Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for May, 2011

Supreme Court’s E-Verify Decision Devastating for Employers, Immigrant Workers

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

kari-lydersenImmigrants rights advocates and employers, including farmers, are lashing out at the Supreme Court’s May 26 decision upholding Arizona’s right to demand employers use the controversial e-Verify system, which is meant to confirm whether someone is in the country legally.

The decision also allowed Arizona to continue the so-called “business death penalty,” which entails denying a business license to employers found guilty more than once of violating a 2007 law against hiring undocumented workers.

The e-Verify system has been widely criticized for errors, including flagging legal and native-born residents as undocumented. That’s among the reasons Illinois sought to ban its use by private employers. A federal court shot down those efforts, but the Illinois legislature did pass a state law trying to safeguard against the misuse of the system.

All employers with federal contracts are required to use E-Verify, and Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith is among those pushing to make it mandatory nationally.

Immigrants rights groups are allied with employers – even those that they allege exploit undocumented immigrants – in stridently opposing mandatory e-Verify use. The Supreme Court decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Chamber of Commerce opposing Arizona’s law. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups also sued unsuccessfully over the mandate that E-Verify be used by federal contractors. Florida has proposed a bill similar to Arizona’s regarding E-Verify. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce opposes it.

Agricultural employers and immigrants rights groups point out that the nation’s guest worker program and overall immigration system are so badly broken that agricultural growers will simply not be able to find the needed employees especially during harvest times if they really are barred from hiring undocumented workers.

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the group America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a press release:

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is a dagger in the heart of Arizona agriculture.  If this type of law spreads nationwide, we will essentially deport the entire agriculture industry—including jobs held by Americans—and be forced to import more of our nation’s food supply. Passing a mandatory E-Verify law without comprehensive immigration reform will kill American jobs and farms, burden small businesses, reduce tax revenue, and drive undocumented workers further underground.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made similar points in an op-ed:

As Secretary of Agriculture I have met farmers and ranchers all over the country who worry that our immigration system is broken. They are unable to find the necessary number of farmworkers and sometimes struggle to verify their work authorization papers – all while wondering if they’ll have enough help for their next harvest.

And while some American citizens step up and take these jobs, the truth is that even when farmers make their best efforts to recruit a domestic work force, few citizens express interest, and even fewer show up to spend long hours laboring in the hot sun.

In a twist on the misguided idea that immigrants “steal” American jobs, Vilsack described immigrant farm workers essentially protecting U.S. jobs through their crucial role on U.S. farms:

If American agriculture lost access to adequate farm labor, it could cost the industry as much as $9 billion each year. Already, some American producers are opening up operations in Mexico. So we must take action to prevent the further outsourcing of farm-related jobs.

Meanwhile, the Bay Citizen nonprofit news outlet described how lucrative wineries in Napa Valley, Calif., have found it in their own self-interest to treat undocumented workers fairly, rather than paying them as little as possible or sometimes not at all as is often the case in agriculture and other industries that hire large numbers of undocumented workers.

Emmy-winning producer Scott James reported:

Without migrant labor, most of it from Mexico, the wine producers in Napa would be hard pressed to fill a carafe, much less the valley’s nine million annual cases. Experts estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 illegal migrants reside (often seasonally) in Napa, although the number is impossible to confirm.

Ten years ago, they could be found living in the woods in makeshift camps, sleeping on fetid mattresses and drinking from dirty streams. Today they receive subsidized housing, or can reside in three tidy dormitory complexes near St. Helena and Yountville where up to 180 workers pay $12 a day for room and board.

This Blog Originally appeared in These Working Times on May 30, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen is an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at [email protected]

Four Years Ago Today, Hardworking Families Finally Got a Little Help

Monday, May 30th, 2011

senator_jon_testerExactly four years ago, hardworking folks across the country finally got a pay raise ten years in the making.

One of the first laws I helped pass, just a couple of months after joining the Senate, was the Fair Minimum Wage Act. And it became law four years ago today.

Passing that law was a promise I’d made to Montanans. I’m proud that it was a promise kept.

On the same ballot where my name appeared in 2006, Montanans overwhelmingly passed a measure raising our state’s minimum wage. I endorsed the effort and it earned the support of 73 percent of Montanans.

Montanans sent a clear message with that vote–that we understand the value of workplace protections like the minimum wage.

Because by 2006, years of failed federal economic policies by politicians in Congress had led to Montana coming in 50th (dead last) for wages in the entire country.

Montanans understand the minimum wage is an American value. And it’s a value I took with me to the Senate, where I fight for our working families every day.

I fought to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act–which raised the minimum wage after the longest gap between increases in history–for the same reasons I’ve fought for more jobs, better access to veterans’ care and lower taxes for working families. And it’s why I fought to put health care decisions in the hands of patients instead of insurance companies.

For the same reasons, I fought for other workplace protections like the Lillie Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to prevent discrimination against women.

I’ve fought for these changes because I’m a third generation family farmer and small business owner and I know firsthand the challenges that working Montana families face.

They deserve leaders who work for them.

Other members of Congress have had different priorities over the years. But I personally believe public service is not about looking out for your own career or your own paycheck. Public service should be about building a better future for our kids and grandkids.

On this anniversary, let’s redouble our efforts to strengthen the middle class, in Montana and across the country.

Because a lot of politicians who’ve stood in the way of progress for our working families have no idea what it’s like to earn a minimum wage.

Maybe if they did, we’d see how quickly they start changing their tune.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on May 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Senator Jon Tester is a third generation family farmer from Big Sandy, Montana.  He farms the same land his grandparents homesteaded nearly 100 years ago.  During his first Senate term, he has earned a reputation as a champion for rural veterans, a pioneer in government transparency and a powerful voice for rural America.

Grocery Store Cleaners Enter Day 7 of Hunger Strike

Friday, May 27th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaMore than 200 people—many of them janitorial workers—marched, rallied and protested in front of Cub Foods grocery store this week in Minneapolis, Minn., to urge the chain to treat their workers better.

They’ve been waiting for a year for Cub Foods to come to the table. They’ve petitioned the chain, sent letters to Cub Foods representatives and sent a petition with hundreds of names, organized delegations to store headquarters. But the chain refuses to waiver.

Ten people have taken up a hunger strike and are now entering Day 7. They’ve pitched their tents near the store in what is called “Camp Hunger.” They say they’ll continue to fast until Cub Foods responds to their demands for fair wages and improved conditions for the workers who clean their stores. On Monday, the workers and their allies delivered letters nationwide to Supervalu stores, which is the parent company of Cub Foods, demanding a Code of Conduct that would ensure fair treatment.

“Workers across the country are concerned about the extreme deterioration of working conditions in the retail cleaning industry nationwide and want to ensure justice not only for retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities but to ensure that retail cleaning workers across the country don’t continue to see their wages drop and their workloads increase,” said Veronica Mendez of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), an affiliate of the national organization Interfaith Worker Justice.

Last year, I reported on the efforts of janitors at Safeway stores in Northern California to improve working conditions at that chain. Just as Safeway did, Cub Foods says it’s not responsible for the poor treatment of workers because they are subcontracted out to a cleaning company.

That company is Carlson Building Maintenance, whom Cub says is responsible for their workers. (Janitors in the Safeway fight, by the way, eventually ratified a collective bargaining agreement with Safeway’s janitorial services contractor, waging the base wages and strengthening health standards).

Cub Foods and Carlson are using a common loophole to wash their hands of any responsibility to the worker. The retail companies contract out to professional maintenance companies. Then they take the lowest bid, pitting the maintenance companies against each other.

While workers used to earn $10 an hour and work with a cleaning crew of four people, their pay has now dropped to $7.50 and the crew has shrunk to two, according to Mendez.

One of the worker-organizers, Mario Colloly Torres, was a cleaner at the store. He told In These Times, “Many who have worked ten years in the industry know there were four workers to a shift and today there are two workers doing the same work. In some stores workers don’t even have time to take a break because the workload is so big.”

Colloly Torres says he worked at the company for several years “without one problem.” Then he started organizing the workers, and says he was abruptly fired. “They make money off the community. And make money cheating the workers,” he said. Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board stating that Cub Foods and Carlson unfairly fired Colloly Torres for organizing coworkers to demand fair wages and working conditions.

“I held two jobs because of the low wages. We work in a place filled with food and yet we can barely feed our families,” says Colloly Torres, adding, “They look for a cleaning company that is going to give the lowest price for the work. The result for us: lower wages and increased workloads.”

Last year, when the campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning began, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said, “No corporation can escape its responsibility to workers by simply outsourcing their work to some other company that doesn’t observe the rights of those workers.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 27, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at [email protected]

Warehouse Workers File Second Lawsuit Against Chicago-Area Wal-Mart Contractors

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

kari-lydersenCHICAGO—Last week, the Chicago-based group Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) filed its second class action lawsuit this year against an agency responsible for staffing Wal-Mart’s warehouse in suburban Elwood.

The suit, filed May 18, charges the staffing company SIMOS Insourcing Solutions with legal violations including not fulfilling promises made to workers as part of the terms of their hiring. Among other things, workers said they were offered paid vacations that were never granted.

According to a WWJ press release, the company “required employees to incur fees to get their paychecks and failed to give the warehouse workers critical information about their pay, benefits and other terms of their employment as required by Illinois law.”

The new class action lawsuit is part of a larger campaign to force staffing agencies to give workers written proof of their contracts, their wages and the way their pay is calculated. Wage theft is reportedly rampant in the industry, but often hard to prove since workers are given little or no documentation of what they have been promised, how many hours they have worked, how much they are paid and in some cases who they are even technically working for.

In March, the group filed another class action lawsuit alleging that the Reliable Staffing agency, which hired workers for the Elwood Wal-Mart warehouse, paid them much less than promised, in part through manipulating or changing the terms of a piece-meal pay schedule.

As I previously blogged:

“The check stub is a fiction – their check stub could show they worked 36 hours when they really worked 72 hours,” said attorney Chris Williams. That’s why, Williams said, it’s so important the workers are able to demand their billing records under the state day labor services act.

Also earlier this month workers at a Kraft-Cadbury warehouse in the suburb of Joliet filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about alleged discrimination by the firm Schenker Logistics. Filing such a complaint is the first step in filing an employment discrimination lawsuit, if the EEOC decides not to investigate itself.

These legal actions are part of a multi-faceted campaign to hold staffing companies legally accountable for their behavior; and also build greater public awareness of rampant labor rights issues in the warehouse industry; and to embolden workers to speak out about these issues. The group has not sued Wal-Mart, since the company argues it is not directly responsible for hiring and wage and hour issues in its warehouses. SIMOS is based in Georgia and promises to slash labor costs for clients like Wal-Mart. The company’s website says:

Ultimately, our goal is to drive constant improvements in cost, quality, and on time delivery. SIMOS consistently delivers cost reduction programs our clients can actually see. On average, SIMOS customers save 10-25% in labor costs per unit while increasing their output by 15-30%.

It says it achieves these labor cost reductions by a “combination of engineering, workforce management and supervision.” Critics say this is just code for paying workers as little as possible, including by keeping them in the dark about the actual terms of their working agreements.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at [email protected]

Study Finds Unionized Coal Mines Substantially Safer

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Image: Mike Hallnew study shows that miners in unionized coal mines are far less likely to be killed or injured on the job than miners in nonunion operations. The independent study funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that “unionization predicts an 18-33 percent drop in traumatic injuries and a 27-68 percent drop in fatalities.”

The comprehensive study, conducted by Stanford University law professor Alison D. Morantz,  the John A. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, looked at coal mine fatality and injury statistics from 1993 to 2008.

Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts says the study “quantifies the profound differences in safety underground coal miners experience when working union versus working nonunion.”

He points out that recent mining disasters, including the blast at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 miners last year, the Crandall Canyon (Utah) disaster that killed nine in 2007 and the Sago explosion in 2006 that killed 12 miners, have all been in nonunion mines.

The simple truth is that union mines are safer mines, and this study proves that.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a third-generation coal miner, says he knows “firsthand the vital importance of workers having a voice on the job through their union.”

This study confirms what working people have known all along:  Unions, strong laws, and enforcement are crucial to protecting the lives of our nation’s miners. With all we know today and with all the avenues of prevention available, there is simply no need for even one life to be lost on the job.

Rep. George Miller (R-Calf.) ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee and long-time mine safety advocate says the study shows that

when workers have a voice in the mine through their union, they are safer. In union mines, workers are empowered to point out dangerous conditions to inspectors without fear of retaliation from management. By giving miners the support they need to speak out, unions can save miners’ lives.

The study’s findings suggest that the union safety effect may even have “intensified” since the early 1990s as the UMWA instituted a more comprehensive safety program and expanded training for union safety experts on the local and national levels.

Roberts says that while the study shows union mines are safer, tragedies can still happen, such as the 2001 explosion at the Jim Walters #5 mine in Brookwood, Ala., that killed 13 miners.

We in the UMWA learned hard lessons in that tragedy and others that preceded it. We took steps to provide better protection for our members, and this study demonstrates that those steps are working. We will continue to work as hard as we can to keep the mines where UMWA members work the safest in the world.

Click here for the full report.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on May 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

Immigrant Workers’ Exploitation Highlights Perils of Job Placement Agencies

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

akito_yoshikaneAs the nation’s unemployment rate remains at record levels, it’s no surprise that employment agencies have become a popular destination for those in search of work. Immigrants, especially new arrivals, have increasingly turned to these places with the hope of building a better life.

But recent reports across the country shows a troubled industry, one that routinely takes advantage of workers despite government efforts to enforce labor regulations. Many immigrants are often bilked out of money through bogus placement fees. Those who are placed into jobs – if at all – find themselves in deplorable working conditions, adding to the prevalence of low-wage jobs.

Job-seekers typically pay a fee to an agency in order to find employment and utilize other services such as resume writing. Employment agencies vary from providing staffing services for executives and white-collar workers, but immigrant-oriented offices are typically centered in low-income neighborhoods, often catering to those with limited English skills. Others draw in workers from abroad, charging high fees that leave many new immigrants in severe debt in settings that were far from what was originally promised.

The two accounts were recently profiled in separate stories by the New York Times, each providing immigrant accounts of exploitation.

In Houston, 50 welders from Vietnam arrived in the United States only to find themselves in what they called “indentured servitude.” After the welders were originally recruited by an agency sanctioned by the Vietnam government, they took out loans to pay for the $10,000 agency fee to be placed into an American company.

When they arrived in the U.S., the workers were overcharged for rent on substandard apartments, contained by the company at their homes with threats of deportation, and were laid off at least a year before their contract expired, leaving many unable to pay off their debts. The workers settled a lawsuit out of court with the two American companies, but have yet to see a penny of the $60 million in damages.

In New York, these types of agencies have grown since the recession. The official tally is 350, but labor advocates say that there more than 1,000, according to the New York Times. Agencies are not allowed to provide job guarantees to workers, or refer jobs that pay below minimum wage, according to the city’s labor law.

But agencies have been doing otherwise. The Times reports:

Consumers frequently complain that agencies require non-English speakers to sign contracts in English, or demand upfront payments, which in most cases are illegal. City officials say they have encountered agencies that plotted with businesses to dupe consumers and steal their money, and cases of women being sent for work to strip clubs, rather than to restaurants as they thought.

Others find that the working conditions are too harsh, filled with 12 to 15 hour days at places like restaurants that sometimes do not even pay. As reported last year in the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario, many workers find themselves in an endless cycle, returning to the job placement agency after an unsatisfactory job, only to pay more fees to find employment elsewhere.

New York City cracked down several years ago and has recovered more than $300,000 from job agencies. But it has been difficult enforce the rules. Many of the immigrants are unaware of the legal rights, and coupled with language barriers, find it difficult to report wrong-doing to the authorities.

Some measures are being considered to curb the exploitation of transnational labor and the most vulnerable folks in immigrant communities. Increasing fines and making employee rights more visible at agencies are some ideas being circulated. But many of these agencies have proven too elusive, with some taking fees and disappearing. As a result, the nature of the industry makes it difficult to enforce.

But another key idea is that of consent. Many of these workers have been misled on potential job prospects and placed into work that wasn’t originally promised. Giving employees more rights to freely choose instead of unilateral placement by the agency would provide more flexibility in determining one’s own livelihood.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer and reporter for Kyodo News. He regularly contributes to the In These Times blog covering labor and workplace issues. He lives in New York City.

Blog #10. Fired in Real Time: Keeping the Faith

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerWant to know what it feels like to be fired?

It’s easy, go out and let all the air out of your car’s tires. Sure you can get from point A to point B, but it’s a bumpy and precarious ride. Welcome to life as a recently fired person.

Your immediate concern after being fired isn’t yourself, it’s all the colleagues, friends and potential employers that you’ll want to connect with. Your question is how you can present a good face to all of them? But the reality is that the problem isn’t a “them” question. It’s a “you” issue.

This advice is going to sound pedestrian. But you need to start very simply with a list of things that will boost your confidence and feelings of self worth. Exercise, volunteering, taking courses, escapist entertainment, etc. Generally anything that helps you to smile or otherwise improve yourself would fit into this category.

Unfortunately those are not the places that most of us logically turn. Alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling, are the places that often provide an overwhelming gravitational pull during tough times.

So the big challenge is how to avoid negative addictions so that you can pursue positive ones. Damn, if it were only that easy to do.

But that is only the first step. What you quickly learn is how quickly salt water can be unexpectedly poured into your wounds. This happens whenever your former job is brought up. For me, luckily, it was at a dinner party. Someone asked about my job and I just went off. Trashing my boss and the way I was treated. Wow, even as it was coming out of my mouth I was surprised at my anger about the whole situation.

Anger. It’s there whenever you’re fired. So you’ve got to learn how to deal with it.

I’ve now learned how to be circumspect about the entire ordeal. But you need to realize that gaining confidence and self-esteem are just the first step. You’ve got to learn how to dispassionately discuss what happened to you in bland and forgettable language. “We didn’t see eye to eye.” “Creative differences.”

The challenge is how ultimately contradictory this process is. You need to find the confidence to not trail blood into your next job interview. At the same time you have to process your anger and learn how to talk about what happened dispassionately.

And you thought doing a job could be complicated?

My a-ha: Self-esteem and self-awareness can lead you out of the wilderness, but it’s a complicated dance.

Next installment: Networking When Not Working

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com[email protected]

Inferior workplace health and safety regulations are killing us (literally!)

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Image: Kate ThomasOn Monday, May 16, SEIU member Cathy Stoddart, RN, BSN spoke at a briefing with U.S. Senate staff about the importance of strong health and safety workplace regulations. The briefing familiarized HELP committee staff with the benefits of regulations for American consumers and workers, as well as the costs of government’s failure to ensure a safe workplace.

In her dual role serving an Executive Board member of her SEIU Healthcare PA and as a nurse at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital, Cathy is no stranger to making her voice heard on workers’ rights and workplace safety issues. She spoke in detail on Monday about how we might easily and affordably strengthen health and safety regulations to prevent injuries and illnesses, save lives, and improve patient care. “Regulations don’t kill jobs,” Cathy pointed out, “but a lack of workplace health and safety regulations does kill workers.”

The reality is much more needs to be done to regulate hazards that healthcare workers face. The statistics speak for themselves…

Healthcare workers have higher injury and illness rates than workers in mining, manufacturing or construction; yet very few health and safety standards for these caregiving workers exist.

For example, there are currently no standards to protect healthcare workers from the leading hazard they face: an epidemic of neck, back and shoulder injuries from manual patient handling. A Safe Patient Handling regulation that required the provision of lifting devices to protect healthcare workers from career-ending back, neck and shoulder injuries would go a long way towards solving this pervasive problem. With the recent anti- worker rhetoric combined with staffing cutbacks, we are also seeing an alarming increase in workplace violence. We need a national OSHA workplace violence prevention standard to protect healthcare workers from getting assaulted by patients, residents and clients.

A bill that’s currently making the rounds in the House Judiciary and Rules Committees presents a huge potential barrier to removing the threats healthcare workers still face on the job. H.R. 10 (the REINS Act) would require both Houses of Congress to approve virtually all new major regulations before they go into effect, which means that any new regulation would get caught up in Congressional gridlock.

What would passage of the REINS Act specifically mean for working people? Nothing good, that’s for sure. HR 10, if enacted, would essentially make it impossible to ever issue another regulation to protect workers from on-the-job hazards. Consider that in the year 2010 alone, federal agencies issued more than 90 major new rules that could likely have been subject to the REINS Act’s requirements. There are simply not enough hours in a day to allow Congress to allot the time necessary to consider and approve even the most important rules (much less 90 of them).

The OSHA standard setting process currently in place is essentially broken. Standards that previously took a year to promulgate now take decades, if they come out at all. We need to expedite rulemaking, not slow it down, like the REIN Act aims to do.

This article originally appeared in SEIU Blog on May 19, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

Puerto Rico Reinstates Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Members of the UAW and Puerto Rico’s Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU)/AFSCME Council 95 and other public employees celebrated May 17 when Gov. Luis Fortuño signed into law a bill reinstating collective bargaining for public employees.

Unlike legislatures in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, which are trying to take away workers’ rights, Puerto Rico’s House and the Senate passed this bill unanimously.

Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees.

Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees.

Says SPU President Annette González:

This law is very important for workers since in essence it includes two clauses that allow us to attain two fundamental goals: Restore the acquired rights through the restitution of collective bargaining contracts [and] negotiate the economic aspects that will do justice to workers and their families.

The law ends a policy imposed in March 2009 when the administration enacted a fiscal emergency law that mandated a two-year freeze on the economic clauses of all collective bargaining agreements. The new law extends the non-economic clauses of the contracts until 2013 and allows workers to negotiate for salaries, benefits, bonuses and other economic aspects.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

Republican NLRB Threats Part of Bigger War on Workers

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

The Republican “outrage” machine has been operating in high-dudgeon mode since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the Boeing Co. in April.

But as David Madland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out, the manufactured Boeing outrage is “part of a long-running, highly orchestrated right-wing campaign against workers and their unions that has now reached a fevered pitch.”

This is not, of course, the conservative movement’s first attempt to prevent the Obama administration from trying to protect workers’ basic rights to join a union and collectively bargain.

Earlier this year, Madland writes, 176 House Republicans (75 percent of the caucus) voted to eliminate all funding for the NLRB and while that failed to pass, a continuing resolution previously passed by the House included a $50 million reduction in the NLRB’s budget and would have forced NLRB staff members to be furloughed for 55 days, causing a backlog of cases to pile up.

Madland points out that congressional Republicans also are fighting to overturn the National Mediation Board’s (NMB’s) new rule that says air and rail union elections should be decided like any other election—including congressional elections—by a majority of votes cast. Previously each worker who did not cast a vote in a representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote.

Senate Republicans also attempted to attach an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that would have blocked workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from voting to join a union. Madland writes these congressional actions are in addition to the state attacks on workers’ rights being waged in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states. He says the attacks on the NLRB over the Boeing case are part of the:

conservative movement’s campaign to weaken workers’ rights. Sadly, conservatives have shown they want to eliminate laws protecting workers’ rights to join a union and collectively bargain, and when they can’t get rid of the law, they seek to prevent its enforcement.

Click here for his full article.

Keep in mind that when the NLRB issues a complaint, it’s only the first step in a long process of determining whether the company violated the law, a process in which Boeing will have ample opportunity to present its side of the case.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

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