Privatization Leads to Fraud, Mismanagement, and Employee Abuse at Wackenhut

The three words that best describe the private security business these days are “racism”, “corruption”, and “profits”. Wackenhut, the largest private security provider to the Federal govt and the military outside of Iraq, would appear to be awash in all three.

Wackenhut, which has ties to the GOP and the Bush Administration that go almost as deep as Halliburton’s, is currently under investigation:

  • in Alaska by the GAO for “inadequate training and incomplete background checks that led to employment of officers with criminal records”, “poor” record-keeping that included falsified training records, and a near-total lack of any kind of monitoring or oversight on the program, as well as for illegally obtaining security contracts that were supposed to go to minority businesses;
  • in Miami (scroll to bottom) by Dade County for fraud – overbilling, billing for services not provided, falsifying records of guards’ hours, and violations of labor laws for working guards in some cases 20 hrs/day, 7 days/week;
  • by the Homeland Security Committee for “problems at Wackenhut-guarded facilities nationwide that lead to high employee turnover, low morale and ineffective security” at US nuclear sites;
  • by the House Govt Reform Committee “to examine charges of racism, discrimination and poor performance;
  • at a Tennessee Army ammunition plant where inspectors found holes in the perimeter fences, and where “two teenage runaways were found wandering around the 6,000-acre property after getting dangerously close to explosives” after the number of guards had been cut “in response to higher gas prices”;
  • by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for security violations “at Wackenhut-guarded Three Mile Island, Seabrook Station, St. Lucie, and Turkey Point nuclear power plants”;
  • and by the Dept of Energy for “shorting the protective force on combat training; excessive overtime; caught cheating during one security drill and involved in a near-friendly fire incident in another” at its Y-12 (Oak Ridge) nuclear weapons plant.

And that’s only a partial list of domestic investigations.

Continue reading

TSA 3: Screeners’ Union Passes in Senate

The Republicans backed off their threat to filibuster the provision of the anti-terrorism bill that would give airport screeners the right to unionize, and on Monday the Senate, too, passed the bill.

The Senate voted Tuesday to give 45,000 airport screeners the same union rights as other public safety officers, despite vigorous opposition by Republicans and a veto threat from the White House.

A broad anti-terrorism bill that would implement the remaining recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission includes a provision that would give airport screeners the right to bargain collectively. An amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would have removed that right, but was defeated by a vote of 51-46.

The Senate expects to complete work on the bill by the end of the week.

DeMint, a far-right whacko who ran a stealth campaign in South Carolina pretending to be a moderate, hasn’t quit, though. Continue reading

TSA 2: Screeners’ Union One Step Closer

The effort of the Transportation Security Administration’s airport screeners to form a union took a giant step forward this week when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee “approved a measure that would give collective-bargaining rights to about 43,000 airport screeners”. The Senate vote follows rather than leads, of course – the House has already passed a similar bill as part of their 100-Hours package. If the full Senate agrees, a TSA union will almost certainly become a reality – unless Bush intervenes. Continue reading

Labor and Business Join for Immigration Reform

There is almost no coverage of unions or labor issues in the nation’s mainstream press. As Studs Terkel pointed out 15 or 20 years ago – and before that, for all I know – every newspaper has a Business Section, along with a Lifestyle Section (now that’s critical news), an Entertainment Section, an Automotive Section. Not one – not one – has a Labor Section. Nor have they ever had one, not even in the 50’s when 35% of the US workforce belonged to a union. When (if) they cover labor news at all, they usually put it in the Business Section where you can pretty much count on a certain, well, slant to the reporting. (There. I’ve said it.)

One day a year, at least, we used to be treated to saccherine paeans to the Old Labor Movement, although they were almost always quickly undercut by “historical reminders” of how corrupt the Teamsters were. Nowadays we don’t even get that. We get instead stories about the modern (mainly non-unionized) workforce “adapting” to the “new workplace”. I’ve seen articles on the incredible levels of employee stress, on employee health care, child care, and the “productivity costs” of absenteeism due to sick children or sick parents. In virtually all of these articles there are two glaring omissions: any mention of unions and any mention of employer responsibility for the problems discussed. Few business reporters are willing to bite the bullet and name the obvious culprit: employers who expect too much and pay too little for it.

I wrote about this in the previous post – and no, I’m not going to get back on that horse again here – because it is the biggest unaddressed issue in the working world today, and probably the biggest reason for workers to unionize. Labor unions, as I wrote a few days ago, have been looking for ways to make alliances with corporations and conservative groups that promise to cut through some of the built-in animosity that exists between them by joining together to work on issues common to both. Yesterday the Washington Post reported on the second such merger this week. This time the issue is immigration reform, and once again the SEIU is right in the middle of it. Continue reading

Overtime cut undermines workers


Yesterday, the biggest pay cut in American history took effect: The Bush administration’s overtime pay cut became official. It’s a new federal rule that could strip up to 6 million workers of overtime pay protection, forcing them to work longer hours without fair compensation.

Nurses, police lieutenants, chefs, team leaders, working supervisors, assistant managers and financial services workers are just some of the millions of workers who used to earn overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week — and who will now lose that eligibility.

Not only will these employees no longer get overtime pay — they’ll be working extra hours for free, earning only their base salary. That means a huge pay cut. Currently, time-and-a-half premium pay for overtime work accounts for 25 percent of the income of those who work overtime. That averages out to about $161 every week.

And what incentive will employers have to keep workers’ hours reasonable if they don’t have to pay extra for extra work? Workers without overtime pay rights are twice as likely to work more than 40 hours per week, three times as likely to work more than 50 hours and three times as likely to work more than 60 hours. The fact is that workers will have less time with our families, thanks to President Bush’s new overtime rule.

These overtime rules are also bad news for our economy — at a time when we can least afford it. Our nation is already in a deep jobs hole; we have 1.6 million fewer jobs than when Bush took office.

Last month, experts were disappointed when the economy created only 32,000 jobs as opposed to the 200,000 expected. Under the new rule, employers will tend to work their current workers longer hours rather than creating new jobs, making the underlying problems in our economy even worse. At a time when workers’ paychecks are down, joblessness is up and Americans are working more hours than workers in any other industrialized nation, Bush has made the wrong decision in implementing his new rule.

Even three former Department of Labor officials — three of the highest-ranking DOL officials under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton — agree that these new overtime rules hurt workers. They have issued an analysis that concludes that with one exception, every one of the administration’s changes to the overtime rules will weaken the eligibility requirement and increase the number of workers who will lose their overtime rights.

This new rule was sold as “modernization.” But the truth is these are changes in the law that giant corporations have fought for years to win.

A number of low-income workers will gain overtime pay rights under the new rule, and we applaud this long-overdue change. But this gain does not justify the Bush administration’s decision to take overtime pay rights away from millions of other workers, a move bipartisan majorities of Congress tried to block.

Last May, the Senate voted not once but twice to guarantee that no worker will lose his or her overtime rights. The two amendments passed by the Senate, we believe, would repeal large portions of the Bush regulation that restrict overtime eligibility. This marks the fourth time in the past year that Congress has voted to prohibit overtime pay cuts.

But the overtime guarantee passed by the Senate is unlikely to become law unless approved by the House. This explains why the House Republican leadership has blocked any debate or votes on protecting workers’ overtime rights — because they know that an overtime guarantee would likely pass in the House and would repeal major portions of the Bush overtime regulation. U.S. workers deserve an up-or-down vote in the House on this issue when Congress returns in September.

An overtime guarantee would give workers the peace of mind of knowing they will not be losing their right to overtime pay, and it would calm the intense political passions that have been stirred by the Bush plan. Anything less is simply a massive pay cut for America’s workers.

John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO, which represents 13 union members.

Union Dissension Won’t Affect Kerry–But After?

We wrote previously about SIEU boss Andy Stern’s comments regarding Kerry’s stance on unions and its roots in the strategy sessions of the business-friendly DLC. A story in today’s NYT explains some of the background in the split between traditional unionists and the new breed that Stern represents.

BOSTON, July 30 – The nation’s labor unions have rallied behind John Kerry after being openly divided just a few months ago when many unions backed Representative Richard A. Gephardt for president while others supported Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor.

But behind their newfound unity in politics, the nation’s unions are in turmoil, with some labor leaders maneuvering to become the A.F.L.- C.I.O.’s next president and some hinting that they might pull out of the organization. Some union presidents, alarmed that the labor movement is shrinking, are calling for a radical overhaul of organized labor, while others angrily accuse them of trying to dictate policies and of washing labor’s dirty laundry in public.

“Turmoil” is way too strong a word at this point–the unions all remain united about defeating Bush–but the growing disagreements between older and newer style unions are undeniable. Stern–who represents the workers of the New Economy, traditionally lower-wage service and clerical jobs–has been unhappy with the DLC’s emphasis on attracting corporate contributions by pandering to its greed for a while now. He has been equally unhappy with the traditional unions’ refusal to become more aggressive in their tactics, accusing them once of protecting their own positions by making agreements that hurt their memberships.

He has a point, though his timing may have been less than ideal.

“It’s time that we all pull together,” said Mr. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, the first major union to endorse Mr. Kerry. “What’s at stake is the very existence of the labor movement. I think the movement will be damaged, will be set back for decades, if George Bush wins again.”

He complained that Mr. Bush had stripped many federal workers of their right to unionize, had watered down overtime and job safety protections and had appointed a National Labor Relations Board that had made it harder for unions to organize workers.

But appeals for labor unity stumbled badly during the convention. Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the nation’s fastest-growing union, gave interviews in which he asserted that the Democrats lacked an economic message and that Mr. Kerry was not pro-worker enough. Mr. Stern, whose union has 1.6 million members, also said organized labor was in crisis.

“The Democrats have to decide where they stand on economic issues,” Mr. Stern said in an interview on the convention’s first day. “John Kerry’s positions are fine, but they don’t go far enough to deal with the issues that are facing people who go to work every day.”

Mr. Stern’s comments angered and confounded other labor leaders, especially because the service employees say they plan to spend $65 million this year to help elect Mr. Kerry, more than twice the level in 2000 and far more than any union has ever spent in a campaign. Indeed, the nation’s unions plan to spend more than $160 million on politics this year, up from an estimated $100 million four years ago.

Mr. Stern’s comments were the latest sparks generated by his faction within the A.F.L.-C.I.O. That four-union grouping, the New Unity Partnership, has called for overhauling the A.F.L.-C.I.O., creating fewer and bigger unions and redefining which unions can recruit which workers. Some leaders in this group have even hinted that they might pull out of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. if the federation, comprising 60 unions, shunned their calls for change.Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists, said that if the partnership’s leaders continued trying to dictate to other unions, the labor federation might split into competing halves, like the old American Federation of Labor and old Congress of Industrial Organizations before they merged a half century ago. Mr. Buffenbarger said several industrial unions resented the way the partnership was trying to dominate the labor federation.

“The way they talk, it’s my way or no way,” Mr. Buffenbarger said. “If the rhetoric doesn’t calm down, you’ll see old alliances form and that might lead to recreating the old A.F.L. and old C.I.O.” Mr. Buffenbarger said some union leaders felt that the partnership’s leaders – three of the five are Ivy League graduates – talk down to them.

Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, a union representing textile, hotel and restaurant workers and a member of the New Unity Partnership, said Mr. Stern and the partnership were right to push for far-reaching changes. He said the structure of organized labor was outmoded, asserting that unions were too fractured, small and poorly structured to contend with global corporations.

“The labor movement needs to confront these issues, but not in a backroom,” Mr. Raynor said. “We’re not the Kremlin. It’s not like people don’t know that our ability to protect American workers has been weakened. We have to turn that around, and to some degree that debate has to be done publicly.”

“There’s no question that the labor movement should talk about and focus on change, but our emphasis right now has to be on the election of John Kerry,” [AFL-CIO President John] Sweeney said. “We have had some terrible times over the last four years with the anti-worker, anti-union policies of the Bush administration.”Yes, they have, and the point dissidents like Stern and Raynor are trying to get across is that too many tradirtional union leaders sat back and let it happen rather than fight it as they have. Stern’s SIEU isn’t just “the fastest-growing” union, it’s one of the few that hasn’t lost membership, and its success is a direct result of both its aggressiveness and its understanding of the weaknesses in the corporate global market, weaknesses it has been very smart about exploiting to get record gains for its membership.

The brouhaha is just a bump in the road on the way to the election, but after November, it’s liable to become a real dogfight, and the DLC is going to be smack in the middle of it whether it likes it or not. If Stern and the other dissidents win, the DLC is going to be facing a harsh choice: either give up their dancing seduction of corporate money or lose union support, which will instead go to Demo dissidents like Pelosi and–hopefully–Obama. And that choice will have to be made whether Kerry wins or not.

Microsoft Outsourcing High-Level Jobs


By Kristi Heim

San Jose Mercury News

Two years after Microsoft executives began urging managers to outsource software development work to India, a Washington state technology union says the company has sent increasingly high-level jobs overseas, including some related to Longhorn, the next version of Windows.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers says it obtained internal documents from a Microsoft worker that show dozens of Microsoft projects now being handled by companies in India, such as Satyam, Infosys and Wipro. Through such outside companies, Microsoft has hired 1,000 contractors for work ranging from software design to Web development, WashTech says.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to confirm the numbers or the authenticity of the documents, but said WashTech’s claims were off base.

“These accusations do not reflect an understanding of the global nature of our business,” said Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake. “It’s part of our business model to work with thousands of companies around the world.”

‘The global nature of their business’, that’s a good one. Translation: ‘We can so we are.’ I think the fact that the richest corporation in the world is cutting minor corners by outsourcing to save a few dollars they’ll hadly even miss pretty much says it all about the standard corporate excuse that they’re only doing it because they can’t afford not to.

The fact that Microsoft or other technology companies hire workers overseas is no surprise, but the company’s aggressive outsourcing efforts are moving into more advanced work and into the latest products, argues WashTech President Marcus Courtney.

In July 2002, Microsoft Senior Vice President Brian Valentine gave a presentation urging managers to begin outsourcing software-development projects to contractors in India for “quality work at 50 to 60 percent of the cost.”

“There’s a shift taking place, and I don’t know if employees realize how serious it is,” Courtney said Wednesday. “They’re hiring developers and hardware engineers overseas, and it’s clearly duplicating a lot of the work that gets done in the U.S.”

Documents provided by WashTech list contracts with outside companies for projects such as the Longhorn Migration Guide, .NET Application Security, and deployment of the Windows Server 2003 update. A migration guide refers to software that helps customers move to Longhorn from a different operating system, and .NET is Microsoft’s technology for Web-based services.

“It’s going to happen more and more just because Microsoft products are more mature and so they require less intense design work,” he said. “So it becomes feasible to do it thousands of miles away.”MS code-geeks better start practicing their burger-flipping.

Unionized security guards better able to tackle terror threats


A local union branch, trying to place many of the area’s private security guards in its fold, released a study Thursday that it said showed a unionized work force would make the guards better able to respond to crimes, natural disasters or the threat of terror attacks.

Officials with the Service Employees International Union Local 6, which represents about 2,400 office building janitors in Seattle and Bellevue, held a news conference yesterday flanked by several local Democratic politicians and other supporters.

They said a majority of security guards, undertrained and underpaid, were eager to be unionized so they could improve and standardize training procedures, better their working conditions and slow high turnover rates.

Office building and public transit security in Seattle is only as strong as its weakest link, City Councilman Nick Licata said.

“Right now, the private security force is the weakest link,” he said.

Licata, union officials and others stressed that security guards receive no FBI fingerprint checks when hired and no “site-specific” training to make sure they know in detail the structure they are paid to protect.

“Seattle’s commercial building owners, the Sound Transit system and other sensitive public sites use personnel from private security firms to detect, deter and report threats,” wrote the SEIU in its 18-page report. “However, these building owners may be creating a false sense of security, since Seattle security officers often get minimal training.”

The SEIU hopes to represent about 1,500 private security guards regionally.

CA Prison System in Receivership?

A San Francisco District Federal Judge is so unhappy with the bargain Ah-nud struck with the guards’ union that he’s threatening to take over the State Prison system altogether.

Henderson said the pact grants the union too much control over prison management and he suggested that Schwarzenegger was not serious about fixing the “systemic problems” in corrections “condoned for many years by the highest level of California officials.”

Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, said the administration was disappointed by the judge’s strong words. “We think nothing that was done in connection with the negotiations … impairs or impedes our obligation or our ability to ensure that state employees meet the highest ethical standards.”

He said Henderson’s comments came as a surprise because the judge had complimented the administration’s actions on July 7. “It seemed at the time that the court was very satisfied with the progress we were making,” Siggins said.

In a reply sent to the judge Tuesday, Siggins said that the governor would be glad to meet with Henderson, but that it was not necessary to ensure that the governor was committed to improving the state’s prisons.

Henderson’s warning marked another chapter in a long-running dispute that began as a civil rights case involving Pelican Bay State Prison, on California’s North Coast. Ruling on that suit in 1995, Henderson found that brutality by guards and poor medical care at the prison had violated the rights of inmates.

To ensure improvements, the judge appointed a special master to oversee progress. In January, the special master, John Hagar, issued a report saying that Pelican Bay and the entire prison system were infected by a “code of silence” that protects rogue guards, corrupts recruits and is condoned by top officials.

In that report and a subsequent one last month, Hagar pointed the finger at the powerful guards union, saying their labor contract with the state, negotiated by former Gov. Gray Davis, allowed them to interfere in disciplinary investigations. That interference, he said, has prevented the department from fairly and impartially punishing employees who did wrong.

Two senators who have led oversight hearings on corrections said the judge’s firm warning should motivate the Legislature to reject the new labor agreement when it comes up for a vote, perhaps as early as today.

“It is puny, it is a policy swindle and I believe it goes backwards in our efforts to restore some sense of integrity to the system,” said Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). “If we don’t act, Judge Henderson is going to start running the Department of Corrections.”

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) agreed that the union pact was a bad deal, but said it “absolutely does not warrant a federal takeover.”

“I think this threat is an overblown statement by the judge, and I’m disappointed,” Romero said. “When he sits down with the governor, he will see there has been a pattern of progress in corrections.”

Leaders of the guards union, known as the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., bristled at the judge’s characterization of their new labor pact, saying it represented a good-faith effort to help the state during tough fiscal times. By deferring the full raise that guards were to receive July 1, the deal saves the state $108 million over this fiscal year and next.

Lance Corcoran, the union’s executive vice president, said if legislators rejected the deal and sought to block the raises in total, “some sort of job action” by guards would be likely.

The prison system is a cesspool and not just in CA. It’s a shame to have to say this but prison guards are today what the cops were 50 years ago: primarily head-bangers–they can be brutal, even sadistic; they’re not all that well-trained as a general rule; they’re chosen for their ruthlessness and how tough they are, not how smart they are; and they’re intimately involved with (and making a lot of untaxed money from) the sex rings, drug sales, weapons smuggling, and other illegal activities of the inmates. But since it’s a job few smart people want to do, as being a cop was not a job most people wanted, those who will do it have a stranglehold on the system.

It’s ironic that the same kind of people who used to get paid to break union strikes by force are now being protected from the law by one of the strongest unions in the country.

The law may have the last laugh yet.

(Thanks to eRobin of Fact-esque for the link)

Most State Governments Shipping Jobs Overseas

Union study finds that contracting tax-funded work to India and other low-wage nations is proliferating despite legislatures’ efforts.

By Warren Vieth, LA Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — More than 40 state governments have contracted with companies in India and other low-wage countries to help administer new food-stamp and other taxpayer-funded programs, according to a study released Wednesday by a technology workers union.

The practice by state agencies of sending work overseas has proliferated despite efforts in many legislatures to impose restrictions on doing so, the study said, and foreign firms are becoming more aggressive in their efforts to win government contracts.

“Taxpayers clearly aren’t informed,” said Marcus Courtney, president of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, or WashTech, in Seattle. “Citizens don’t necessarily know that their tax dollars are being spent overseas. This is being done quietly and secretly. Oftentimes, the state governments don’t even know that this is going on.”

In California, at least 11 companies specializing in “offshore” contracting are on the list of state government vendors, according to research commissioned by WashTech, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.

One Indian firm, R Systems Inc., has done more than $3 million in computer programming for state agencies, the study said. In addition, California is one of 42 states using overseas call centers to dispense information about a new debit card program that has replaced food stamps throughout the country.

The report’s authors acknowledged that they were able to document only a portion of state government work performed overseas, and could not provide a reliable estimate of the total dollar volume of such contracting. Some states refused to disclose contact data, some lacked centralized vendor information, and some were not certain whether work was being done in the U.S. or overseas.

Nevertheless, they said the study represents one of the first efforts to quantify a practice that may have contributed to the loss of U.S. jobs, and it could increase pressure on politicians to impose restrictions. Legislation has been introduced in 36 states, including California, to limit the transfer of jobs overseas, show preference to domestic firms or increase disclosure of foreign contracting.

“A lot of people feel there is something wrong about using taxpayer dollars to create jobs offshore when there are people in this country that are without jobs,” said Philip Mattera, the report’s principal author. “That’s a policy issue.”