From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Breaking News: Coalition of Immokalee Workers Victory!



WASHINGTON – May 23, 2008 - The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Burger King Corp. (NYSE:BKC) today announced plans to work together to improve wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who harvest tomatoes for the BURGER KING® system in Florida.

BKC has agreed to pay an additional net penny per pound for Florida tomatoes to increase wages for the Florida farm workers who harvest tomatoes. To encourage grower participation in this increased wage program, BKC will also fund incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the growers as a result of their farmworkers' increased wages, or a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.

BKC also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for Florida tomato harvesters.

Together, BKC and the CIW have also established zero tolerance guidelines for certain unlawful activities that require immediate termination of any grower from the BURGER KING® supply chain. The BKC/CIW collaboration additionally provides for farmworker participation in the monitoring of growers' compliance with the company's vendor code of conduct.

John Chidsey, chief executive officer of Burger King Corp., said, "We are pleased to now be working together with the CIW to further the common goal of improving Florida tomato farmworkers' wages, working conditions and lives. The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong. Today we turn a new page in our relationship and begin a new chapter of real progress for Florida farmworkers.

Press release continues here.

This Week in Labor

Bush abandons safety regs

The Bush administration continues, on all fronts, to abandon enforcement of job safety and health standards. Recent Congressional hearings shed light on the administration’s almost total disregard of ergonomic injuries. The lax attitude was displayed in testimony by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao who tried on May 7 to defend the administration’s budget proposals for enforcement of rules to prevent ergonomic injuries, widely seen as totally inadequate.

Chao told Sen. Tom Harkins (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Labor Appropriations subcommittee, that 700 workplaces were inspected last year for ergonomic injuries. Harkins countered that Occupational Safety and Health Administration records show that only 449 inspections had been done. Government records indicate, however, that there were 375,540 ergonomic injuries last year. These injuries include musculoskeletal disorders that develop from repetitive motions, lifting, turning and hauling.

NLRB nominee withdrawn

The Bush administration has withdrawn its nomination of management lawyer Robert Battista, former National Labor Relations Board chairman, to a new five-year term on the board. Unions celebrated the withdrawal after having lobbied hard to urge senators to turn down the nomination. Under Battista’s five year reign the NLRB, established to protect workers, instead became known for a series of rulings that restricted workers’ organizing rights and eased penalties for employers who violated labor law.

Jobless benefits added

In a challenge to the GOP, the Democratic-run Senate Appropriations Committee passed a measure extending federal jobless benefits to 39 weeks in most states – and 52 in a few – up from the present 26 weeks. The panel added the benefits, and money to pay for them, to Bush’s Iraq War funding bill.

Auto worker victory in Virginia

By a 93-7 percent margin, UAW represented workers at the Volvo trucks plant in New River, Va., ratified a new three-year contract. The union represents 2,600 workers who were on strike for seven weeks. The contract gives each worker a $2000 lump sum payment in its first year and 2 percent raises in each following year. It also features better vision and hearing benefits and protected recall rights for workers should there be any layoffs.

Better deal for state workers

By a 524-147 margin on May 3, convention delegates of the previously unaffiliated State Employees Association of North Carolina voted to merge into the Service Employees, SEIU has announced. The state association became SEIU Local 2008 which represents 55,000 North Carolina state workers in one of the least unionized states in the United States.North Carolina workers lag far behind national averages in pay (35th), health care (45th) and pension benefits (30th), SEIU said.

AFL-CIO backs Guatemalans

The AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions formally protested workers’ rights violations to a panel established under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to hear such cases. The panel, though, has no power to enforce any remedies. In their April 23 complaint the U.S. labor federation and the Guatemalan unions said workers are being left unprotected. Union workers in Guatemala are being systematically harassed, intimidated, assaulted, raped and even murdered, the unions charge.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indian workers' hunger strike continues with rally at the Capitol

A group of Indian workers and their supporters in the U.S. labor movement rallied at the U.S. Capitol building May 20 after the workers staged a "water only" strike at the White House that began six days earlier.

The five who staged the hunger strike and almost 500 other pipe fitters and welders were lured from their homes in India all the way to Mississippi where they were told high paying jobs and permanent residency status were waiting for them. Soon after their arrival, they were promised, their families could join them. Signal International, the shipyard company that recruited and hired them with the false promises, charged them as much as $20,000 apiece for the trip to America.

They were forced to pay half their wages to rent filthy, cramped trailers in a section of the shipyard surrounded by barbed wire. Much of their remaining wage was taken to service their $20,000 debt and, with the company holding their passports, they were kept as virtual prison laborers.

When they complained about either their living or working conditions, company supervisors threatened them with firing, which for a “guest worker” with an H-2B visa, means automatic deportation.

The labor movement opposes the H-2B visa program which they see as rife with abuse. Originally designed so that employers who had difficulty finding skilled workers in the U.S. could get government permission to temporarily bring in workers from abroad, the program is now used by big companies to import tens of thousands of low wage laborers, driving down working conditions for all U.S. workers. Article continues here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Axle workers face big pay cuts with new contract

by Melissa O'Rourke

After three months out on the picket line, the workers at American Axle finally have a contract to vote on. CEO Dick Dauch made known from the start that he wanted severe pay and benefit cuts in order to “remain competitive,” and that the workers would suffer for it. Even though he got a 9% raise this year and over the past decade has received over $257 million in compensation, and the company made a profit of $37 million last year, the workers are expected to ratify a contract that cuts their wages by over 33% and increases their health care costs. The deal also will shut down both the Detroit and Tonawanda Forges and offer buyouts and buydowns. Below is the average pay breakdown for production workers for both their current and new contracts:

Currently New Contract

$28/hr $18.50/hr

$1120/wk $740/wk

$58,240/yr $38,480/yr

This means a pay cut of $380 a week, $1647 a month, and $19,760 a year. The saddest part is that the UAW had to fight to keep the cuts at this level, rather than the over 50% cuts American Axle demanded. New production hires will be paid $11.50 per hour, twice a year they’ll get an extra $.50 an hour raise, until after 10 years they might make what their co-workers make. For some people $18.50 may seem like great money, but when that pay rate is $1650 a month less than what you’ve been living on, based your mortgage, car payments, kids college tuition and all your other living expenses, it’s devastating. At a time when foreclosure rates, personal debt, and the cost of living are skyrocketing, the last thing workers need is a drastic cut in pay. Does anyone really wonder why Michigan has the highest foreclosure and crime rates, along with the fastest growing population of residents receiving food stamps?

According to Wall Street, the labor costs are still too high. Financial firm Lehman Brothers projects that 1,200 of the 3,650 striking employees will opt for buyouts or early retirements. Those employees will "not be replaced in the U.S. but in Mexico," wrote analyst Brian Johnson in a note to investors. Earlier this week Dauch announced plans to expand in India and Thailand; perhaps they should change the company name to “Asian Axle” as they abandon their workers in the U.S.

"It's not a good agreement, but at this juncture it's the best we could do," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. After weeks at the negotiating table, he said he didn't think that more negotiations would net a better contract, so the contract goes to membership and will now be up to individual workers to decide their fates. After 11 weeks on the strike line during which American Axle shifted work to Mexico, many seem glad to still have a job.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Labor to Labor Aid for China

Hi Labor UpFront,

It seems now would be a good time to push for more of a bridge between US labor and Chinese labor. We could ask them if there is a way we can help. The city of Dujiangyan was under a different name when I was 6 years old, and I did not realize for a couple of days in this crisis, that in the news I was seeing the town we lived in for 2 1/2 years, mid-'48 to beginning of '51. (I was gone much of that time to a boarding school for missionary kids, but still have some memories of what used to be called Guan Xian.)
We do not have any more meetings of our local this school year, but I am going to take it up with officers and our delegation to the NEA, which meets in DC July 1-6. I am not a delegate to the AFT which meets a couple of weeks later in Chicago, but I will try to see if someone in the AFT will raise it. I am interested in hearing other labor folks thoughts on this. Not only is this important worker to worker help but it can help us build workers of the world unite – badly needed in this time of corporate globalization.

In solidarity,

John Streater


Friday, May 9, 2008

Paid maternity leave still on the wishlist for many U.S. mothers

On Mother's Day, just a reminder of the workplace battles women still face:

EPI Economic Snapshot for May 7, 2008.

Paid maternity leave still on the wishlist for many U.S. mothers

by Heidi Shierholz and Emily Garr

This Mother's Day, we reflect on the critical but often overlooked issue of maternity leave. In a selection of 19 countries with comparable per capita income, the United States provides the fewest maternity leave benefits in both length of leave and paid time off (see chart). This is considered separate from any disability insurance for which one may qualify. In fact, the United States falls two weeks short of the International Labor Organization's basic minimum standard of at least 14 weeks general leave. It is also the only country not to guarantee some amount of leave with income.

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Maternity leave benefits (in weeks), 19 countries

The United States passed the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, giving eligible parents 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new child. But aside from being unpaid, it is limited to workplaces of more than 50 employees, which excludes more than 41.3% of working Americans, or about 48.1 million people.1

On May 2, New Jersey became the third state in the country to pass legislation that would provide at least some degree of paid family leave (following California and Washington). Most recently at the federal level, the Family Leave Insurance Act of 2008 (H.R. 5873) was introduced in April to provide paid leave to care for a new child and to cover workplaces with fewer than 50 employees. Policies that guarantee adequate leave are increasingly valuable not only for working families, but also for employers, who benefit from the retention of skilled personnel in the workplace and improved employee morale.

Look for more comparisons between the United States and its global peers in the upcoming biennial release of The State of Working America 2008/2009, which will be released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, September 1, 2008.

Grant, Jodi, Taylor Hatcher, and Narali Patel. 2005. Expecting Better: A State by State Analysis of Parental Leave Programs. Washington, D.C.: National Partnership for Women and Families.

Heymann, Jody, Alison Earle, and Jeffery Hayes. 2007. Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the United States Measure Up? Cambridge, Mass: Project on Global Working Families, Harvard University.

OECD Family Database. 2006/2006. Babies and Bosses
Reconciling Work and Family Life (Vol. 5): A Synthesis of Findings for OECD Countries. <>.

1. Census Bureau (2005) County Business Patterns.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Help Provide Relief to Burmese Workers

From the AFL-CIO weblog:

by James Parks, May 6, 2008

With more than 22,000 people reported dead and as many as 1 million homeless after a tropical cyclone that struck Burma over the weekend, the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) has issued an urgent plea to the global union movement for aid in launching rescue, relief and rehabilitation work for victims of the storm.

The cyclone was the worst to hit Asia in almost 20 years, according to weather experts.

FTUB, a partner of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, plans to use relief fund contributions to distribute clothing, medicine, and non-perishable food for displaced workers and their families, build temporary shelters and assist in providing needed counseling and health clinics. Click here to contribute to help Burmese workers.

United Nations officials say that hundreds of thousands of people are without shelter and clean drinking water after the cyclone, with winds reaching 150 miles per hour, knocked out power and phone lines, leveled thousands of homes and left entire communities under water.

To put the scale of the destruction in perspective, Burma has a population of more than 47 million. Had the cyclone hit the United States and killed the same percentage of our population, the death total would be more than 140,000.

FTUB General Secretary U Maung Maung says:

We are very concerned by the havoc caused against the people of Burma. The storm has left much loss of homes, lives and properties in its wake.

Although neighboring countries have responded quickly with food, clothing and medical supplies, flooding and military controls prevent them from reaching those who need them most. In addition, the cyclone has devastated Burma’s rice crop, which was to feed not only its own people, but also those of impoverished Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

State Employees Association of North Carolina Joins SEIU in Historic Union Vote

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- On May 3, the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) voted to affiliate with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEANC convention included 671 elected delegates representing SEANC’s 55,000 state employee members across the state. Nearly 80 percent, or 524 delegates, voted to affiliate with SEIU.

“This vote marks the largest union victory ever for working people across the South -- especially in North Carolina, which previously had the lowest rate of unionization in the country,” said Dana Cope, SEANC’s executive director.

North Carolina currently lags far behind the rest of the country when it comes to public employee pay and benefits. North Carolina ranks 35th in public employee pay, 45th for family health care coverage (the 5th worst state) and 30th in pension benefits. As a result, many state employees can’t afford to remain in state government. Turnover costs climbed from $330 million in 2005 to $362 million in 2006.

By combining SEIU’s expertise with SEANC’s strength, state employees will be better able to partner with the state to improve retention. This will help ensure that more state resources are focused on improving our roads and bridges, strengthening our higher education system, keeping our communities safe and protecting children and the elderly.

“Both SEANC and SEIU members share a deep commitment to building a country that works for everyone and by coming together, we have a chance to make that dream a reality,” said SEIU President Andy Stern.

Uniting with SEIU will also help SEANC build a national presence to advocate for North Carolina and ensure that our communities get their share of funding for critical state services like transportation, health and human services and corrections.

SEANC, SEIU Local 2008, is the South’s leading state employee association with 55,000 members strong. With 1.9 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America and includes over one million public employees who have united to improve their lives and the services they provide.

House orders feds to move on explosive dust hazards

In March, Tammy Miser told Congress how her brother Shawn cried out, “I’m in a world of hurt,” as he begged her to take him off life support. Five years earlier Shawn Boone was lying on a floor in a plant that made aluminum wheels, his body smoldering, as the aluminum dust burned through his flesh, then his muscles and finally his internal organs.

In February, a month before Tammy spoke to the lawmakers, 13 workers died similar slow and painful deaths when a sugar refinery in Georgia exploded. Superheated sugar flowed like lava, melting steel frames as the sugar dust burned through the bodies of the workers. For the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), whose members were hand-picked by the Bush administration, all this was not enough to make them act.

On April 30 the Congress of the United States took action when the House ordered OSHA to write standards requiring companies to curb explosive workplace dust and to prescribe severe penalties for those who violate the standards. 21 Republicans joined 226 Democrats to give the bill a 247-165 vote majority.

The Congress approved the measure on recommendation from the House Education and Labor Committee, which heard Tammy Miser’s testimony in March. At the time, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), called OSHA’s failure to act “ridiculous” and vowed to push for legislation forcing the agency to act. The committee then drafted HR-5522, the bill that Congress has approved.

Miller derided OSHA for saying it needed more time to investigate. “Everyone already knows what caused the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant and at the other places,” he declared, adding, “the problem here is that OSHA relies on voluntary agreements with industry and we see that is just not good enough. Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections. OSHA must be forced to act.”

He said that there were 281 combustible dust explosions between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others and extensively damaged industrial facilities and that the recent tragedy at the Imperial sugar plant in Georgia underlined the reality of the danger for workers and required immediate action from OSHA.

Miller said that OSHA has failed to act after it has known for years about the dangers of combustible dust at workplaces. He said mandatory OSHA standards are the only way workers are going to get the protection they need.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Unions say workplaces "more dangerous" under Bush

Report scores on-the-job fatalities

CROCKETT, Calif. — How much is a human life worth? If that life was claimed by one of the nearly 6,000 U.S. workplace fatalities in 2006, the answer is just $10,133.

In its updated annual report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, released on the eve of April 28 Workers Memorial Day commemorations, the AFL-CIO says that’s the average penalty in fatality investigations.

Calling $10,000 for a worker’s life “an outrage,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney warned that American workplaces “have gotten more dangerous, not safer, under President Bush.” Saying “America’s workers simply can’t afford another four years of Bush administration-style cuts, rollbacks and opposition to new safety protections,” Sweeney called on Congress and the next president to “take real action” to strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to boost funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, fully implement mine safety laws and address the growing risks faced by Latino and immigrant workers.

The AFL-CIO said there were 5,840 workplace deaths in 2006, an increase of 106 over 2005. On an average day, 153 workers lose their lives from workplace injuries or disease, and another 11,233 are injured.

A key finding is the marked rise in fatalities among Latino and immigrant workers. In 2006 fatalities among Latino workers grew by 7 percent over the previous year, and were 25 percent higher than fatalities among all workers.
Story continues here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dockworkers protest Iraq war, stay off job on May 1

“We’re standing up for America, we’re supporting the troops, and we’re telling politicians that it’s time to end the Iraq war now!” longshore union workers say.

More than 25,000 longshore workers at 29 west coast ports are exercising their First Amendment rights today by taking a day off work and calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

“Longshore workers are standing-down on the job and standing up for America,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath. “We’re supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it’s time to end the war in Iraq.”

McEllrath says rank-and-file members made their own democratic decision in early February when Longshore Caucus delegates voted to take action on May 1. Employers were notified of the plan, but refused to accommodate the union’s request despite plenty of advance notice. The employer group, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) consists of large carriers and port operators, most of which are foreign-owned.

“Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren’t loyal or accountable to any country,” said McEllrath. “For them it’s all about making money. But longshore workers are different. We’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us to the tune of 3-trillion dollars. It’s time to stand up, and we’re doing our part today.”