Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker’

Trade Deals Like the TPP Are Murdering American Manufacturing

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Leo Gerard

In the week before Valentine’s Day, United Technologies expressed its love for its devoted Indiana employees, workers whose labor had kept the corporation profitable, by informing 2,100 of them at two facilities that it was shipping their factories, their jobs, their communities’ resources to Mexico.

A few workers shouted obscenities at the corporate official. Some walked out. Others openly wept as United Technologies shattered their hopes, their dreams, their means to pay middle-class mortgages.

Three days later, 1,336 workers at Philadelphia’s largest remaining manufacturer, Cardone, learned that company planned to throw them out too and build brake calipers in Mexico instead. Two weeks earlier, a Grand Rapids, Mich., company called Dematic did the same thing to its 300 workers.

No surprise. In the first decade of this century, America lost 56,190 factories, 15 a day.

Republican presidential candidates talk incessantly of building a physical wall to keep impoverished Mexican immigrants out of America. What they fail to offer is an economic barrier to prevent the likes of United Technologies and Cardone and Dematic from impoverishing American workers by exporting their jobs to Mexico.

The president of Carrier, owned by United Technologies, gathered the Indianapolis factory employees, skilled workers who earn an average of $20 an hour, and informed them that the corporation planned to kick them to the curb but expected them to perform to the highest standards until Carrier opened a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico, where workers will be paid $3 an hour.

Carrier President Chris Nelson told the group, “This was an extremely difficult decision.”

Such difficulties for poor, poor United Technologies! It was making a nice profit at its Indianapolis and Huntington factories. But it was not the big fat profit it could pocket by paying Mexican workers a mere $3 an hour, providing $3 an hour in health and pension benefits, and doing it all in the nation with the longest work weeks among the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It would be “extremely difficult” for United Technologies to abandon Indiana after the corporation grabbed $530,000 from the pockets of hard-working Hoosiers over the past nine years as the state’s economic development agency forked over taxpayer cash to the corporation.

It would be even more “difficult” to turn its back on America considering that United Technologies grabbed $121 million from a federal tax credit program established specifically to ensure that green manufacturing jobs remained in the United States. Carrier took $5.1 million of those tax credits in 2013.

“This is strictly a business decision,” Nelson told the jeering workers. It wasn’t because of anything they had done. It was just that Mexico allows corporations to exploit its people in ways that America does not. Its minimum wage is 58 cents an hour, while the United States requires at least $7.25. For now, at least. Some GOP president candidates (Donald Trump) have said they think that’s too high.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ensnared Mexican and American workers in a race to the bottom. And the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade deal among 12 countries instead of just three, would place American and Mexican workers in an even worse competition. They’d vie for jobs with forced and child labor in places like Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Under NAFTA, cheap American grain shipped to Mexico without tariffs destroyed peasant farming. And that prompted migration north. Meanwhile, American factories saw desperate Mexicans willing to work for a pittance, a government unwilling to pass or enforce environmental laws, and because of NAFTA, no tariffs when the goods were shipped back to the United States. That propelled factory migration south.

Before NAFTA, the United States had a small trade surplus with Mexico. That disappeared within a year, and now the annual trade deficit is approximately $50 billion.

Though it has been 22 years since NAFTA took effect, a report issued last week by the AFL-CIO says, “Labor abuses in many cases are worse now than before NAFTA … In short, NAFTA has contributed to labor abuses, not improvements.”

The report says the Mexican government fails to enforce labor laws and refuses to ensure that workers can form independent labor unions to try to protect their own rights. In fact, the report says, “The human and labor rights situation in Mexico is rapidly deteriorating.”

As a result, workers are powerless and completely at the mercy of corporations. So corporations like United Technologies can pay them $3 an hour and get away with it. This is not good for Mexican workers. And it’s not good for American workers.

The AFL-CIO report makes it clear that the TPP would worsen the situation because it would give corporations like United Technologies the option of moving to places like Vietnam where they could pay trafficked workers and child laborers $1 an hour. Or less.

Just like with NAFTA, there’s nothing enforceable in the TPP that would stop the labor abuses. It would facilitate corporations forcing workers from Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Monterrey, Mexico, into competition with 14-year-olds laboring 60-hour-weeks for $1-an-hour in Malaysia.

Just like United Technologies, these corporate CEOs would say it was “strictly business” to offshore American mills, industry that had served as city centers for decades, even centuries, factories so synonymous with towns that the communities took their names like Ambridge (American Bridge) and Hershey, which, by the way, laid off workers at its Pennsylvania home in 2007 and opened a chocolate plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

The AFL-CIO investigation of the TPP determined that it would do nothing more than increase corporate profits while sticking workers—in the United States and elsewhere—with lost jobs, lower wages and repressed rights.

For 22 years NAFTA has destroyed subsistence farming in Mexico and good, middle class factory jobs in the United States. Maybe corporations have made out like bandits. But the banditry should be stopped for the heartache it has caused on both sides of the border.

As Carrier President Nelson told the Indianapolis workers, members of my union, the United Steelworkers, that he was taking their jobs from them so that shareholders and corporate executives could make a few extra bucks, the workers protested. Nelson kept saying, “Quiet down. Let’s quiet down.”

That’s exactly the opposite of what American workers and communities should be doing. They should shouting from rooftops, “No TPP!”  For the love of American manufacturing, they should be yelling bloody murder.

This blog was originally posted on inthesetimes.com on February 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

 

Fired Hostess Worker Becomes One-Man ‘Truth Squad’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bruce VailJust 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.

“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.

The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.

“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.

Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”

“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.

“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.

His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.

But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.

Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.

As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.

You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.

This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Workplace Fairness and Wages: The Ethical and Legal Implications of Unpaid Internships

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Robby SlaughterIf you asked me about the most significant issue in workplace fairness today, I wouldn’t cite any of the common answers. Although there are widespread issues such as corporate bullying, the wage gap between men and women, and a general lack of freedom among employees, there is one problem that is more widespread and more egregious than anything else. There is no aspect of the modern American workforce which is as unfair as the unpaid internship.

The Ethics of Payment

Work for pay is part of the social contract of modern life in a capitalist society. We all adhere to the same agreement: if you offer people a chance to contribute in a way that is valuable and if you define requirements around that work, they deserve to receive fair compensation for their efforts.

Our organizations really are that simple: if there’s defined work to be done, you get paid for that work. If you’re not receiving some kind of payment—such as volunteering—then there is no expectation that you will work at a particular time or place, or that the work will be completed according to certain parameters. Work equals wages. That’s the only way to make things fair.

The Apprenticeship and the Internship

Compensation doesn’t always mean cash. Sometimes, we pay people in-kind. We feed them. We provide housing stipends. We offer them credit or teach them something of value. In Europe, these programs are called apprenticeships. Individuals spend years working with a master craftsman to learn the trade. They often sign agreements to work for the employer full-time after their training is complete. And overseas, apprentices are paid for their efforts.

But the internship has become something different. For many, this is not a job training program. Instead of working on actual projects of value to the company, interns fetch lunches and clean closets. They make coffee and photocopy documents. They perform concierge work such as picking up dry-cleaning or delivering packages. Many interns aren’t doing much work related to the business. These internships are not apprenticeships.

Furthermore, perhaps one-half of all internships are unpaid. That means all of that grunt work is done simply for the chance to be near the people in the industry.

Requiring individuals to perform work—but refusing to pay them for their work—is wrong.

Unpaid Internships: Often Illegal

In the United States, unpaid internships are often (if not usually) illegal. The Department of Labor defines six criteria for interns that do not receive cash compensation:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

It’s extremely difficult to design an internship experience that meets all six of these requirements. Consider the first item. Most workplaces are nothing like schools. Do interns attend classroom-style instructional sessions? Do they have assignments which are graded? Do they receive individualized feedback? Do they study academic curriculum and report on their newfound knowledge and perspective?

Furthermore, the fourth point is nearly impossible to meet. For an internship to comply with this statement, the intern cannot conduct effort that the employer can consider valuable. That means an intern cannot produce a work product that will be purchased by a customer. They cannot write articles for the company newsletter or the blog. They are prohibited from substantial contributions in sales presentations or marketing efforts.

Ultimately:  any work that an unpaid intern completes must be graded and then discarded. If you put an intern’s efforts to use in promoting your company, creating your products, or delivering your services—then that intern must be paid.

Hampering the Economy

The unpaid intern is not only an issue of workplace fairness, but also has a tremendous impact on our economy. When people perform work for free, they limit the growth of business by devaluing productivity. The more interns complete unpaid work—and the more that employers recruit unpaid interns—the less true economic activity is possible.

In simple terms: if people are working for free, why invest money in paying for work?

Therefore, the right thing to do for the country as well as for the people in your lives is to pay your interns. And if you can’t afford to pay them, that probably means you don’t have the resources to treat them like students and invest in their education.

Do the right thing. Pay your interns. Or, send them somewhere that they can earn a living wage.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is with a business consulting firm based in the Midwest. He is the author of several books and hundreds of published articles.

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