TrenchNews, Verse 10

TOP STORY

AFGE Local President Asked to Quit Union or Leave FEMA

The Bush Administration’s long-standing effort to politicize and de-unionize government employees has taken some strange turns in the past, and it just took another one. An AFGE leader, president of Local 4060 in Washington, is accusing FEMA of intimidation.

Leo Bosner, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 4060, is an emergency-management program analyst at FEMA and has worked at the agency since its creation in 1979.

In his complaint, Bosner wrote that a FEMA security officer told him that “because I have a security clearance I must resign from the union, and I can be fired if I refuse to do so.”

***

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Bosner and other AFGE leaders spoke out on what they saw as weak management practices and inadequate staffing for disaster response. Bosner has faulted the leadership of Homeland Security’s political appointees and has spoken out in favor of removing FEMA from the department and restoring its status as an independent agency.

“I believe I am being singled out for my disclosures to Congress and to the news media,” Bosner said in his complaint. He said he thought FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison was behind the effort to make him choose between his job and his union membership.

(emphasis added)

The sudden conflict between his job and his position in the union may well be, as Bosner believes, payback for his criticism of FEMA. Michael Chertoff and Karl Rove have both, after all, been fond of revenge plots aimed at people who disagree with them. But there’s another possibility as well, and it’s hinted at in what Bosner was told by a FEMA security officer.

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OTHER STORIES

Wal-mart News

AP: “Workers suing Wal-Mart win class-action status

This one has been working its way through the courts for several years. It had been stalled for a while when an appellate court unaccountably denied it class-action status, but the NJ Supreme Court just overturned that decision.

The New Jersey Supreme Court certified a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart by employees who claim that the nation’s largest retailer denied them meal and rest breaks, and forced them to work off-the-clock.

The Thursday ruling revives the workers’ lawsuit, which had been denied class-action status by a trial judge and an appellate panel.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Judith L. Spanier said the class would contain about 80,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company was disappointed with the ruling and was studying its options.

“It’s our policy to pay every associate for every hour that they have worked. Any manager who disregards that is subject to discipline, up to and including termination,” Simley said.

That’s a flat-out lie, viz the very next grafs:

Wal-Mart workers in Pennsylvania won a $78.5 million judgment last year for working off the clock and through rest breaks and a $172 million verdict in a California case.

The company is appealing both.

Wal-Mart has settled a Colorado suit over unpaid wages for $50 million.

So much for PR. Facts still trump fantasy, in some courts anyway.

AP: “Wal-Mart cashier: I was fired for joking

The sensitive flowers at WM management have a real problem with humor when it’s at their expense, but there’s a serious issue at stake here: freedom of speech when you work for a corporation in BushAmerica.

ALMONT TOWNSHIP, Mich.- A former Wal-Mart cashier says he was fired for joking on his MySpace page that the average IQ would increase if a bomb were dropped on the company’s stores.

David Noordewier said he was fired Feb. 27 for posting the message, which he said was a joke and not a threat.

“I told them that this was crazy,” Noordewier told The Flint Journal. “It’s not like I have a fighter jet in my backyard to drop a bomb with. Then they escorted me out to the parking lot.”

Noordewier said store officials had him sign an acknowledgment that he was fired for “gross misconduct—integrity issue.”

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Kory Lundberg confirmed that Noordewier no longer worked for the company but would not discuss why.

Unemployment officials said Noordewier did not qualify for benefits because he had made a threat.

Noordewier had a near-perfect work attendance record and once received a personal thank-you letter from the company president over compliments from a customer he once helped.

He said he thinks a co-worker disliked him and pointed the MySpace page out to his boss.

“If you have a MySpace site, you better act like you’re a politician,” he said. “Be politically correct and don’t try to be funny.”

The absurd over-reaction here would be laughable if it weren’t so threatening. An obvious joke posted on a blog uses the word “bomb” – doesn’t make a threat, just uses the word – and the employee is fired, unemployment denies his claim, and for all I know, HS just put him on a watch-list (they would).

And nobody appears to find any of this outrageously unfair and stoopid.

AP: “Ad Agency: Wal-Mart Lacking Respect

An ad agency does a market survey, discovers WM’s rep is lousy, and tells it so. WM promptly fires it, of course.

An advertising agency fighting to keep Wal-Mart’s business last year told the world’s largest retailer that while it was a “positive force” because low prices helped shoppers lead better lives, the company suffered a lack of respect that could drive away shoppers.

The marketing report by GSD&M was obtained by a union-funded group critical of the retailer, WakeUpWalMart.com, and provided to The Associated Press. It warned Wal-Mart was being portrayed in the media as a “bad corporate citizen who doesn’t treat employees well and isn’t acting as a good citizen of the planet.”

GSD&M had handled Wal-Mart’s advertising for 19 years until the retailer hired a new group during the winter. For its 55-page document, “Wal-Mart: Positioning Report,” GSD&M conducted in-home interviews with 24 groups of consumers and 20 individuals nationwide and took some of them shopping.

Wal-Mart, based at Bentonville, Ark., acknowledged the report was genuine but played down its significance. Spokesman Nick Agarwal said the company receives many marketing studies from consultants.

“I’m afraid this particular piece of work is not very useful, not least because it’s now completely out of date and in some areas just plain wrong,” Agarwal said.

No report is “useful” if it acknowledges how badly Wal-mart is hated by its own customers. WM thinks it can get caught breaking every law on the books and we won’t care if we can buy paper towels for 50 cents less per roll.

They’re wrong.

Employment

Boston Globe: “Mass. posts largest rise in unemployment in the nation over the past year

The Massachusetts unemployment rate in February had the largest year-to-year increase of any state in the country, according to a new report.

While essentially unchanged from January, the Massachusetts unemployment rate in February was 5.3 percent, up from 4.8 percent in February 2006 and well above the national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a part of the US Department of Labor.

That jump of 0.5 percent was the largest year-to-year increase for any state in the country, the bureau reported.

That increase suggests that the Massachusetts labor force is growing at a faster pace than the Massachusetts economy can create new jobs.

WaPo: “Maryland First to Have ‘Living Wage’ Law

Maryland today became the first state in the nation to require government contractors to pay their employees significantly better than the minimum wage, under legislation signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

The “living wage” measure, which was passed last month by the General Assembly, requires companies working in the Washington-Baltimore corridor to pay $11.30 an hour. For those doing work in more rural counties, the floor is $8.50 an hour.

The bill was among more than 200 signed by O’Malley today at the third in a series of ceremonies since the session’s end. Other measures signed today freeze university tuition in the fall and offer Maryland’s apology for its participation in the slave trade. O’Malley has yet to veto any bills but voiced concerns again today about one which would make twice-convicted drug dealers eligible for parole.

The “living wage” bill, which advocates have pushed for nearly a decade, says to state contract workers that “we are going to treat you in a fair and just and decent way,” O’Malley said.

A similar measure was passed by the legislature in 2004 but vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who argued that it would drive up the price of state contracts significantly. Republicans made similar arguments during the recently concluded session.

Of course they did. A living wage for workers must NEVER be allowed to increase rock-bottom costs for politically-connected construction corps execs. GOP Laws to Live By #34.

WaPo, Stephen Barr: “Congress Weighs Using Nest Eggs as Agents of Change

California Dem Rep Barbara Lee is pushing a bill in the House that would make the govt employees’ pension plans take social responsibility into account when they’re making investments.

A $210 billion retirement savings program for government employees may soon be drawn into the growing debate over how to use the nation’s economic clout to help halt the violence in Sudan and to restrict investments in companies that do business with Iran.

The Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-type program with 3.7 million participants, has practiced neutrality on political and social issues since its start two decades ago. But bills pending in Congress would pressure the TSP to reconsider that stance.

The congressional proposals, to some extent, reflect the growing interest in “socially responsible” investment funds, which look for profitable companies that offer safe products and have good track records in such areas as human rights, community involvement and the environment.

Unions

Globe Op-Ed, John Sweeney, Pres AFL-CIO: “Freedom to unionize

AMERICA’S WORKING families today are running faster than ever to keep up, and still falling behind. High costs in healthcare, housing, energy, and college tuition are suffocating families’ budgets.

Last year personal savings were negative 1 percent, the lowest savings rate in 73 years, according to the Commerce Department. Children are forced to compensate for their parents’ inadequate retirement funds. In short, disposable income is now part of the “good old days.”

All the while, executives of profitable companies bask in outlandish compensation. How did this happen to America’s workers? There are a number of reasons — including unfair trade laws and poor national fiscal policy. And one major factor that often remains hidden is that corporations have systematically riddled workers’ freedom to improve their lives through unions, and our nation’s labor laws are too weak to stop them.

It is no secret that the rise in the American middle class paralleled the rise in the number of American workers who joined unions. After all, union workers earn 30 percent more than workers without a union, and are much more likely to have healthcare and pensions. Increasing the number of people who are in unions is the surest way for today’s workers to reverse their fortunes and rebuild the American middle class.

Yet companies routinely violate workers’ basic right to form a union. Thirty percent of private sector employers fire pro-union workers, 50 percent threaten to close worksites if the workers choose to unionize, and 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one meetings against the union, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor at Cornell University.

Unfortunately, these nasty methods of threat and coercion work for the employer. In more than 90 percent of union elections, a majority of workers indicated in writing that they wanted a union at the beginning of the process. However, unions won less than half of these elections, after months and years of employer intimidation. Does this sound like a system that is fair to workers?

Americans are given the right to vote and elect our political figures. It is a sacred and fundamental right that we often brag about when holding the country up as a beacon of democracy to the rest of the world and to one another.

Would we still be a beacon if on the way into the voting booth a politician pulled us aside, one-on-one, and threatened, intimidated, and coerced us about what horrible things would happen if we didn’t vote the “right” way? Of course not. We’d be a despicable banana republic, not a beacon of democracy.

But that is the reality in union elections, and that is the reason why so few workers are able to do what every recent legitimate measure of worker sentiment tells us the majority of them want

There’s more.

Minneapolis-St Paul StarTribune: “Circuit City Fallout Continues: Union Uses CC to Recruit Members

The electronics retail giant dumped its most loyal and senior workers in an effort to knock down wages from as high as $19 an hour to $7.50.

In an act of corporate compassion, Circuit City did say the fired workers would be allowed to apply for Circuit City jobs, at the lower rate.

Not surprisingly, the AFL-CIO looked at Circuit City’s action and smelled opportunity.

Labor’s biggest umbrella organization now is using Circuit City stores as a backdrop as it tours the country on a two-prong mission. It is pointing to Circuit City as a classic reason why retail workers need to organize. And it is using the Circuit City action as a way of convincing Congress that it should pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers involved in organizing activities more protection than they have now. As it is, one in five workers involved in organizing activities gets fired, according to the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff.

Monday afternoon, about 30 labor activists showed up at the front door of the Circuit City in Roseville. A dozen of that store’s employees were among the 3,400 canned by Circuit City.

The labor leaders pointed to the sorts of things that should inspire workers: The average CEO today, they said, is paid 542 times the amount paid to the average worker. In 1981, CEOs were paid 42 times the amount paid to average workers. The CEO at Circuit City is paid roughly $7.5 million a year. The average Circuit City worker is paid $11 an hour, or about $23,000 a year.

Nice to see Labor finally taking advantage of an obvious opening. Usually they ignore stuff like this or don’t seem to know how to exploit it. Maybe they’re learning.

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