TrenchNews, Verse 13

TOP STORY

LabourStart Forced to Close Website After Campaign Against Home Care Employer

Eric Lee’s LabourStart is an internet organizational tool for Britain’s unions. It has been more than a resource, it has been responsible for launching successful campaigns against employers and govts around the world who abuse workers and/or their unions. Barnet Unison, a website run by a local of the English union, explains.

To those of you unfamiliar with this organistion they provide information of campaigns across the world. Often they are exposing organisations/ governments who may have murdered, tortured , imprisoned Trade Union activists for going about their business, something which we all take for granted in this country. As with the Fremantle campaign, they will have a standard email detailing the issue and request readers to send the email off to the Head of the Organisation or Government.

By mobilizing union memberships around the world through its widespread newsletter to target specific injustices, LabourStart has been able to swamp offending employers and govt agencies or ministers with thousands of emails from all over the globe protesting anti-union or anti-worker activities. It has succeeded in getting trade union leaders released from jails, helped international unions win job actions, and supported trade unions in some of the most brutal countries on the planet.

Here, as Barnet Unison said, is the shocker: in all that time, they have never been threatened by anyone they went up against, not by military juntas or dictators or the cruelest and most vicious of employers.

Until now. And it’s coming from a British employer called Fremantle, not a Third World despot.

Privatization of previously govt functions and agencies came to Britain with Thatcher and grew under Poodle Blair as the UK’s Labour party followed Bill Clinton and the DLC’s lead in appropriating conservative positions and inserting them into a supposedly liberal political organization. Five years ago, The Poodle privatized Britain’s home care agencies (they call it “care home”), handing the contract to a so-called “non-profit” corporation called Fremantle. I’ll let Eric summarize what happened next.

On 1 April 2007 Fremantle Trust cut low paid care workers pay by up to 30%. The workers were told — “accept these terms or be sacked”! The members involved in the dispute provide residential and day care to the elderly and vulnerable residents in Barnet’s old peoples’ homes, in north London. Fremantle Trust is a not-for-profit company that took over care home contracts five years ago. The cuts include lower wages, increased hours, no sick pay, shorter holidays and reduced payment for working unsocial hours. Even pensions to which contributions have been made during the workers’ service are to be dramatically cut by more than one third. In response to these attacks our members voted to take strike action. Care workers need to be properly trained, decently paid and most importantly, valued members of society. This is an all too familiar story of privatisation, where companies pledge to keep delivering the same service but under-cut the in-house provision by attacking the conditions of the workforce.

(emphasis added)

Eric began an email campaign, urging his mailing list to send messages to Fremantle’s CEO, Carol Sawyers, expressing disappointment with the company’s treatment of its workers and urging it rescind the cuts. In the first 3 days, Sawyer’s inbox was flooded with over 5000 emails. Eric again, from his newsletter last week:

The reaction of the company was swift: On Friday afternoon, they fired off an email message to me threatening LabourStart with legal action, accusing us of “libel”. (As you may know, English libel laws are biased against the defendant, and are used by corporations to attempt to suppress dissent.)

A couple of days later, Fremantle got even more aggressive, and sacked Unison rep Andrew Rogers (pictured).

Andrew Rogers, Unison rep sacked by Fremantle this week This bullying behavior is, I am told, typical of how this company works. They’ve asked us to stop this campaign, to stop saying negative things about them, and to stop sending them email protest messages.

Eric’s response was predictable: step up the campaign. After his newsletter notified his members of the threat, 8000 more emails poured into Fremantle. What happened next was a first.

[O]n Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the employer (Fremantle Trust) contacted our internet service provider and demanded that they shut down the campaign or else face a lawsuit themselves.

We were contacted by the legal department of the internet service provider and told that we had until noon on Friday to close down the campaign or else the entire LabourStart site would be shut down.

We worked very hard over those 24 hours to attempt to get our provider to back down, and had the full support of Unison (Britain’s giant public sector union, whose members are at the center of the dispute) but were not successful in doing this before the noon deadline on Friday.

As a result, at 11:59 on Friday we were compelled to shut down the campaigns.

But not for long. The internet is still much harder to control than other forms of media.

But — we instantly revived the campaign in nine languages on a different server, in a different country, with a new name that reflects our feeling at this time.

The new site is called “We will not be silenced!” and is located, appropriately enough, at http://www.wewillnotbesilenced.org

Eric simply moved his site to an overseas server to prevent Sawyers’ attack on a new provider if he used a British ISP, and the campaign continues.

If you click the link, you’ll be directed to a page with a form letter you can simply sign and sent or re-write in your own words if you feel strongly enough. I urge you to do so. The global corporatocracy is a jungle virus – whatever slimy anti-union, anti-worker bullying succeeds will spread through the entire network. If most of Wal-mart’s skanky corporate behavior has been slow to be adopted by other corps in the US, it’s only because they’ve been caught so often and lost so many battles that their reputation is in tatters. And even at that, a number of chains have still appropriated wholesale illegal techniques like time-shaving and demanding workers put in time for no pay as secret corporate policies passed down verbally to managers with instructions to make sure workers don’t find out about upper management’s involvement.

Don’t let Fremantle get away with this bullshit. If you do, it could come to your company next.

OTHER STORIES

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TrenchNews, Verse 12

TOP STORY

Changeover at Delta Airlines

We noted awhile back that Delta, under a charismatic CEO with the unlikely name of Gerald Grinstein, was the only airline around to treat its workers with respect, the only airline around to give its employees a large part of the credit for turning it around and bringing it out of bankruptcy, and the only airline around to reward its employees as well as its management. Well, Grinstein is retiring, and in his place Delta’s board has hired as its new CEO a guy named Richard Anderson who comes with a reputation for ruthless cost-cutting.

Incoming Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson is a friendly and approachable leader whose easygoing manner often masks a shrewd and cunning lawyer’s mind, say Northwest Airlines workers and former associates of the one-time Texas prosecutor.

Anderson, 52, oversaw the heavily unionized Minnesota-based carrier from 2001 to 2004, a tumultuous period that pitted rank-and-file workers against management during a series of cost-cutting initiatives.

Despite his reputation, Northwest’s union chief suggests Delta’s workers could do worse.

Union leaders at Northwest give Anderson high marks for his “open-door” policy toward organized labor, but point out that he departed in 2004 before the worst of the bloodletting at the carrier, which was carried out by his successor, Doug Steenland.

“We had our issues with Richard, but overall we did OK with him,” said Ted Ludwig, president of Local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

“If we felt we had a concern we could not get resolved at the lower levels, he would always listen. He might not agree with us, but he would listen and seemed to empathize with you and he really seemed like he tried to put himself in your shoes.”

The last thing Delta needs right now is an anti-union, cost-cutting boss. Unlike American Airlines, Delta’s employees have been well-treated and well-rewarded for their efforts, and are perfectly aware that is was those efforts that were responsible for getting the airline out of a hole. They aren’t likely to take kindly to a CEO who wants to take it all away from them in the name of cutting costs after they’ve sacrificed so much. Just last week, the PBGC announced that Delta pilots’ pensions will be a little heftier than they thought.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a quasi-government agency that insures workers’ traditional pensions up to certain limits, said it expects to cover a greater share of the pilots’ pension benefits because it also received more valuable stock and other assets than expected as part of Delta’s bankruptcy reorganization. The agency pays pensions above its guaranteed limits when it recovers enough assets to do so.The PBGC received a $225 million IOU and a $2.2 billion unsecured claim as part of a settlement for taking over Delta’s pension plan last year, which was underfunded by $3 billion at the time. Those claims were converted into Delta stock when the airline emerged from bankruptcy in April. The PBGC now has about 50 million Delta shares worth about $800 million, and expects to receive more as remaining disputes in the bankruptcy case are settled.

Many retirees will see a “significant increase in benefits” as a result of the additional money coming into the plan, Joan Weiss, chief valuation actuary for the PBGC, told about 120 Delta pilots and retirees Monday.

If Anderson screws around with that, he’s in trouble. So’s the airline. And he may have to. Why? Because he has negotiated a potentially humungous salary package with the Delta board.

Anderson’s base salary is just below his $612,307 base salary with Minnesota-based United HealthGroup in 2006, where he served as an executive vice president before accepting the Delta job. His total 2006 compensation at United HealthGroup was about $4.3 million, according to a database of U.S. executive compensation.

The Delta package would pay Anderson at least $900,000 a year — 150 percent of his base pay — in 2008 if he meets or exceeds key goals in Delta’s business plan. Meeting those goals would also trigger profit-sharing for other employees, said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton.

Anderson will get a “long-term incentive award” valued at an estimated $11 million in 2007. This would be awarded as 55 percent restricted stock, 25 percent in stock options and 20 percent in the form of performance shares. For 2008, Anderson will be eligible for long-term incentives valued at $4 million, according to the SEC filing.

(emphasis added)

At least his raise is tied to his performance – more than many CEO’s are saddled with – but even so, $15Mil in bonuses is considerably more than Grinstein got, and he’s the one who turned everything around. That money has to come from somewhere. Wouldn’t be that it turns out the employees pay for it, would it? It sure won’t be the investors.

OTHER STORIES

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TrenchNews, Verse 11

TOP STORY

NYT: 7 Unions Ask NLRB to Go Back to Rule Allowing Unions to Bargain Without a Majority of Employees

Back in the 30’s when employers were fighting unions with private armies and using local police forces as strikebreakers, FDR’s National Labor Relations Board allowed – even encouraged and occasionally demanded – employers bargain with unions even though the unions did not yet represent a majority of the company’s workforce.

Today, the methods of intimidation used by employers to prevent unions from organizing employees are less violent and more sophisticated but just as immoral, and seven unions have together decided that it’s time The NLRB went back to the old rules – which are still in force.

Seven labor unions asked the National Labor Relations Board yesterday to order employers to bargain with unions, even when the unions represent only a minority of employees.

This would be a sharp departure from current practices, in which employers are required to bargain with a union only after it shows that a majority of employees at a workplace support it.

The unions hope that such a change will make it easier to unionize workers. Today, 7.4 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, less than a fourth of the rate in the 1950s.

The unions involved in the bid, including the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, say the labor board should return to a largely forgotten practice, prevalent in the 1930s, in which companies often bargained with unions representing only a minority of workers who had joined them.

“This is what the text of the National Labor Relations Act requires, and there are no decisions to the contrary,” said Charles J. Morris, an emeritus professor of labor law at Southern Methodist University and the foremost champion of this notion.

Union officials acknowledged that the labor board, currently dominated by appointees of President Bush, would probably not adopt a rule so favorable to unions. But union officials said they were petitioning now in the hope that there will be a Democratic president someday who will appoint a board that will look favorably upon their argument.

A pro-labor Labor Board – now there’s a radical idea.

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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:

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TrenchNews, Verse 9

TOP STORY

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.

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OTHER STORIES

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.

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TrenchNews, Verse 8

I have a backlog of links stretching to the beginning of March because I haven’t had time to do a TrenchNews since Feb, so I thought I’d clean them up and post the ones still relevant. There are, surprisingly, quite a few.

TOP STORY

walmart.jpg

Wal-Mart, of course, which seems never to run out of ways to embarrass itself by the way it treats its workers. How bad was it? Let’s let Barbara Ehrenreich tell it.

It reads like a cold war thriller: The spy follows the suspects through several countries, ending up in Guatemala City, where he takes a room across the hall from his quarry. Finally, after four days of surveillance, including some patient ear-to-the-keyhole work, he is able to report back to headquarters that he has the goods on them. They’re guilty!

But this isn’t a John Le Carré novel, and the powerful institution pulling the strings wasn’t the USSR or the CIA. It was Wal-Mart, and the two suspects weren’t carrying plans for a shoulder-launched H-bomb. Their crime was “fraternization.” One of them, James W. Lynn, a Wal-Mart factory inspection manager, was traveling with a female subordinate, with whom he allegedly enjoyed some intimate moments behind closed doors. At least the company spy reported hearing “moans and sighs” within the woman’s room.

Wal-Mart is like the neocon Bush Administration. Just when you think it can’t possibly get any sleazier or more unAmerican, it does something to prove how wrong you are.

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TrenchNews, Verse 7 (Updated)

TOP STORY

One of the bigger stories we missed last month was the Circuit City Saga. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t get to it because while most of the stories covered by Trenches are snapshots in time without a beginning or an end, this one actually plays out to a near conclusion. We know what happened, we just don’t yet know what Circuit City is going to do about it.

The CC Saga begins at the end of March when Circuit City fired 3400 employees because they were making too much money.

Circuit City fired 3,400 employees in stores across the country yesterday, saying they were making too much money and would be replaced by new hires willing to work for less.

The company said the dismissals had nothing to do with performance but were part of a larger effort to improve the bottom line. The firings represent about 9 percent of the company’s in-store workforce of 40,000.

“Retail is very competitive and store operations just have to contain their costs,” said Jim Babb, a Circuit City spokesman. “We deeply regret the negative impact that was had on these folks. It was no fault of theirs.”

No, we know whose fault it was. Wal-Mart’s. Continue reading