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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Steelworkers Convention Blast Off – Las Vegas

Leo Gerard, President of the USW, kicked off the convention with a powerful speech. More on the content in a later blog, but the response of the delegates is as much the story.

This is a fired up convention, rowdy, fiesty, pumped, ready, and eager to fight – determined to take back our country for working people – determined to elect Barack Obama and a new Congress – and determined to fight for health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, to protect Social Security and pension and on and on.....

There is fighting momentum here that will go far beyond the November 2008 elections.

I think a delegate I talked to summed it up the best, “It's like this convention is taking a strike vote,” she said. “It's like the union leadership just told us we have no choice but to strike and the membership roared back, 'let's go now!'”

Of particular note was the response to a section of Gerard's keynote where he took a sharp, hard line on looming contract negotiations in the steel and oil industries. He received enthusiastic standing ovations when he said, “We need to fight! We need to be willing to fight!”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Steelworkers on the Move - Blog from Las Vegas

Sitting with over 150 retiree activists at the SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) conference in Las Vegas. Our conference preceeds the United Steelworkers (USW) Convention that starts on Monday.

The atmosphere is electric. The mood and militancy here shows clearly that labor is very much a part of the general upsurge that promises big changes for working people starting after Nov 4, 2008 elections.

The energy here is aimed at what we can win after we win in November: universal health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, re-regulation of industry, protecting social security, creating jobs, ending unfair corporate trade policies, and on and on – fired up retirees don't need to be given issues – we got issues and fighting momentum...

One of the most inspiring speakers was Leo Gerard, president of the Steelworkers. He gave the SOAR delegates an exciting preview of next weeks USW convention.

Gerard likened the possibilities for change today to the elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt for his second term, the election of John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson's defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964. He called it our time, a transformative time, a time for basic change with the election of Barack Obama and a new Congress.

Gerard also said that this USW convention will make history in three ways: 1. The founding of the first global transatlantic union, 2. a critical dues increase that will be emarked for struggle and fightback in the union's Strike and Defence Fund, and 3. the creation of a new executive board position (Vice President at Large) to be filled by a woman steelworker. Stay tuned.

More on all this later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Recently AFSCME and teamed up to create one of the most simple but powerful videos I've seen in a long time. Check it out, and then go here to help get this ad on the air.

Working mothers hit McCain on sex discrimination bill

Armed with 29,000 signatures on petitions, a group of working mothers from, went to John McCain’s Capitol Hill office June 17 and blasted him for his stand on the Lilly Ledbetter pay discrimination bill.

McCain had ducked the vote on a bill that would have lifted the time limit that women have to file suit against companies for pay discrimination. (The Supreme Court had ruled that women must sue within 180 days of their hire date even though many don’t discover they have been victimized until much later.)

McCain was not in his office. Aides accepted the petitions from the women, some of whom had babies in carriages.

Liz Hourican, one of the demonstrators, came from Phoenix which is in McCain’s home state. She joined the other women after having spent 18 months in Washington protesting her home senator’s support for the war in Iraq.

“I completely support their efforts. Through the years, McCain has voted wrong on anything that would help women to be treated more equally,” she declared.

From PWW Week in Labor

Read the Mom's Rising press release on their wonderful action at McCain's Washington Office. This is such an important movement that shows the incredible role of women workers in the labor movement and links the labor and women's movements.

Press release here.

Sign the Mom's Rising Petition for Fair Pay here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Latino workers die on the job at higher rates than others

By John Wojcik, People's Weekly World

Latino workers die from on-the-job injury at higher rates than all others, with 33 percent of the deaths happening at construction sites, a government report noted June 5.

One of the main causes cited in the report is that they hold more high risk jobs than those in other groups. The largest number of construction industry deaths result from falls and another major cause of death among these workers is highway-related deaths, according to the report.

The study was done by health researchers in Massachusetts and New Jersey gathering information in those states and at the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. It was published in the June 5 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report which is issued weekly.

The study was based on information about 11,000 Latino workplace deaths in the United States between 1992-2006. The researchers looked at death certificates, police reports and workers’ compensation documents.

The study calculated an annual death rate of five per 100,000 Latino workers in 2006. The rate for those who were immigrants, however, was six per 100,000. far higher than the 3.5 for those born in the U.S. The rate for non-Latino white workers was 4. For African-Americans it was 3.7.

“The burden of risk is primarily on foreign-born workers,” said Scott Richardson, a Bureau of Labor Statistics staff member, in a June 5 telephone press conference on the report. He said that a review of the most recent deaths, from 2003-2006, found that two of every three Latino workers who died on the job were foreign-born. That’s up sharply from 1992, when immigrants accounted for half of Latino work-related deaths. In the last few years 70 percent of the immigrant workers killed were from Mexico.

From 2003-2006, the highest numbers of Latino work-related deaths were in California, with 773 deaths; Texas, with 687; and Florida, with 417.

The highest death rate for Latino workers, however, was in South Carolina, at about 23 per 100,000. There has been a recent influx of immigrant workers in that state.

The influx of immigrant workers into the country is driven both by U.S. employers looking for the cheapest possible labor and by horrific conditions created by multi-national corporations in their homelands. More than half the undocumented workers in the U.S. are from Mexico where corporate activity has undercut and destroyed the economy.

“Does anyone want to pay $400,000 for their $300,000 house?” asked Mike McNeil, a construction contractor who regularly hires undocumented workers for a tiny slice of what he says full-time U.S. workers would cost him. McNeil hires the immigrants to do the dangerous work of building home additions, garages and swimming pools in towns all over northwestern New Jersey. He said, “These people work hard, they’re honest and I can trust them to take good care of my tools. I even send them on jobs with cash. I can trust them with my money.”

Workers at sites like his are often the most vulnerable when it comes to life threatening injuries. Because they are undocumented they often don’t even report what they consider “routine” injuries.

Even at jobs not usually considered “dangerous,” Latino immigrant workers become more vulnerable to injury because of low pay and lack of benefits. For a documented worker or a U.S. citizen, falling on a wet or greasy floor or sustaining a cut from a slicing machine in a deli might involve filling out an incident report and getting free care in an emergency room. For an undocumented worker it might be an entirely different story.

Father Ricardo Hernandez of Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Rockford, Ill. knows these different stories.

He says the immigrants will keep coming in spite of dangerous jobs in construction, meat packing plants, restaurants and retail businesses because they are lured by “employers who only want cheap labor and because things are so bad in Mexico that they have to do this to survive.”

He said there is an undocumented couple at his church who work at a restaurant in nearby Belvidere, Ill., for $3.50 an hour and no benefits of any type. The state minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 an hour.

Most unions backing Obama

By John Wojcik, People's Weekly World

Unions that were either neutral or backing Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries are rapidly endorsing Barack Obama.

Among those announcing this week that they will back Obama are the United Auto Workers, the United Transportation Union, and the Sheet Metal Workers. Also signaling that their unions will endorse Obama are Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Gerald McAntee, president of AFSCME.

The UAW endorsement of Obama, by a unanimous vote of its executive board on June 10, means that three large unions that have high percentages of male blue collar workers among their memberships are now backing the Illinois senator. The other two such unions are the Steel Workers and the Mine Workers.

The UAW was neutral during the primary contests. The Steel Workers and Mine Workers originally backed former Sen. John Edwards. After Edwards, who dropped out, endorsed Obama the two unions followed suit.

These latest endorsements bring the AFL-CIO closer to a federation-wide endorsement of Obama. To endorse the federation must have the votes of General Board members representing two-thirds of the 9 million members. Official backing for Obama must come first from several pro-Clinton unions including AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists.

Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the Machinists and a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, is now “undecided.” He had been a strong Clinton backer.

McElroy has indicated that the AFT will engage in talks with its members. He did not indicate, however, that the AFT would move to endorse Obama before its July 11 -14 convention in Chicago.

McEntee said, “For our union, this election is about rebuilding America’s middle class. We look forward to talking with Obama and his staff about many of the issues our members care most about, such as ending privatization, providing state and local fiscal relief, fully finding and supporting public services and the workers who provide them, and guaranteeing everyone has quality, affordable health care they can count on.

“From the beginning of this campaign, our number one priority has been to take back the White House for America’s working families. During the primary season we showed that when this union makes an endorsement, we back it up with everything we’ve got, and that’s exactly what we are going to do in November,” McEntee declared.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thousands Mark 5th Anniversary of Congress Hotel Strike

CHICAGO: Bus, trolley and cab drivers, tourists atop double-decker sight-seeing buses, and workers stuck in rush-hour traffic all honked and cheered in support of the Congress Hotel striking workers and the thousands who joined their picket line last Thursday to mark the 5th Anniversary of the longest active strike in the United States. Six giant rats lined Michigan Avenue and picket lines circled the building, symbols of the fight against the poverty wages the hotel refuses to increase. Members of over a dozen unions and community organizations mobilized to march in solidarity on this unfortunate anniversary.

Most hotel workers in downtown Chicago are members of UNITE HERE Local 1 and are covered by a contract that provides wages of over $13 an hour and affordable health care for the workers and their families. The workers at the Congress Hotel make $8 an hour, in unsanitary and dangerous conditions; their health benefits slashed with premiums unaffordable.

After five years of freezing winters and scorching summers on the picket line, the weary strikers were heartened by the thousands of supporters who joined them Thursday. Maria Contreras has been on the line through the long five years, and, wiping away a few tears, said, “This makes it all worth it. We will do this. We will win this.”

Friday, June 13, 2008

Labor and the elections

The unity and independence that is developing in the labor movement around the 2008 elections is something to behold. And it’s not only the left that is noticing these new developments.

Look what they are crying about in the corporate rightwing blogosphere. The National Journal Magazine (online at: in their June 14th online edition sounds the alarm: “As pundits forecast a greater Democratic majority in Congress and a White House up for grabs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multimillion-dollar "Workforce Freedom Initiative" to fight an anticipated resurgence of organized labor.”

They note that their worst fear is the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act(EFCA) and it’s improved chances if Barack Obama is elected with new Democratic majorities in Congress. After also citing their fears of pending and enacted state laws that “restrict employers from countering union organizing drives,” they go on to sound the alarm on union backed efforts at reregulation and renewed efforts to protect workers pensions and health and safety.

Then they add, “The latest initiative is on top of the chamber's (Chamber of Commerce’s) work with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a combined effort of many national and state business and conservative groups which has also recently launched an eight-figure campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act in key states. That effort includes polling and television advertising.”

What they really fear.

While the EFCA is their most visible target, the “resurgence of organized labor” is what they really fear. What makes them crazy is that labor, in large part, is driving the agenda for the 2008 elections, on healthcare, on pro-corporate, anti-labor trade deals, on the economic melt down, and even on the war – linking it to the economy and supporting veterans with real benefits.

Corporate and rightwing interests can plainly see that labor is building a broad united front against their candidate, John McCain, and they don’t like it. Especially that labor is doing it in union halls and central labor council offices, on their own turf and independent of the Democratic party. And while the viable candidates are mostly in the Democratic party, labor is no longer just giving money to candidates, but rather spending money in their own efforts including creating an “army of shopstewards” to work in their workplaces and neighborhoods. These efforts create a lasting independent apparatus for labor that can continue to push a labor political agenda far beyond the elections. That scares the National Journal Magazine and Chamber of Commerce crowd s**tless!

Expected passage of the EFCA will only accelerate the “resurgence” of labor geometrically. The folks on the other side of the class barricades also know history. They know that the last labor and people’s upsurge of this magnitude in our country led to the victory of industrial unionism, the CIO and the New Deal. They have reason to be scared. (Also posted to the CPUSA Election Blog


By Sam Hammond, Chair of the Central Trade Union Commission, Communist Party of Canada
People's Voice

What does 435 million dollars buy in Ontario? It could build over 3000 affordable homes which would require at least 15,000 appliances and untold building materials and lots of light trucks. Or it could purchase a litany of false promises, deceits, outright lies and subterfuge. What would you choose?

This is exactly the situation in the most severe arrogant sneer yet, delivered to the entire working class of this country, who provided the $435 million, out of hard won wages confiscated as taxes. This was provided to General Motors by the Federal and Ontario corporate providers charading as governments and representatives of the people. $175 million from the Ontario government as a forgivable loan to GM if certain job guarantees and new product investments are made in it’s Oshawa operation, $60 million to universities to do research on what the automotive manufacturers might need in the near future and $200 million by the federal government to stimulate the industry. This was done as late as 2005 and followed years of subsidies from the public purse to try and maintain an auto industry after NAFTA and the giveaway of the Auto Pact. This is the form of government that stated biblically, “taketh away and giveth”. Take it from us and give it to the corporations.

So what is the corporate response to this benevolence? Take the money and run. Run to the low wage anti-union areas of the United States or run to Mexico. Run with the loot and abandon the most efficient plants in the Americas and perhaps the world because the corporate agenda has plans for Canada that do not necessarily include producing here. The Canadian Auto Workers made an historic move with the big three negotiations by opening their agreements early (September was the expiry date) and pre-empting their historic negotiating conference that traditionally allowed massive input into establishing negotiating priorities and strategies. They went in early, starting with Ford and second Chrysler, to bargain agreements without the strike weapon and took concessions to stave off the effects of a massive meltdown of the UAW in the United States. Although there were concessions, loss of holiday time, tiered wages for new hires for three years, and other items they were accepted by the membership except at the Oakville Ford plant where the contract was rejected. Ford is in a hiring position in Oakville ( 500 this fall ) and Chrysler is holding its own but GM is in the most serious trouble because of its policy of staking its future on big heavy gas guzzling SUV’s ( which are not manufactured at the Oshawa plant ).

The GM contract was signed only two weeks ago and contained assurances of job maintenance and the introduction of a new hybrid truck that would keep the plant operating until at least 2011. Let’s go back in recent time. On August 30, 2007 GM says it will cut the third shift at the Oshawa Truck plant and permanently lay off 1200 workers. This in response to the Ontario $275 million injection. In 2008, April 28, GM announces another shift cut with 900 job losses. On June 2, 2008 two weeks after signing the CAW agreement to maintain jobs into 2011, GM announces a pending plant closure for May 2009. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this corporate contempt is only fuelled by massive gifts of taxpayers money.

The reaction of the CAW from the plant leadership to the President, Buzz Hargrove, was one of shock and anger. The union has properly called it a betrayal and “illegal”. The members of Local 222 reacted immediately by closing down the Corporate Headquarters on June 3. This closure is still in effect and Chris Buckley, president of Local 222 and on the master negotiating team for GM has vowed to keep the headquarters closed indefinitely. On June 7, about 300 workers drove their vehicles in a motorcade around the plant effectively preventing deliveries which caused a 2 hour shutdown of production.

Chris Buckley has expressed the views of his members with observations like, “corporate greed” and “highest level of betrayal”. But the memory of the older CAW, the fighting union, burst out dramatically when he said, “I challenge them to take one part of that plant. That truck will not leave Oshawa. We’ll fight them to the bitter end.”

The shock displayed by the public and the diversified opinions of political pundits and so-called industry experts express in many degrees puzzlement why Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the Harper Tories seem to be aloof and noncommittal about the fate of another plant, another 2600 jobs. Well why not, they aren’t representing us, they’re representing General Motors and the corporate agenda for Canada. They always have and they always will. What is the use of crying about 2600 assembly jobs and perhaps around 12,000 spin-off jobs when 500,000 have been sold already/ This was completely predictable when NAFTA was signed, when we gave up control of our own energy, when we gave away the Auto Pact. Don’t expect any relief from the boys, both Liberal and Tory, who drew up the blueprints.

The Labour movement in general has not peeped about this. This writer has tried in vain to find any response from the CLC or the major unions. There was a demo against the loss of manufacturing jobs held in Oshawa Sunday June 1st that preceded the GM announcement. It was supported by Steelworkers, CUPW, OPSEU and others including a couple of Labour Councils but these were street level contingents. Where are the Labour leaders? Where is Ken Georgetti who just proclaimed a utopian success at the CLC Convention?

The CAW must not be left to fight this alone. Although they should be in charge, every major union in this country should pledge support, including resources, to this campaign. The CAW emerged fighting at ground zero in Oshawa. They deserve unity and solidarity.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Labor: Call 1-888-460-0813 to demand increase in jobless benefits

Labor leaders held an emergency telephone press conference June 10 and are appealing to everyone to call or e-mail their Congressional representatives on June 11 and 12 to urge them to vote for a new bill that will extend unemployment benefits. Call the number above, or click here to send an e-mail.

The AFL-CIO has directed its state and local leadership to issue immediate appeals to every union member in the country to participate in an unprecedented e-mail and phone blitz of all members of Congress. The bill would increase jobless benefits from their present 26 weeks to 39 weeks in most states and 52 weeks in states where the unemployment rate is over 6 percent.

SEIU, a Change to Win union, is also part of the effort.

“The economy is in free fall and working people are struggling. The share of all the unemployed who are jobless more than 6 months is 18 percent, and there are two jobless workers searching, per every job available,” said AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel during the press conference.

He described the economy as it stands now a “toxic brew” for workers and their families.

The bill will come to a vote either on June 11 or 12. If it becomes law the extension would be retroactive for all workers who exhausted their benefits as far back as last November. Samuel said that each month since January 200,000 additional workers have lost their benefits by reaching the end of their 26 week periods.

The unions have set up a toll free numbers for activists to call. Members of the public should call 1-888-460-0813. Ask the Capitol operator who answers to connect you with your Congressional representative.

By John Wojcik, orginally posted here.

Long denied rights, domestic workers find their voices

By John Wojcik, People's Weekly World

WEST MILFORD, N.J. — She came from Guatemala and landed a job as a live-in housekeeper for a family here.

Her workday started at 5:30 a.m. and ended at midnight, seven days a week. She cooked, cleaned, watched children, made home repairs and did yard work. At first she earned $150 a month but after a while her employers started paying her no money at all.

They made sure one of them was with her whenever she left the house. That included trips to the local ShopRite supermarket, the dry cleaners and fruit and vegetable stands in nearby Warwick, N.Y.

Even with her pay discontinued she stayed with the family because she had nowhere else to go. They told her, she says, that if she left them she would be arrested and shipped back to Guatemala.

“I really didn’t know any better,” she said in a recent interview. She asked the World not to use her name because she is undocumented.

A Guatemalan carpenter with a green card talked with her at the supermarket one day. Moved by her predicament, he and his American-born wife helped her find a better job in a home where she says she is now being treated fairly. Her new employer, a family of Indian immigrants in Wayne, N.J., pays her $15 an hour. She works an eight-hour day, six days a week with one day off.

Domestic workers have no legal right to overtime pay, sick time, vacation, health care or workers’ compensation in most states, and the immigrants among them often end up as underpaid or even unpaid indentured servants trapped in their employer’s household.

Increasingly, these workers are pushing aside their fear and mounting an impressive fightback. It includes filing lawsuits against abusive employers, forming groups to demand fair wages, and even lobbying elected officials to change laws that don’t give household workers the labor rights taken for granted by much of the nation’s workforce.

Article continues here.

Worst jobless stats in 20 years only the tip of the iceberg

By John Wojcik, People's Weekly World

The announcement June 6 that the jump in the unemployment rate is the worst in more than a generation resulted in a few corporate analysts admitting we are now in an economy that has probably “stalled.” Workers know that what Wall Street apologists are describing as a stall is nothing less than a disaster.

Jobs fell by 49,000 in May after a 28,000 drop in April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The unemployment rate increased to 5.5 percent, the fifth straight month in a row that jobs decreased. Keep in mind that it takes 130,000 or more new jobs a month just to absorb new people into the labor market.

The government figures admit to 7,626,000 “unemployed.” That’s where they get the 5.5 percent figure. They don’t include in that percentage the 5,220,000 they admit are “underemployed,” the 1,414,000 they admit are “discouraged” and no longer seeking jobs or the 6,634,000 who are underemployed, discouraged and out of the pool of those eligible for unemployment insurance. That brings the total unemployment figure to 14,260,000 according to figures compiled by the House Ways and Means Committee. Even the 14 million plus figure doesn’t tell the real story because there are many millions who have never found a first job and are not included in any of the above categories.

Among African Americans, unemployment rates are even worse. There is one job for every two people who are seeking work. Again, that figure only applies to all those who are still eleigible to collect unemployment insurance.

The corporate analysts might be able to get away with describing the disaster as only a “stall” in the economy if jobs was the only issue involved. In reality it is only one of the more visible aspects of the crisis workers face.

Story continues here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

TRADE Act Introduced

Brown, Dorgan, Michaud, Sanchez, And Colleagues; Labor Leaders; Fair Trade Activists Unveil The Trade Act

Legislation Would Create New Path For U.S. Trade Policy

June 4, 2008

WASHINGTON – United States Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today was joined by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Congressman Mike Michaud (D-ME), Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), and other members of Congress at a Capitol Hill news conference to introduce the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act.

Endorsed by more than a dozen fair trade groups, the TRADE ACT is a first of its kind pro-trade bill that would revamp U.S. trade policy. The bill would mandate trade pact reviews, establish standards, protect workers in developing nations, and would help restore Congressional oversight of future trade agreements.

“The TRADE ACT will help Congress and the White House craft a trade agreement that benefits workers, business owners, and our country,” said Brown. “We want trade, and we want more of it. The TRADE Act is a critical first step on a new path for trade.”

Brown, who led the bipartisan House opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, was also joined by International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James Hoffa, Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen, and fair trade advocates from faith-based, farm, and environmental groups.

“Trade done right means new jobs and new industry at home – and means lifting up workers in developing nations,” Brown said. “For too long our nation’s trade policy has exploited workers, betrayed middle class families, and destroyed communities. It is time for a trade policy that works for everyone, not just a few.”

The TRADE ACT would:
• Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of existing trade agreements with an emphasis on economic results, enforcement and compliance, and an analysis of non-tariff provisions in trade agreements;
• Spell out standards for labor and environmental protections, food and product safety, national security exceptions, and remedies that must be included in new trade pacts;
• Set requirements with respect to public services, farm policy, investment, government procurement, and affordable medicines that have been incorporated in trade agreements;
• Require the president to submit renegotiation plans for current trade pacts prior to negotiating new agreements and prior to congressional consideration of pending agreements;
• Create a committee comprised of the chairs and ranking members of each committee whose jurisdiction is affected by trade agreements to review the president’s plan for renegotiations; and
• Restore Congressional oversight of trade agreements.

***A copy of the bill language can be found here***

Press release from Senator Sherrod Brown's office.

Workers receive un-kosher treatment, and other labor stories

By John Wojcik, PWW Online

Fed workers, like others, can sue

By a 6-3 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled May 27 that federal workers, like private sector workers, can sue when their employer retaliates against them for filing discrimination claims. In a case involving Puerto Rican postal worker Myrna Gomez-Perez, the justices ruled the Postal Service discriminated against her in 2002 on the basis of age. She was then 45.

Gomez-Perez had sued under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. After losing a grievance she started suffering discrimination on the job, the justices noted. That retaliation, they said, was illegal.

Labor launches campaign for infrastructure

The Laborers have launched a massive grass-roots campaign to mobilize both unionists and the general public in favor of dedicated, extensive investment in reconstructing the nation’s airports, highways and railroads. Union President Terry O’Sullivan unveiled the drive in a May 30 speech in Washington D.C. He said that without such reconstruction, the U.S. would fall behind economically as our goods would be unable to be transported – and workers would be unable to get jobs.

Congress hikes penalty for child labor

The House gave final approval May 30 to legislation increasing fines on employers who break child labor laws. Sponsoring Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said President Bush is expected to sign it. The child labor bill was folded into another pro-worker measure – a bill banning insurers from discriminating against people based on information about their genetic makeup. The bill increases fines from $11,000 to $50,000 for violations of the child labor laws.

Jewish leaders blast meat firm for “un-kosher” treatment of workers

A leading national organization of Jewish trade unionists has blasted the country’s largest kosher meat firm, Iowa-based Agriprocessors Inc., for its distinctly un-kosher treatment of its workers – including calling in the feds to stop unionization. In its statement, the Jewish Labor Committee said the May 12 immigration and customs Enforcement raid on Agriprocessor’s Postville, Iowa plant which rounded up hundreds of workers, was only the latest problem at the plant.

The plant produces the majority of glut kosher (extremely kosher) meat that Orthodox Jews consume in the United States. The plant’s owners are leaders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Before the raid, the plant had been cited and fined $182,000 by Iowa for workplace health and safety violations. Workers there are suing plant owners in federal court over the company’s refusal to pay them for time required to put on and take off protective equipment before and after working.

The Jewish Labor Committee noted that the failure to pay the workers violates both U.S. labor law and the Torah, five sacred books of scripture which Orthodox Jews follow. The committee’s statement read, in part, “American Jews share a common conviction that all workers must be free to exercise their rights and challenge employer abuses. Our belief is grounded in the collective memory of American Jewry of the gross exploitation of Jewish immigrants by employers. Judaism is clear on the topic of treating workers with dignity and respect. We understand that we must treat our workers decently and justly, ethically and legally.”

Iraq’s attack on unions challenged

The AFL-CIO issued a statement on May 27 protesting what it describes as “violation of labor rights” in Iraq.

The statement read, in part:

“The Al-Maliki government in Iraq continues to enforce Sadaam Hussein’s anti-labor laws that ban unions for public sector employees and create government-dominated sham labor organizations. These laws were kept on the books by the U.S. after the invasion, and have been enforced by subsequent Iraqi regimes. Relying on them, Al-Maliki’s government has refused to recognize unions organized by workers themselves in the oil and other industries. It has raided union offices, seized records, arrested and brutalized union leaders, and frozen union bank accounts – with the knowledge and cooperation of U.S. occupation forces.

“From the day the dictatorship fell, Iraqi workers have demanded the right to organize their own unions, free of government interference. They have demanded all of the rights established by the International Labor Organization – foremost the rights to freely organize, bargain, and, when necessary, to strike. The new Iraqi constitution calls for the adoption of a basic labor law that recognizes and codifies these rights.

“The Maliki regime has instead ordered “labor elections” in June in which workers are to designate their unions and elect union leadership. However, workers in public enterprises, including the entire oil industry, are barred from voting, and the government retains the right to disqualify union leaders chosen by the workers in those elections. The elections will apparently result in only one government-approved labor federation, rather than providing union pluralism required by the ILO standards (and already established in fact by the workers themselves in a variety of labor organizations they created).

Pilgrimage for teen who died from heat begins

A four day “pilgrimage” to honor the memory of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jiminez began June 1 in Lodi, Calif. at St. Anne’s Church. The United Farmworkers led the action which drew supporters from all over the state. The pilgrimage is slated to end in the state capitol on June 4.

Vasquez-Jiminez, who was two months pregnant, collapsed on May 14 while working for Merced Farm Labor in a vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming in Stockton, Calif. Maria had worked for nine hours in temperatures that reached 101 degrees.
According to witnesses, the labor contractor failed to provide shade or cool drinking water for several hours. Maria’s body temkperature was 108.4 degrees when she was finally taken to the hospital that day, two hours after she collapsed. She died two days later. The labor contractor had been cited for prior violations of the state’s heat regulations. The rules went into effect in 2005 after a campaign by the union that followed heat related deaths that year.

“Super Union” to be created

The long discussed merger of the United Steel Workers with Unite, their British counterpart, is seen as a key step in labor’s global strategy, allowing workers to negotiate with the multi-national corporations for which they work. The merger, the two unions say, will differ from the loose alliances that the USW has been entering since the 1990’s. While the two unions will still operate independently, when need be, they will join at the top of the organization for both membership drives and negotiations with common employers. “There really are no American companies any more,” said Wayne Ranick, USW spokesman. The big companies that we think of as being American, “all of them are multinational,” often with a presence overseas.

Retiree pensions slashed

Hundreds of retired steelworkers from the former Republic Technologies International are being notified their pensions will be cut, in some cases by as much as 75 percent, to less than $300 a month, due to new calculations by the federal agency that guarantees employer paid pensions. The company had declared bankruptcy in 2002.

Unionization raises wages

After decades of disappointing wage growth for American workers, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy research shows that unionization significantly boosts the wages of low-wage workers. The report, “The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers,” finds that unionization raises the wages of the typical low-wage worker by 20.6 percent. Unions also have a substantial impact on the wages of workers at the middle and top of the wage distribution, but the report found that the effect for the low-wage worker was the largest. For the typical U.S. worker unionization raises wages about 13.7 percent, according to the report.