Roehm, the marketing chief fired by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for alleged conflicts of interest, accused executives of accepting free plane travel, concert tickets, and, in the case of Chief Executive Officer H. Lee Scott, discounts on yacht purchases.

Roehm said in court papers filed in Detroit yesterday that she never put her own interests first, “although other executive employees of Wal-Mart did on a frequent basis.”

The filing follows Roehm’s lawsuit for breach of contract and fraud in December and a counterclaim by Wal-Mart in March that accused her of taking gifts from DraftFCB, an advertising agency she had hired, and having an affair with a subordinate. Wal-Mart fired Roehm after less than a year on the job and subsequently dropped the agency.


Scott bought yachts and a “large pink diamond” at a “preferential price” from companies run by Irwin Jacobs, the complaint said. Roehm also accused Scott of traveling to Las Vegas and Florida on jets owned by Jacobs.

One of Jacobs’ companies, Plymouth, Minnesota-based Jacobs Trading Co., buys and sells returned and leftover merchandise from stores including Wal-Mart, and employs Scott’s son as a consultant.

Absolute marketplace power corrupts the marketplace absolutely.

WaPo, Stephen Barr: “A Slow Go at Homeland Security

A new study reports that HS employees don’t think much of their working environment any more.

It’s also no secret that another part of the reorganization — changes in how Homeland Security employees would be paid, promoted and disciplined — also has a long way to go.

That was underscored in a recently released report by the Office of Personnel Management, which, it should be noted, was the department’s partner in designing the new pay and personnel rules.

“At the present time, the evidence suggests DHS is not keeping employees committed to the organization,” the office’s report said. Employee confidence in the department as a good place to work, with leaders that motivate them, has dropped, according to the report.

Remembering Military Personnel With a Bigger Pay Raise

Just a few hours before Congress departed for its Memorial Day break, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a bill that would provide a bigger pay raise for the troops, pump up management oversight at the Defense Department and guarantee union rights under a new personnel system.


Advocates for the government’s 1.8 million civil service employees are pushing for a “pay parity” increase. Union leaders have said they will urge Congress, which probably will address civil service pay next month, to provide an equal raise to federal employees on the grounds that they, like military personnel, contribute to national security.

Bills Would Affirm Anti-Bias Laws Cover Sexual Orientation

In an effort to clear up conflicting interpretations of civil service law, legislation has been introduced to provide protection for federal employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Bills sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) would affirm that the government’s gay employees may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board and that the Office of Special Counsel may prosecute cases in which employees believe they have encountered bias, such as a supervisor who fires a worker because of his or her sexual orientation.

Good for them. It’s about friggin’ time.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Federal budget cuts to hit job training

Federal budget cuts announced this month are expected to limit opportunities for people like Boritzki and reduce work-training services for thousands of unemployed people in King County.

The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, which pays for at least part of the seven WorkSource locations in King County, says that $3.2 million was lost because of cuts to the Workforce Investment Act. That’s a reduction of almost 25 percent.

On Friday, the council’s executive committee is expected to approve a halt to funding that would meet rent payments for a pair of Seattle WorkSource locations. The locations may close if they can’t come up with the rent.

There are 3,176 people in King County supported by WorkSource case managers. That number is expected to drop to 1,500 during the program year that starts July 1, Workforce Development Council Chief Executive Kris Stadelman said.

Boston Globe: “Hospitals’ move to e-files spurs a labor shortage

Massachusetts is among the leaders nationally in the use of electronic patient records and computerized drug prescribing. But its workforce is not keeping pace: The state lacks enough people who know how computers work and who understand how doctors diagnose and treat diseases.

It is a unique blend of skills that is increasingly in demand as the health system gets wired.

Actual job opportunities in an economy that is otherwise barely functioning for the bottom 90% are worth reporting, it seemed to me.

Union News

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “AirTran union leaders OK pilot deal

Leaders of AirTran Airways’ pilots union on Wednesday gave a “qualified endorsement” to a tentative contract that would boost pay by more than 5 percent — and put it “squarely ahead of” rates for similar-sized planes at Delta Air Lines, the union said.

The tentative deal now goes to AirTran’s 1,500 pilots for a ratification vote. The union expects to release the vote results on June 28.

The union said pay for AirTran captains with 12 years’ seniority will rise from $152.57 an hour to $160.60 an hour, while a co-pilot with seven years at the company will see a pay boost from $78.37 per flight hour to $83.30.

Pilot pay rates are typically based on the size of aircraft and cover actual flying time only.

NY Times: “Romance Over, Union Chief Has Corzine’s Number

In an age when lines of integrity are being crossed every day by Republican pols and corporate flacks everywhere, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that a union rep got involved in something like this. Unlike the Pubs, though, her own people told her not to do it – the difference between us and them.

When contract negotiations between Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration and New Jersey’s seven major state employee unions reached a standstill last fall, one union president, Carla Katz, sent a message to the governor’s private e-mail address with a personal appeal to revive the talks.

Her union colleagues said in recent interviews that they had emphatically warned Ms. Katz, whose romance with Mr. Corzine ended with an unusual multimillion-dollar settlement in 2004, not to contact the governor away from the bargaining table for fear their history posed a conflict of interest.

But she pressed on with the independent lobbying, according to a review by a state ethics panel, making about a dozen attempts to discuss a proposed contract with her former companion via telephone and e-mail.

Such efforts infuriated labor officials in New Jersey as well as at her union’s national headquarters, and led a mayor in Bergen County to file a formal complaint with the ethics panel. On May 8, the panel concluded that Mr. Corzine was not swayed by her entreaties and did not violate the governor’s code of conduct.

But the episode stands as a prime example of a muddled, enduring relationship between two extremely powerful people that remains among the most fascinating parlor topics in New Jersey political circles. And it continues to raise complex questions and draw harsh criticism over the intersection of public responsibilities and private commitments.

WaPo, Stephen Barr: “Treasury Union Wins Fight Over Border Officers

A bruising battle between two federal unions has ended.

The unions — the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union — faced off in an election last year for the right to represent employees at Customs and Border Protection, a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security.

Yesterday, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency that oversees union elections in the government, certified NTEU as the sole representative of about 21,000 Customs and Border Protection employees.

In balloting last year, NTEU won the most votes, 7,369 to 3,426, but AFGE appealed the election results, claiming that Customs and Border Protection had violated its obligation to remain neutral. Last week, 11 months after the appeal was filed, the federal labor board rejected the AFGE claims, making the certification possible.

Washington Post Editorial Board (Hi, Fred!): “Special-Interest Stalling

WaPo editorial writer Fred Hiatt has a problem criticizing the Teamsters Union’s insistence on making Mexican trucks safe for US highways: he trusts the Bush Administration.

IT’S HARD to argue against a bill entitled the Safe American Roads Act of 2007; indeed, only three lawmakers in the House had the temerity to vote against it last week. But the legislation is in reality a prime example of misguided and protectionist anti-NAFTAism.

More than a decade ago, the United States promised to give Mexican trucks access to U.S. roads by 2000. A series of lawsuits and lobbying by the Teamsters and other special interests repeatedly pushed that date back. So this year President Bush proposed a year-long pilot project for 100 Mexican carriers to operate on U.S. highways. At the conclusion of a successful pilot, all Mexican truckers would be free to enter.

But last week the House rejected even that overly cautious approach, voting to lengthen the pilot to three years and to place a number of unnecessary conditions on its inauguration, no doubt aimed to put off implementation still further.

Fred thinks the conditions are unnecessary, the pilot period is too long, and the union is being unreasonable because Bush has it all figured out. The number of accidents unsafe Mexican trucks have been involved in due to everything from faulty brakes to bald tires apparently doesn’t bother him.

It bothers everybody else, Fred.

NYT via Truthout: “Union Plans Advisory Tool for Young Workers

SEIU is starting what it calls a for workers.

Helped by start-up money from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Service Employees International Union has created a nonprofit organization that plans to help young workers who lack health insurance and are saddled with debt.

The nonprofit, Qvisory Tools for Life, will provide health insurance and financial advice and will begin doing so this fall, largely through its Web site, Qvisory plans to give career advice and have blogs and forums in which workers 18 though 35 can discuss jobs and various services.

Eileen Quigley, the organization’s chief executive, said, “What’s new about Qvisory is it’s an attempt to pull together in one place tools and advocacy for the emerging work force.”

Ms. Quigley, who previously was an executive with the software company RealNetworks, said Qvisory would charge fees to participants that would vary depending on the services requested.

Andrew Stern, president of the 1.8-million-member service employees’ union, said he hoped Qvisory might get its members to make themselves heard the way does. Qvisory, which is open to union members and nonmembers, is likely to promote issues like higher minimum wage, broader health coverage and greater government support of child care, he said.

Can’t wait to see where this one goes. Stay tuned.

SPI: “KOMO fires three veteran TV reporters

You’re liable to see a lot more of this in the future as newspapers, radio stations and tv news depts try to balance their budgets by firing unnecessary employees – like reporters.

Fisher Communications-owned KOMO/4 pink-slipped three of its veteran reporters Monday morning.

Breaking news reporters Kevin Reece and Joe Furia and North Puget Sound reporter April Zepeda were let go without warning and, curiously, in the middle of the May ratings-sweep period.

“I’m blown away by it,” said Furia, who has been with KOMO for more than a decade. “I thought they were happy with my work, and I had no reason to believe otherwise. … Things do evolve. I was just used to evolving with them.”

Zepeda echoed Furia’s surprise. She was called into the station general manager’s office from her Edmonds home on what was supposed to be her day off.

“I kept asking, ‘Why, why, why?’ ” she said. “And they just kept answering, ‘We’re reorganizing.’ “

“Re-organizing”. The universal employer code for “We’re firing veteran reporters so we can hire newbies fresh out of journalism school who will work a ton cheaper.” And you wonder why the MSM is in the sorry state it is?

‘Course, there’s also the little matter of the union.

The firings came days after Furia and Zepeda volunteered to assist the newsroom’s bargaining unit. KOMO’s newsroom is part of the Seattle chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Employees reached an agreement for a new contract in mid-March, but station management has not signed off on it.

“This stinks to high heaven,” said John Sandifer, executive director of the Seattle local of AFTRA.

Quite a coincidence, ay? But of course, the station insists the two had nothing to do with each other.


Christian Science Monitor: “Workers of Chrysler, disunited

Unions are split over news that a private investment fund is buying flat-tire Chrysler. The UAW deems it “in the best interest” of its members. The Canadian counterpart finds it “very worrisome.” The opposite reactions reveal a telling ambivalence about this hot trend in corporate buyouts.

Private investors have long bought troubled, publicly held companies in hopes of turning them around and then profiting when they resell them on the market. What’s new is the recent exponential growth in capital and profits of these investors, known as private equity funds. They’re reshaping the American economy, having taken over such major companies as Cablevision, Burger King, hospital giant HCA, Toys “R” Us, and Neiman Marcus.

The Chrysler deal, in which private equity fund Cerberus Capital Management is paying DaimlerChrysler $7.4 billion for control of its US automaker, is notable for its scale. It’s not just the size of the company, but the size of the challenge: fixing an American industrial icon that, like GM and Ford, is being battered by foreign competition and dragged down by retiree benefits.

Chrysler lost $1.5 billion last year and is still losing money. Part of the reason is it’s not making vehicles people want. But another is it’s just not cost competitive. Toyota enjoys a $30-per-hour labor cost advantage over Chrysler. More than half results from Chrysler’s health, pension, and other retiree benefits – a burden Germany-based Daimler is happy to be rid of.

Workers can look two ways at the Cerberus takeover. Cutting benefits, and perhaps more jobs than the 13,000 already planned, seems inevitable. But what’s the alternative? Bankruptcy – which could void union contracts? Offshoring – which would vaporize more jobs? Better a viable company than an extinct one is the likely and wise conclusion of Ron Gettelfinger, the United Auto Workers chief.

Daimler thought they could change the corporate environment at Chrysler and turn the company around but they were too nice. They should have fired the whole management team, especially the designers and marketers, and brought in their own. They didn’t, and the constant obstructionism proved too much for them. They wound up having to give the company away and Wall Street is blaming – naturally – the union benefit package.

Well, what would you expect them to do? Acknowledge the truth?

WaPo: “In Kentucky, Toyota Faces Union Rumblings

Dissident workers at the Toyota plant here gather at the Best Western Georgetown on Wednesdays between shifts to shape a battle plan. The workers are angry at conditions at this flagship Toyota site, where the best-selling Camry is built.

The United Auto Workers has launched a big new push to organize the plant, trying to capitalize on fears of lower pay, outsourcing of jobs and on Toyota’s treatment of injured workers. The stakes for the UAW intensified this month as a private-equity firm agreed to buy Chrysler, raising fears that the union will be unable to block cuts in jobs and benefits at a privately owned automaker.

The Chrysler deal has underscored the UAW’s diminished clout as membership has shrunk along with jobs at the Detroit automakers. The UAW has never succeeded in organizing a foreign auto assembly plant in the United States, but Toyota’s emergence as the world’s largest automaker has added urgency to this effort. The UAW will begin new contract negotiations this summer without any workers from Toyota.

Again, about friggin’ time. The foreign auto makers, especially the Japanese, have had a free ride. Let’s hope that’s about to end.

The Nation, Liza Featherstone (via AlterNet): “Workers of the World Unite Against Starbucks

Last week Starbucks faced legal and political trouble from its own workers. On the third anniversary of the founding of the IWW Starbucks Union, baristas in Chicago marched into a shop and told the manager they were signing up. (Starbucks workers have chosen to organize without government-mediated elections, through an interesting model called “solidarity unionism.”)

Meanwhile, baristas in Grand Rapids, Michigan announced that they were filing a legal complaint against the company for violating their organizing rights through unlawful surveillance and other questionable tactics. All over the world — Austria, England, Spain and Australia, as well as the United States — Starbucks workers demonstrated in front of stores to protest the company’s union-busting practices.

When you pay $4 for a cup of coffee-flavored foamy milk at Starbucks, part of what you’re buying is an illusion of corporate social responsibility. The store exudes a warm glow of righteousness, from the recycled paper napkins to the empathetic messages about sustainable trade and ecological practices (Our farmers are happy! Buy a better lightbulb! Have some more foamy milk!).

The workers behind the counter are hoping the public will look beyond all the greenwashing and support their campaign, which has succeeded in raising wages and improving conditions for some workers.

Boycott Starbucks. Those bastards have been getting away with murder way too long, and Wal-mart they ain’t.

Shut ’em down.

LabourStart: “Costa Rica: Chiquita sacks workers for reporting poisoning

Multinational fruit company Chiquita likes to boast of its high social and environmental standards, but its Costa Rican subsidiary COBAL has sacked two union members for complaining about being exposed to a toxic chemical. Alexander Reyes Zuniga, Jaime Blanco Juarez and Marco Gonzalez Borge reported to their supervisors that spraying of a toxic nematicide (used for killing worms in banana tree roots) was going on in the same area as they were harvesting bananas. They became nauseous and dizzy and Jaime Blanco had to go straight to the doctor, where he was retained for tests for several hours. Alexander Reyes suffered symptoms of poisoning the following day, but was told to resume work regardless. The team complained to supervisors only to be accused of entering the area to be sprayed despite orders not to do so.

Alexander Reyes and Marcos Borge were sacked for misconduct. Chiquita management did not conduct any medical examination, did not give the statutory three warnings for misconduct and continue to deny the workers’ version. The union SITAGAH has tried to negotiate the two workers’ reinstatement, but the company has so far refused. Other recent violations of rights in COBAL plantations have been denounced by Costa Rican banana workers’ union coordinating body COSIBA-CR.

In These Times: “Not Neutrality

The Communications Workers of America opting out of the Save the Internet coalition. Why?

[I]n a development described by Columbia University law professor Timothy Wu as a “milestone,” AT&T agreed in December to respect net neutrality for the next two years in order to have the FCC approve its merger with Bell South.

Much of the success can be attributed to the Coalition spearheaded by the nonpartisan media reform organization, Free Press. The coalition is more than just a “big tent”; its 700-plus membership list of bloggers, church groups, academics, video gamers, small businesses and advocacy groups is so ideologically broad as to be laughably democratic. Here if nowhere else can lefty stalwarts like Feminist Majority, the ACLU and SEIU break bread with the Christian Coalition of America, Gun Owners of America and the American Patriot Legion, who in turn sit alongside the World Pantheist Movement, the Chocoholic Society and Legion of Death, whose Web site helpfully explains that its “number one purpose … is to recruit players of Chrome Hounds.”

But amidst this bevy of strange bedfellows, is one conspicuous absence: the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the union that represents 700,000 media and telecommunications industry workers. And the CWA isn’t just sitting on the sidelines. Last May, when the House was considering pro-neutrality legislation, CWA President Larry Cohen wrote a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, arguing that if such a bill passed, “investment in the physical infrastructure necessary to provide high-speed Internet would slow down, the U.S. will fall even further behind the rest of the world, and our rural and low-income populations will wait even longer to enter the digital age.” Meanwhile, at the state level, the CWA has vociferously opposed attempts, most notably in Michigan, to mandate net neutrality in the local and state franchise agreements with telecommunications companies that set up conditions of service quality and community benefit provisions.

This is troubling. Go read the rest.


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  1. TrenchNews, Verse 9

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