Colorado grocery workers are finally voting on a new five-year contract. The King Soopers workers are voting now until Wednesday after weeks of disagreements over pensions, a new two-tier wage proposal, fewer benefits for new employees, and raises. The workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and their previous contract expired on May 7.
By Doug Cunningham
Cessna Aircraft in Wichita is sending layoff notices Thursday to the first of 1600 workers. In April, Cessna announced 2300 layoffs. The latest job cuts bring the total layoffs to 6900 since November–half of Cessna’s workforce.
By Doug Cunningham
The Boston Newspaper Guild said it planned to present an offer of resolution to Boston Globe management Monday. The Globe imposed a 23 percent pay cut on guild members Sunday.The Globe has said the Monday meeting was limited to discussing how to implement the pay cut. The Globe says it needs $20 million in concessions from its unions to stay in business. Several other unions have already approved $10 million in concessions at the newspaper.
By Doug Cunningham
Catholic Charities USA says unprecedented numbers of individuals and families are coming to their agencies nationwide for food, housing and health care. Father Larry Snyder is President of Catholic Charities USA. He’s calling on political officials at every level
to make prudent decisions that will minimize adverse effects on those who have the least in our
society. He says in many cases governments at the state, county and local level are trying to balance their budgets on the backs of those who have the least. Father Snyder says the social safety net must be preserved and we must create an economy that benefits everyone.
UAW workers walk off the job at a helicopter plant. Jesse Russell reports.
Workers represented by the United Auto Workers at a Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. plant in Texas walked off the job on Monday. Nearly 2,500 workers are represented by the UAW at the plant and they are on strike to protest a contract proposal that increases medical costs and would outsource work for janitors at the plant. If adopted the contract could have cost 44 workers who handle janitorial duties at the plant their jobs. The workers voted 1,177 to 680 Sunday against the new contract proposal. However, the company says those janitors have received new job classifications with higher pay that would have prevented them from being eliminated.
For decades, workers in Guatemala have been unable to fully benefit from the wealth in the country or to share the profits of their own labor. The nation’s 36-year armed conflict, which ended in 1996, involved savage repression of workers and indigenous people.
Although the fighting long has ended, the war generated a climate of corruption, violence and impunity that continues to grow, according to a new report by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center.
Released today, ”Justice for All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Guatemala” chronicles the courageous struggle of Guatemala’s workers to build better lives, often against deadly odds. Another report, the “Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights,” released a week ago by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), lists Guatemala as the second most dangerous country for union members in 2008, after Colombia.
In addition to the brutal repression of workers’ freedoms, Guatemala’s laws hinder workers from exercising their basic rights in many ways, the Solidarity Center report says. Some laws criminalize legitimate union activity. Efforts to strengthen labor laws have been rolled back in recent years. Click here to read the report.
Speaking at a panel discussion for the report’s release at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., today, Vicki Gass, senior associate for rights and development at the human rights group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said Guatemalan workers do not have freedom of association, do not have bargaining rights and face violent anti-union discrimination.
As the global economic crisis worsens, Gass said, Guatemala’s employers have developed a new weapon to spread fear among workers who speak up for their rights. Many employers blacklist workers who try to form unions and deny them the opportunity to work, which can be disastrous for a worker living in a poor country with few jobs.
The Guatemalan government is either incapable or unwilling to enforce workers’ rights laws, says Jeff Vogt, AFL-CIO global economics specialist. Speaking at today’s event, Vogt pointed out that the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which includes Guatemala, was touted as having a “world-class” labor rights provision by the Bush administration. But the provision only requires countries to enforce their own laws, which Guatemala refuses to do.
Six Guatemalan unions, with the support of the AFL-CIO, filed a first-of-its-kind petition under the labor provisions of the CAFTA-DR with the Labor Department’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs. The petition involved five cases in which employers suppressed, sometimes violently, workers’ efforts to form a union, and the government failed to protect workers’ internationally recognized rights.
The Solidarity Center report calls on the Guatemalan government to take concrete measures to “establish the rule of law in a transparent, participatory climate that will permit fundamental human and worker rights to take root.” Specifically, the report makes more than 50 recommendations for the Guatemalan government and multinationals to adopt, including:
- Prosecute those who have committed violent crimes, especially crimes committed to prevent citizens from exercising their fundamental worker, human and civil rights. Human rights groups estimate that 95 percent of persons committing violent crimes against workers are not prosecuted.
- Establish effective mechanisms to ensure workers are protected from anti-union discrimination.
- Enforce laws against child labor.
- Bring the country’s labor laws into compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards.
In the forward to the report, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said it is still possible to build a foundation for lasting peace and sustainable economic growth and to establish true democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala. It begins by ending impunity for violent crimes, including violence against trade union leaders, he said.
To build prosperity and claim the peace that lies within its reach, the Guatemalan government must also accept the participation of its own workers as integral partners in the effort to create a climate where justice prevails. Guatemala can achieve this goal by enforcing worker protections already written into its law, by eliminating laws that hinder workers from exercising their rights and by bringing its legal framework into full compliance with ILO core labor standards. With its workers as full partners, Guatemala can achieve widespread and enduring peace and provide a stable environment where all can flourish.
For three hours before the formal opening of their annual legislative conference today, members of the Alliance for Retired Americans got down to business by taking part in workshops on health care reform and Social Security. They will be joined by speakers such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
Throughout the June 15-18 conference in Washington, D.C., delegates and many high-level officials and union leaders will discuss the best solutions to the nation’s health care crisis and develop strategies to protect and strengthen Social Security.
In her opening address, Alliance President Barbara Easterling said seniors are in a unique position to influence the debate on health care. It is important for seniors to define the health care issue for Congress and the American people, Easterling said.
Too many debates in this town make your eyes glaze over. People try to bury you in buzzwords and jargon, in statistics and sound bites. They do this so you won’t notice their top-dollar lobbyists sneaking around the back corridors of the Capitol.
We must make this year’s health care debate different. It must be a debate about values—about how our country will never be a just society until every American has access to quality, affordable health care.
On Wednesday, delegates will visit Capitol Hill where they will tell their elected representatives that the nation must have affordable, universal health care and that they must protect and strengthen Social Security.
“We must tell our elected officials what is really happening back home,” Easterling said.
We must shine a bright light into the dark corners that the drug and insurance companies don’t want us to see. In other words, we must do what we do best—tell people our stories.
Easterling also outlined the Alliance’s agenda for health care reform:
- Allow Medicare to negotiate volume discounts with drug manufacturers. Veterans Affairs does this, and its prescriptions cost 58 percent less.
- End wasteful taxpayer subsidies to private insurance companies that run Medicare Advantage programs at a cost nearly 20 percent higher than Medicare.
- Provide early retirees the option to purchase Medicare coverage. Many of the 5.1 million Americans between age 55 and 64 who lack health insurance are victims of mass layoffs.
- Create a public insurance program to help families afford the cost of long-term care.
- Pass the Employee Free Choice Act to help workers negotiate for higher wages and health care and retirement benefits. We must tell the story of how it was only through collective bargaining that we were able to support our families and have a decent retirement.
Easterling warned delegates not to forget about the battle over Social Security. Calling it “the best anti-poverty program in the history of this country,” she reminded the delegates that in these difficult economic times Social Security is needed more than ever.
We must tell people no privatization, no way, no how.
Alliance Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks, a retired member of the UAW, said the problems facing the auto industry, and the nation are connected.
Instead of creating universal health care, we have let the big drug and insurance companies do whatever they want, charge whatever they want and discriminate against whomever they want.
Our nation’s manufacturing base has crumbled. Our tax and trade policies have actually encouraged big companies to send jobs overseas.
We have let the Wal-Marts and the Wall Streets of the world run roughshod over our nation’s labor laws. We have learned the hard way that when the ability to form a union gets taken away, there will not be much left of the middle class in this country.
This is a time for our nation to come together, Burks said.
In times this tough, we have to stay true to our values. Stay true to the values that guided our generation through some pretty tough fights—building strong unions, growing the middle class and tearing down the walls of hatred and discrimination.
Union leaders who will speak to delegates include AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger, Teamsters President James Hoffa and former Alliance President George Kourpias. In addition, Alan Cohen, chief counselor for Social Security for the Senate Finance Committee, and Nate Loewentheil, executive director of the Roosevelt Institution, are slated to speak.
In a great piece of the latest issue of Grist, Kate Sheppard looks at the ways the union and environmental movements are working together to make sure the emerging energy economy is sustainable and fair to everyone.
Sheppard focuses on the work of the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of environmental and union groups, which is educating union members and their families about the need for green jobs to aid in the transition to a cleaner, greener economy. She also examines the rising role of environmental groups in the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act.
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthAction and Green America have joined the broad coalition for the Employee Free Choice Act, as has the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of union, environmental, business and community groups focused on building a new energy economy.
Margrete Strand Ragnes, who works with the Sierra Club and the Blue Green Alliance, says we can’t afford to think about the health of the economy and the health of the environment as separate or conflicting issues.
We’re looking at sustainability more broadly, not just reducing emissions but also a sustainable economy and sustainable conditions for workers.
As we’re looking towards this new green energy economy that we believe has the potential to create millions of new jobs. We want to make sure those new green jobs are also good jobs. It’s not that all green jobs will be union jobs, but that workers should have the right to organize if they want to, so they can fight for better wages and benefits.
Indeed, this cooperation is already under way at the state level. Last Thursday, members of the Sierra Club met with union members and other allies in Maine to call on Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to support Employee Free Choice.
Read Sheppard’s whole piece here.
Ray Marshall, secretary of labor from 1977 to 1981, and Robert Reich, secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997, have borne witness to a big shift in the economy and the power of workers over past decades. They’ve seen an economy weakened by inequality, corporate greed and the decreasing ability of workers to bargain for their fair share—and they know now is the time to change that.
In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, Reich and Marshall explain clearly why we need the Employee Free Choice Act, which would level the playing field for workers seeking to join unions and create an economy that works for everyone. Economic recovery starts by giving workers the tools they need to get fair wages, better benefits and economic security, say the two former labor secretaries:
A vital component of our nation’s recovery is making sure that we don’t return to a bubble-and-bust economy, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class gets squeezed…the economy we are rebuilding must be a sustainable one. That starts with good-paying, secure jobs.
Long-term economic growth requires consumers to have the purchasing power necessary to buy the goods and services small and large businesses provide.
Lessons of history, Marshall and Reich say, show that when workers have the ability to bargain for a better life, everyone—workers, communities and businesses alike—benefits:
We must reform our obsolete labor laws so workers can join unions without the roadblocks so many face.
The principles that are the foundation of the Employee Free Choice Act—giving workers a direct path to form unions, toughening penalties against employers who break the law and helping workers secure a first contract in a reasonable period of time—are ones we must never waiver on.
Read the whole thing here.