The monthly released “Beige Book” which lays out economic activity in the United States says that in 11 of the 12 districts in the country activity was on the rise. The only district to not see an increase was in and around St. Louis. According to the Federal Reserve’s report tourism is up, retail sales climbed, and manufacturing is starting to hum. The weakest sector was commercial real estate which remained soft in much of the country.
A number of incumbent Democrats up for reelection this fall have begun feeling the ire of labor unions. Jesse Russell reports on the Senate race in Arkansas.
By Doug Cunningham
The United Steel Workers union Women of Steel organization is reaching across the border in solidarity with Mexican miners struggling for safer mines. Women of Steel director Ann Flener says money is being raised to support striking miners and their families. The miners went on strike in Cananea Mexico for health and safety reasons after a mine explosion killed more than 60. A miner’s women’s committee formed to support the strike. Flener says the miners families and communities are being harassed and pressured by the mine owners and the government.
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, “we were told democracy would be built in Iraq” says Stan Gacek of the AFL-CIO’s International Department. But speaking at a rally today outside the Iraqi consulate in Washington, D.C., Gacek added:
There won’t be democracy in Iraq until the workers’ right to organize is guaranteed.
Every law from the Saddam Hussein regime has been rewritten—except the 1987 labor law that abolished the freedom to collectively bargain, the right to strike and a guaranteed minimum wage. That is the labor law today’s Iraqi government is using to bust the country’s union movement. Workers have been fired, harassed, exiled and even killed for forming unions and taking job actions.
Saddam’s old laws must be replaced. Union-busting is a disgrace.
Jim Catterson from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) says while Colombia is the world’s most dangerous nation for trade unionists, “Iraq is not lagging far behind in killing workers.”
Last November, Majeed Sahib Kareem, a leader of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), was killed by a bomb attached to his car as he drove to the union hall. Catterson told the crowd that the Iraqi government is using a new method to silence union leaders—perhaps permanently—by taking advantage of the country’s deep sectarian differences.
Instead of sacking workers, they are sending them into exile to parts of the country where their lives are threatened.
In 2004, the Iraqi government signed an agreement that it would work with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to enact a new labor law that met international standards. It has yet to do so.
Gacek and Carrington both pledged continued strong support of the Iraqi workers and their struggle for basic labor freedoms. Erin Radford, a program officer at the Solidarity Center, wrote in a recent blog post:
The AFL-CIO has long supported Iraqi workers in their fight for basic workers’ rights and democracy at work. Last fall, the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center brought leaders from five Iraqi unions to Washington, D.C., to highlight their struggle with AFL-CIO leaders and U.S. government policymakers. The Iraqis also attended the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, where the AFL-CIO passed its most recent resolutions on Iraq. The AFL-CIO strongly supports the Iraqi labor movement’s latest push for worker rights through this campaign.
You can take action by signing the International Call for a Fair and Just Labor Law.
Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts says that Massey Energy Co.’s continued inaction on safety violations at its Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 West Virginia coal miners died in an April 5 explosion, should send Massey CEO Donald Blankenship to jail.
In a speech at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention yesterday, Roberts said, “If there is any justice in America,”
U.S. Marshals should go to where he lives, get him, handcuff him, put him in chains, take him to jail, set his fine at $40 million.
He told the delegates the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors had “shut this mine down over and over and over again.”
They brought the men outside, they brought them to a safe place. But as soon as they left the same thing happened again and again. They didn’t correct the violations.
In 2009, MSHA proposed nearly $1 million in fines for more than 450 safety violations at the nonunion mine. Just last month, MSHA cited the mine for 57 safety violations that included repeatedly failing to develop and follow the ventilation plan. Ventilation is vital to prevent the build-up of highly explosive methane gas, which is most likely the cause of the April blast.
Roberts said the Massey mine was cited several times for “failure to abate.”
What does that mean? They were told to do something by the United States government. They said here’s a violation you are being cited for. I’ll be back in five days and this better be corrected. This inspector came back over and over again and they didn’t correct the violations.
Some people, Roberts said, say mining is inherently dangerous and these things will happen and “there’s nothing we can do about it.”
They are damn sure wrong. We need good laws, we need those laws to be obeyed and we need those laws to be enforced and those who fail to obey those laws should be punished.
One of the miners killed, 25-year-old Josh Napper, was concerned about safety, especially ventilation problems at the Upper Big Branch Mine, his mother told CNN reporters after the blast. Roberts said he left a letter for his family before he went to the mine April 5. Napper “left it with his mother and fiancé and his baby fearing he was not going to survive working in this coal mine.”
There is something wrong with this picture. When young men go off to war, they write these kinds of letters, saying how much we love our mothers, our fathers, our wives and our kids. But in America, you’re not supposed to write that letter when you’re going off to work.
In a statement today, Rep George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee which will hold hearings on the Upper Big Branch disaster and Massey’s safety record said
Every miner who goes to work each day must be able to return home safely to their families at the end of their shift. And Congress has an obligation to ensure that remains the case.
Meanwhile, Art Levine at the Huffington Post explores coal field union-busting campaigns, especially Massey’s attacks on workers, and the relation between nonunion mines and disasters like the one at Upper Big Branch.
With the union weakened by closed mines and the rise of untrammeled union-busting, unsafe, deadly conditions were allowed to continue unchallenged at the growing percentage of non-union mines that put profits above safety.
In contrast, “what unions, particularly in a dangerous profession like mining, mean is that they give workers protection and the leverage of a working group with management to vocalize and bring forward concerns about safety without fear of retribution,” says Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work. She adds, “In the absence of a union, in hard economic times, workers feel more vulnerable about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety.”
UMWA Communications director Phil Smith tells Levine that while three out of 10 coal miners are UMWA members, only “about one in every 10 fatalities is a union miner.”
And he notes that the fatalities involving union miners generally involve individual accidents, not mine-wide disasters like fires and explosions that periodically shock the country and, it seems, are soon forgotten by the federal government’s generally lackluster regulators.
Miners at Upper Big Branch tried to organize three times with the UMWA, the last time in 2005, Roberts told MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” last week. But Blankenship launched a full-out attack:
This guy, making $30-some million in 2005, went inside the coal mine and sat down with every single worker and said: “If you vote for the union, you’re not going to have a job because I will close this mine down.”
Roberts said the first election was a “tie vote,” adding, “We lose on all ties. We had 65 percent to 70 percent of the workers signed cards and they wanted the union but they couldn’t get a union.”
In his 2008 book, Coal River, Michael Shnayerson looks at the Massey empire. He told ABC News that when it came to defeating the union, Blankenship “made it his own personal campaign.”
He began flying in every week in his helicopter. He gave pep talks. He took a whole bunch of [Upper Big Branch miners and their families] on trips to Dollywood, where they went to concerts. He went with them and bonded with them. New cars started turning up in their driveways.
He also said as soon as the union was gone, Blankenship shifted gears. Work hours increased from eight hours to 12 hours. Bonuses were cut. If miners got injured, their jobs were at risk.
Speaking yesterday to members of the Machinists, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter didn’t mince words about why Big Banks haven’t been held accountable by Congress: Washington insiders like Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln have failed to pass financial reform legislation because they owe Wall Street.
Halter, who’s challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the state’s Democratic primary, said that while taxpayers put $700 billion into a bailout for these Wall Street investment banks and commercial banks,
you and I wake up to see front-page headlines about Wall Street investment bankers and investment executives pulling down literally tens of billions of dollars in bonuses at the same time this is going on.
Two years after the bailout, we still don’t have appropriate oversight of Big Banks’ investment activities.
Why? Well I think it has something to do with the fact that the financial industry has spent $340 million just in the last two years against doing anything in the way of reform. At the same time, our incumbent Senator has taken over $1.3 million in contributions from Wall Street banks, commercial banks, executives and so forth.
Arkansas working families have endorsed Halter, and just today, the Alliance for Retired Americans Political Action Fund, representing nearly 4 million retirees and community activists, endorsed Halter for Senate.
Whirlpool’s decision to abandon U.S. workers and send 1,100 production jobs out of Evansville, Ind., to a new plant in Mexico will create a ripple effect that will cost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost income, according to a report released today.
Whirlpool already has eliminated one shift at the refrigerator plant in Evansville. The remaining jobs end in June. The study, written by Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, was released at press conferences in Evansville and Indianapolis, the state capital.
The study estimates the plant closure will throw 2,502 people out of work. That includes 966 Whirlpool workers who live in Indiana and another 1,536 who work in businesses that will lose significant clientele after the plant shuts down. That total doesn’t include job loss in the neighboring states of Illinois and Kentucky, where 20 percent of the employees live. Read the full report here.
In addition, the state stands to lose $138 million in income. Tax revenues will drop by $17.7 million, especially in property, sales, personal and corporate income taxes, at a time when states are facing revenue shortages. Indiana faces a $309 million revenue shortfall in the next two years, according to state budget figures.
Darrell Collins, president of IUE-CWA Local 808, which represents the Whirlpool workers, says state officials don’t get it.
They don’t see the real impact this closing is going to have on the city and the Tri-State area. Our concerns are falling on deaf ears. So we are putting out this report so they can see it in black and white. We have to let them know that every time you turn around another business is closing. We have to stop this progression.
In the report, LeRoy says that the cost to taxpayers is incomplete because it does not include substantial lost federal revenues. Nor does it include programs to assist the dislocated workers. The cost of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for the dislocated Indiana workers will cost more than $4.15 million, he says. Combining tax losses with UI costs generates a conservative taxpayer-cost estimate of more than $21.8 million—or $22,588 per worker dislocated in Indiana.
The study, commissioned by Local 808 and the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, lists local businesses and charities that stand to lose a significant number of customers after the closure. They include four banks, two auto dealerships, a United Way office, two grocers, 75 percent of local churches, three hardware stores, five department stores and dozens of restaurants.
Indiana State AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott says:
The job losses and devastation of communities in Evansville are being repeated in town after town throughout Indiana and across the country. It just shows what we need to do to turn this country around to revive our middle class.
Workers Independent News Labor Radio
Internet Radio Program 04/14/10
Producers: Doug Cunningham & Jesse Russell
Labor Radio Rundown:
1) WIN Newscast – AFL-CIO Launches CEO Pay Watch Web Site Tracking Big Banks, SEIU Says It Will Address Stern Resignation Issue This Week, Kansas Social Workers Get New Protections, Ikea Workers In italy Strike Over Unacceptable Workign Conditions